By Richard Clarke
Arsenal edged closer to confirming a top-three finish with a 0-0 draw against Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Having seen their title hopes dashed last weekend at Wigan, Arsène Wenger charged his side with the job of finishing the season strongly and, most importantly, securing an automatic Champions League spot.
This afternoon's affair was mundane and goalless but at least it went some way to achieving that aim.
Arsenal had the better of a drab first half but their main chances came in the second period. Abou Diaby forced a flying save from Shay Given and Robin van Persie curled a free-kick inches wide.
It was not much but it was more than the visitors could conjure up - and they had the incentive of capitalising on Tottenham's defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the day as the sought a Champions League spot of their own.
The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor in the second half added some spice to the occasion however this game will not live long in memory.
Arsenal are now eight points ahead of Tottenham, who have three games left. Wenger's side have just two.
The season is nearly over and Arsenal have nearly achieved their minimum target.
After three straight, season-defining defeats, there is a little comfort in that.
Wenger had much to mull over on Friday night. Alex Song (knee) and Van Persie were touch-and-go to start. In the end both began the game so Craig Eastmond and Nicklas Bendtner dropped to the bench.
Apart from the inclusion of Eduardo after his broken toe, the manager kept the same squad. With a plethora of injuries he had little option.
Manchester City started with two former Gunners in their side. But not the two you might have expected. Kolo Toure was captain but Adebayor dropped to the bench.
Meanwhile the strains of "Vieira" rang out around Emirates Stadium just before kick-off and the former Arsenal skipper reciprocated warm applause.
PV4 was back, albeit in the opposition line-up this afternoon.
Having fallen away so dramatically at the DW Stadium last weekend, there was little but pride and mathematically certainty on this game for Arsenal. On Friday, Wenger spoke of the need to stay professional - for the faint hope of first place and the fear of fourth - however, after Tottenham's result earlier in the day, neither seemed too plausible.
Of course, that result had opened an avenue of opportunity for fifth-place Manchester City. However in the opening half, it was Arsenal who displayed far greater urgency and desire.
In the second minute, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby sent Van Persie momentarily clear in the area but his shot was blocked for a corner.
Samir Nasri took it and Bacary Sagna nodded wide at the near post.
To be honest that was that for the next 28 minutes. What pressure and invention there was, came from Arsenal. The visitors showed nothing apart from solidity in defence.
That was apparent in the next chance, which came almost half an hour later. Song shepherded a pass into the path of Van Persie on the right of the area. He was tracked by Toure and the centre back's sliding challenge diverted the ball behind.
Territorially Arsenal were on top and they were certainly throwing enough crosses into the area. They just always found a Manchester City head.
The visitors' expensive front line was utterly anonymous.
Walcott fired wide and Nasri forced a save from Shay Given at the near post. Normally neither would have been noteworthy but this afternoon the merest glimmer of goal was good enough to go in anyone's match report, including mine.
Five minutes before the break, Manchester City finally threatened. Craig Bellamy fed a trademark gallop into the area from Vieira. Campbell robbed him with a perfectly-timed challenge.
That chance failed to fire the match. In fact, nothing could until the introduction of Adebayor for Vieira seven minutes after the restart.
As you might have expected, the receptions for the incoming and outgoing player differed wildly. The presence of the Togolese targetman certainly livened up a game that had been listing all afternoon. It also gave the Manchester City attack a focal point that it had been lacking all afternoon.
Although Rosicky burst through and bundled a shot into the hands of Given, the visitors were now much more of a threat.
In turn, Arsenal's influence was starting to wane so with 22 minutes left Wenger brought on Emmanuel Eboue and Bendtner for Walcott and Rosicky.
With his first touch the Dane fired a dangerous cross through the area. A couple of minutes later, Diaby darted inside his marker and let fly. Given threw himself to tip the ball around the post. It was a decent save - the first of the game.
However it would cost Manchester City and Given. The Irishman appeared to pop his shoulder while making the save. He needed lengthy treatment and was eventually replaced by rookie Gunnar Nielsen.
Six minutes from time, Pablo Zabaleta fouled Eboue 25 yards out and Van Persie whipped a free-kick inches wide.
Arsenal continued to press, even when eight minutes of injury time was display by the fourth official. Bendtner nearly pirouetted himself a chance in the area and Van Persie continued to look for openings.
However, this afternoon, there was not a goal to be found.
- Song Yellow Card
- Diaby Yellow Card
- Walcott 68
- Rosicky 68
- van Persie Yellow Card
- Eboue 68
- Bendtner 68
- Given 75
- Zabaleta Yellow Card
- Bridge 26
- De Jong
- Vieira 53
- Bellamy Yellow Card
- Nielsen 75
- Richards 26
- Santa Cruz
- Adebayor 53