United fans stranded but no lift for Arsenal supporters either
Scoreless stalemate denies Gunners route back to top
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal misses a chance during the Premier League match against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
ARSENAL 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 0
There was a moment when Arsenal’s public announcer informed the Manchester United fans, without any notable sympathy in his voice, the trains north had been cancelled, every single motorway back to Manchester was closed and, even if they did get there, the ring-road was also shut.
Arsenal’s supporters enjoyed their moment of schadenfreude at the expense of the visiting fans but their team, ultimately, could do nothing to make it an even longer night.
Arsenal had the better of the chances and Olivier Giroud will reflect with anguish on at least four occasions when he missed the target from crosses into the penalty area.
Yet United played with the durability of a side that has grown sick of hostile headlines. They lacked refinement and a club with their ambitions will have to start taking better care of the ball, but they could also reflect on their own chances to register a morale-boosting win.
Struck the crossbar
Robin van Persie struck the crossbar with the best of them and, from a defensive perspective, they could reflect on a reasonable night’s work.
Arsenal had missed the opportunity to return to the top of the league and, by the end, the frustrations of the home crowd were becoming increasingly audible.
At the final whistle, there were boos for the second-placed team in the league.
A streak of carelessness ran through the game for long spells and it was strange to see two sides who pride themselves on control and assurance losing the ball so frequently. The sheer pace of the game was always going to lead to lapses but there was a lack of refinement from both teams.
Mikel Arteta was certainly fortunate to get away with his first touch of the night, as van Persie gratefully took the ball off his foot and advanced on goal. The night would have taken on a very different complexion if Van Persie had been able to remind his former club of his penalty-box qualities. Instead, he slipped as he was shaping to shoot and could only fire his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Mesut Ozil looked eager to dispel the criticism that has accompanied his recent performances, and Jack Wilshere was always prepared to break forward from his more deep-lying midfield position. Yet it was telling that Arsenal’s best opportunities in the first half both came from corners. The first was swung over by Santi Cazorla and Giroud beat Nemanja Vidic in the air. The second came from the opposite side but, again, Giroud could not get the ball on target.
Arsenal did not have a great deal of pace to examine whether this was a flaw at the heart of United’s defence, especially when Rafael da Silva took a heavy fall and Rio Ferdinand came on to partner Vidic.
Nagging the referee
Wayne Rooney, struggling to exert any real influence, spent so much time nagging the referee, Mark Clattenburg, he was called over more than once and ordered to quit the back-chat.
Mata was playing on the left and has now operated in three different positions since his transfer from Chelsea. His input here did not alter the sense that he does his best work centrally – or, to put it another way, in Rooney’s position.
For Arsenal, the most encouraging part was probably the strength of personality Ozil demonstrated. He could not conjure up the killer ball and there were times when his passes were misjudged. He was always willing, however, to take responsibility.
Ozil played like a man who wanted to make a point.
With the German growing in influence and Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky beavering away behind Giroud, Arsenal’s first real period of sustained pressure arrived quarter of an hour into the second half. Giroud missed again with his third headed opportunity of the night and another header, this time from Laurent Koscielny, was dropping past David De Gea until Antonio Valencia cleared the danger from under the crossbar.
Van Persie’s chance came after the kind of link-up play with Rooney that has been conspicuous by his absence in United’s recent fixture. Rooney’s clipped pass was weighted beautifully and a stooping header was going in until Szczesny turned the ball against the crossbar.
At the other end De Gea twice denied Cazorla but the game petered out after that and the boos at the end felt incongruous for a team supposedly challenging for the title. –
ARSENAL : Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75), Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud. Subs Not Used : Podolski, Monreal, Fabianski, Sanogo, Bendtner, Jenkinson. Booked : Sagna.
MANCHESTER UTD : De Gea, Da Silva (Ferdinand 46), Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley, Valencia (Young 82), Rooney, Mata (Januzaj 75), van Persie. Subs Not Used : Lindegaard, Hernandez, Buttner, Fellaini. Booked : Valencia,Young.
Referee : Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear)