By Richard Clarke
Ruud van Nistlerooy missed an injury time penalty as 10-man Arsenal brought a well-earned point back from Old Trafford on Sunday.
Incident-free games between these two sides come around about as often as Haley's comet. But, with 10 minutes left, it seemed that Arsène Wenger's side were on their way to a stout 0-0 draw with a committed, determined performance.
Then Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira was sent off for his second yellow card in quick succession. Despite the setback, the visitors looked set to hold out.
However, deep into injury time, Martin Keown was adjudged to have fouled Deigo Forlan and United had the chance to win it. But Van Nistelrooy spanked his penalty against the bar and Arsenal scrambled their way through the remaining seconds.
The point takes Arsenal top of the table once more.
Earlier, Sol Campbell had not travelled to Old Trafford because of family reasons. Ray Parlour and Dennis Bergkamp came into the side at the expense of Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord.
Perhaps the changes were designed to give Arsenal more bite in midfield. After all, they were going into this game on the back of that 3-0 midweek defeat to Inter in the Champions League. Conceding an early goal here was definitely NOT on the agenda.
If that was the plan, it worked. Arsenal snuffed out much of the United threat in the opening half-hour. Their best chances came Giggs' free-kick following fouls on Cristiano Ronaldo.
The first, in the 14th minute, drifted across the face of goal and momentarily panicked Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann before brushing the far post on its way out for a corner.
The second, six minutes later, was nodded onto the top of the net by Van Nistlerooy rising at the far post.
On the whole Arsenal were solid in defence and, as the half went on, became more adventurous. Their best chance came when Henry cleverly held up the ball on the left flank. He tucked the ball inside for Ashley Cole racing up from defence. The full-back advanced a few paces and cracked a low, right-foot shot narrowly wide.
United put their foot on the pedal in the minutes before the interval. Quentin Fortune went close with a header and the impressive Ronaldo starting peppering the Arsenal goal with crosses. The Portuguese winger cut inside and fired over himself in the 35th minute.
Arsenal were more adventurous as the second half began. They had a shout for penalty when Gilberto released Freddie Ljungberg who pressured Gary Neville into stumbling and then fell in the area himself.
A couple of minutes later Gilberto's wickedly deflected shot forced United keeper Tim Howard to fling himself wildly to his left.
In response, United produced their best chance of the game. Van Nistelrooy escaped on the left, cut inside his marker but could only produce a weak shot from six yards out. Lehmann gathered with ease.
The chance was the catalyst for the home side cranking up the pressure. Both Arsenal centre backs were booked for fouls as United came forward with menace.
The visitors saw some respite when Henry broke quickly and held the ball up for Ljungberg racing through the midfield. However the chance was snuffed out.
A goal on the break seemed Arsenal's best chance of victory at this point. United had territorial advantage but Arsenal were dangerous. A point illustrated when Vieira just failed to get a touch on Bergkamp's clever flick into the area and Howard gathered.
As the seconds ticked by, it seemed that Arsenal were going to hold on. But Arsenal v Manchester United games rarely go by without incident. Vieira tangled with Van Nistelrooy just outside his own area and both players were booked. However, the Arsenal captain had received a yellow card a few minutes earlier and was sent off.
United went for the jugular. Arsenal looked like holding on but, in injury time, Forlan fell under Keown's challenge six yards out. Lehmann had saved from Van Nistelrooy in the Community Shield game. This time he did not need to touch the ball. The Dutchman lifted his shot against the bar.
A mediocre game with breathless finale.
|Dennis Bergkamp gets away from Roy Keane||Patrick Vieira runs the ball past Ryan Giggs|
|Thierry Henry takes on Rio Ferdinand for pace||Ray Parlour protects the ball from John O'Shea|
|Edu versus Ferdinand and Mikael Silvestre||Ruud van Nistelrooy's last-minute penalty miss|
|Van Nistelrooy crashes his penalty against the bar|
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|Fredrik Ljungberg celebrates a hard-earned point|
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© Arsenal Broadband Limited 2004