Arsenal, United draw delights Chelsea

Arsenal and Manchester United ground out a tedious 0-0 draw on Tuesday for a result that delighted runaway English league leaders Chelsea.

Needing a victory to cut Chelsea’s lead to 11 points, United were frustrated by a Gunners side that seemed intent on avoiding defeat, foiled in their last attempt when Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue kicked a Wes Brown header off the line in the final minute.

The result left United in second place with 45 points from 21 games, 13 points behind Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

Without conceding the title to Chelsea, United manager Alex Ferguson said the Blues were comfortably atop the league by playing consistently rather than with style.

”I don’t think the quality of their game has been raised in any way,” Ferguson said. ”They have obtained that great consistency and they don’t care if they win games 1-0. They are happy to grind out the 1-0s and they have been excellent defensively.”

Although Arsenal climbed one place to fifth, Arsene Wenger’s team are 24 points behind the leaders with virtually no chance of winning the title.

After four consecutive victories in league and cup play and chasing a fourth straight shutout, the Gunners fielded five players in midfield with just Thierry Henry up front. With United also massed in midfield, the game lacked the thrills of past encounters between the two English soccer powerhouses.

”I wanted to win, but the game was a high pace and I felt both teams were trying to have a break and get the other one on a counter-attack,” said Wenger, who believed his team should have had a penalty for a foul on Gary Neville on Cesc Fabregas. ”We created a few chances they did on set pieces as well. I think it was a penalty on Fabregas when Neville tackled him from behind in the box.”

Robert Pires had an angled shot pushed round the post by United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and Henry curled a 25m free kick just wide.

Just before half-time, United created their first clear chance when Ruud van Nistelrooy’s shot was acrobatically blocked by goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, and Cristiano Ronaldo put the rebound over the bar.

When Arsenal threatened in the second half, Brown blocked a goalbound shot from Gilberto Silva and, at the other end, Van Nistelrooy fired wide of the near post when he had just Lehmann to beat.

Pires had a close-range shot saved by Van der Sar, and Arsenal shouted for a penalty when Fabregas went down under a challenge from Neville.

United almost captured all three points near the end when Brown met a corner from Ronaldo with a firm header, but Eboue, who had just entered the game as a substitute, was perfectly placed at the foot of the post to clear the ball off the line.

In League Championship action, second-place Sheffield United won 3-1 at Hull to cut Reading’s lead to seven points. — Sapa-AP

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