Arsenal and Manchester United played out a 0-0 draw, a result that enhanced neither side’s immediate ambitions, in a game that only really sparked into life in the final 30 minutes.
After a frantic first five minutes that saw both sides threaten on Wednesday, the game disintegrated into a somewhat unadventurous slog before briefly waking up in the final third as both goalkeepers made eye-catching saves to ensure the game finished goalless.
Nevertheless, the result does little for each side’s cause—Arsenal remaining one point off Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, with United 15 points adrift of the lead and having made no real inroads into their minimum target, fourth place.
Afterwards, speaking to BT Sport reporters at the end of its live broadcast, Wenger said: "I think overall we could have won it, but they as well had a good chance at the end. It was a game of few chances.
"Our defensive focus today was extreme after we conceded so many goals on Saturday. The game could have gone 1-0 to either side."
David Moyes added:
Overall we looked quite compact and defended quiet well when we had to do so. We made some opportunities, I would have liked to play better going forward but overall I thought we defended well.
We have to try and win the next one. If you’d said to me at the start of the season that we’d get four points off Arsenal this season, I might say that’s not bad.
It’s against other teams where we’ve let ourselves down.
Neither manager sprung too many surprises with the starting lineups, with Wenger preferring Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky over Nacho Monreal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Moyes opting to leave Adnan Januzaj on the bench to go with the attacking quartet of Danny Valencia, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
The first chance of the game fell to United after just 80 seconds—and it was entirely of Arsenal’s own making. Poor passes from Per Mertesacker and Wojciech Szczesny only narrowly evaded the pressing Rooney before Mikel Arteta—closed down quickly—was robbed by van Persie 25 yards from goal.
The ex-Gunner ran clean through on goal and tried to beat Szczesny from close range, but the Pole guessed the right way and saved low to his left. Even at such an early stage, it was a significant let-off.
If that was symptomatic of a nervy start for the hosts, they subsequently hid it well, with Wilshere almost immediately forcing an important block from Chris Smalling at the other end. From the resulting corner, Olivier Giroud contrived to head well wide from close range.
After that barnstorming start, however, the game didn't have a real rhythm, with both sides struggling to find fluency in midfield as they were restricted to a number of half-chances.
Van Persie nearly hit the corner flag with an off-balance attempt on his weaker right foot, while Giroud continued to threaten from corners before lashing over from 20 yards after Rooney had been robbed by Wilshere in a dangerous position.
It seemed both sides were more preoccupied with not conceding than going out there and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, although both seemed hampered by their setup somewhat—Arsenal seeming to lack a bit of pace on the break, with United struggling for cohesion and Mata frequently stranded out on the left.
The game desperately needed to find another gear in the second half, but an uptick in tempo did not really occur until the hour mark when the game finally sparked into life.
It happened after the home side created their best chance to that point, as Koscielny met an Ozil corner perfectly. But his arrowing header was cleared off the line at the far post by Antonio Valencia.
That seemed to buoy the crowd and the home players, as Arsenal quickly created a number of other great openings. Giroud thought he should have had a penalty after going to ground under pressure from Vidic as he tried to get on the end of Wilshere’s inviting cross. He then failed to hit the target with another header moments later.
United, meanwhile, were struggling to cope—with Szczesny cleaning up one brief moment of danger when van Persie threatened to get behind the defence, before watching Mata drag a tepid effort well wide from long range.
With invention still lacking, and some players visibly tiring, both managers made changes, with Wenger bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain and Moyes turning to Januzaj and, later, Ashley Young.
With 15 minutes remaining, Arsenal had another great chance to break the deadlock. Bacary Sagna’s inswinging cross was supremely inviting and Giroud stole a march on Vidic (not for the first time in the match) at the near post.
But the Frenchman for some reason was unable to get a solid contact on the ball, and the crowd groaned in agony as the ball ran out for a goal-kick.
Moments later came perhaps the moment of the match and this time it was United on the attack. Wilshere lost the ball in midfield and the away side broke quickly, with van Persie feeding Rooney on the right. The No. 10 paused before delivering a brilliant clipped cross back for his strike partner, as van Persie got in behind Mertesacker.
The Dutchman’s contact was great, but Szczesny was equal to it, making a remarkable sprawling save to push the ball on to the woodwork and away from danger.
Suddenly there was a tempo and intensity to the contest, and Arsenal continued to attack with more purpose. Cazorla forced a smart low save from David De Gea after a one-two with Ozil before seeing a sight of goal smothered by a Michael Carrick block.
As the game entered its final throes, it was all Arsenal—searching for the goal and victory that would jump them back to the forefront of the title race.
Ozil hit the wall with a free-kick from 20 yards out, moments before another corner-bound effort from Cazorla was held by De Gea.
The game was getting ever more end-to-end, but the Spaniard’s effort was to be the last of the noteworthy chances before the final whistle.
After the potentially damaging defeat in Anfield, a draw may not be too disappointing for Wenger—although his side's continuing struggles in front of goal may give him food for thought. The performance of Giroud, who visibly seemed to lack an edge in front of goal despite troubling Vidic physically, may need attention—with Lukas Podolski perhaps pressing for a starting role in upcoming matches.
Moyes, meanwhile, still clearly needs to find a way to better accommodate Mata in his lineup alongside Van Persie and Rooney.
Wenger concluded: "It is important now to recover physically and prepare for the next game.
"The title race is absolutely open to a number of teams. It was important not to lose tonight, and from now on win our games again."
|Arsenal Player Ratings|
|Manchester United Player Ratings|
|David De Gea||8|
|Rafael de Silva||6|
|Robin van Persie||6|
Arsenal's attention turns to FA Cup action this weekend, as they bid to get revenge over Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Manchester United, meanwhile, head to the Middle East for a short training camp, with their next match coming against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on February 22.
Moyes added: "We’ll try and make sure we give the players some good work [in Dubai], and we’ll try and give them some relaxation too."