Title challengers Arsenal and struggling champions Manchester United ground out a scoreless draw at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday on a drab night that caused further damage to the visitors’ ambitions in a lacklustre season.
Robin van Persie had United’s best chances on his return to Arsenal, squandering an early effort and then seeing a late header brilliantly tipped against the bar by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Olivier Giroud was ineffective up front for an energy-sapped Arsenal side, wasting a couple of headers and lacking his finishing touch on a night.
“You felt our team was highly focused not to concede tonight, and maybe restricted a little bit our game going forward because we were certainly hit by the five goals we conceded on Saturday,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, referring to the 5-1 loss at Liverpool. “And you could feel that a little bit tonight ... we were nervous.
“Where we are usually always very dangerous breaking through the middle with speedy passing, Man United defended very well there.”
Arsenal were the least damaged by the result, missing a chance to go top but going a point behind leaders Chelsea, who drew on Tuesday.
But with fourth-place Liverpool winning, seventh-place United went 11 points behind the Champions League places.
“If there is one club in history who have been great at winning games in the second half of the season and putting pressure on the teams above it is Manchester United,” manager David Moyes said. “We will continue to try and do that and make it work.”
How different from the last time United were here in April when the team was welcomed onto the pitch with a guard of honour by Arsenal, having won the title with weeks to spare.
Now the Red Devils are struggling even to make the Champions League places, especially with fifth-place Tottenham winning at Newcastle in the northeast on Wednesday.
Even with Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata deployed by Moyes, the visitors struggled to produce a menacing moments to unsettle Arsenal.
“If you’d have said to me at the start of the season that we’d get four points off Arsenal then I’d say that’s not that bad,” Moyes said, referring to United’s victory at Old Trafford in November. “It’s other games where we have let ourselves down.”