Frustration for Arsenal as Manchester City hold firm at the Emirates

Gunners fire blanks against dour City to hand title advantage to Manchester United

Arsenal 0

Manchester City 0

ARSENE Wenger refused to blame Manchester City’s negative tactics after watching his Arsenal side frustrated on a night that handed the Premier League title race advantage to leaders Manchester United.

City failed to muster a single shot on target after putting in an ultra-defensive display for 90 minutes, taking home a point that keeps them second in the table, two points ahead of third-placed Arsenal but having played a game more.

However it is City’s cross-town rivals United who end the hectic festive period with the most satisfaction, having maintained their two-point lead over City at the top, with two games in hand on Roberto Mancini’s side.

Just as he had done on City’s last visit to the Emirates in April, when they also drew 0-0, Mancini arrived in north London with a rigid defensive game plan and it was mission accomplished for the Italian afterwards.

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“Sometimes in football, in important games, it is just important not to lose,” said the City boss. “If you can’t win, then don’t lose. This was a good result for us.”

Wenger admitted that it was up to Arsenal to find a way through the Sky Blues’ massed defence, and was clearly frustrated that his side did not manage to do despite a dominant opening 20 minutes.

“I wasn’t surprised because they came here last year set up to play 0-0 as well,” admitted the Frenchman. “So I wasn’t too surprised, but I hoped that we would have scored one of our early chances.

“I must say as well that we were unlucky because we hit the post a few times, their keeper made a few good saves and they defended very deep.

“I believe had we scored the first goal it would have changed the run of the game tremendously. We faced long, long periods in the game where we faced 10 men [defending] as [Carlos] Tevez – I have never seen him so deep.

“When we lost a little bit of sharpness and freshness in our movement, we looked less dangerous, because you need to play against 10 men like that in the final third. Quality passing, sharp movements, they became more difficult as the game went down.”

That was not the case in the early stages, when Wenger’s side were in the ascendancy and were left to regret not taking full advantage of their superiority.

With Jack Wilshere having already gone close twice, Robin van Persie struck the base of a post after just nine minutes with a low left-footed drive.

Theo Walcott dragged an effort just wide and then skipper Cesc Fabregas also hit a post with City goalkeeper Joe Hart looking well beaten.

Somehow City had survived the early onslaught, but at the other end of the pitch only flitting moments of menace from captain Tevez offered them any hope. Lukasz Fabianski did not have a single save to make in the Arsenal goal.

Both sides eventually showed the strain of a packed festive schedule in the second half as chances were at a premium, with only Van Persie’s curling effort that was well tipped over by the England goalkeeper Hart coming close to breaking the deadlock.

City seemed happy to play out time and take a point back to Eastlands, and it was probably the frustration that led to the normally unflappable Bacary Sagna reacting to a late challenge from Pablo Zabaleta with an angry exchange that resulted in both players being a little harshly sent off by the referee Mike Jones.

“Two yellows would have been right,” said Mancini, while Wenger also felt Jones had over-reacted.

“It was harsh,” said the Gunners boss, who will lose right-back Sagna for three games. “I hoped for a second that it would be two yellows because the game was fair. It was not very physical or a game full of hate, it was a respectful game. Both teams were committed but I hoped yellow and we got red.”

Wenger, however, refused to be downbeat after an unbeaten festive period that saw Arsenal take eight points from a possible 12.

“We are all [frustrated] but I don’t blame my team. I think I would more encourage them to keep playing like we do and win more games than we draw.

“Overall there is no way we should lose courage or belief in our team, It is the opposite. We should even come out with even more belief in our quality and be more resolute in the coming games because we have shown we have what it takes to be a serious contender in this league.”

With Chelsea’s latest shock defeat at Wolves having left them well off the pace and Spurs beaten at Everton, the title is now looking like it may come down to a fight between Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs.

City’s lack of intent in this game perhaps spoke volumes about their own title aspirations. But Arsenal’s failure to break them down and the dropping of more points at home did likewise.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side still have to come to the Emirates and also face trips to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and Anfield. But they are unbeaten after 20 games and well clear at the top. It’s advantage Manchester United, without question.