Arsenal maintained their unbeaten run in the festive fixtures with a highly-entertaining 0-0 draw at Aston Villa on New Year's Eve.
Although Arsène Wenger's side were under pressure for much of the game they did manufacture arguably the better chances. Mathieu Flamini went clear and thumped an effort over the bar in the first half. Freddie Ljungberg rattled the woodwork from distance in the second. Then, with two minutes left, Kolo Toure sidefooted wide from close range.
Villa were industrious throughout but never incisive. They pushed Arsenal back but rarely tested Jens Lehmann and Milan Baros spurned their best opportunity eight minutes into the second half.
So, after victories over Charlton and Portsmouth, the gradient of Arsenal's revival has lessened.
But when you have only won two Premiership away games all season, you will take what you can get.
Perhaps Wenger had the midweek visit of Manchester United in mind when he chose his side for this lunchtime kick-off. In-form Jose Antonio Reyes was left on the bench along with Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp. Gilberto's absence was not optional. The Brazilian had picked up a groin injury against Portsmouth in midweek.
Fabregas stepped up to replace Gilberto. Alexander Hleb, Freddie Ljungberg and fit-again Robin van Persie replaced the others.
The game had little pattern in the early stages. Arsenal struggled to get their passing game started on a heavy pitch. Villa were more direct and resourceful.
In the 18th minute Baros skipped away from Sol Campbell's lunge and crossed for Moore at the near post. Fortunately Toure snaffled the ball behind for a corner
Six minutes later, James Milner's corner from the right found Baros unmarked on the penalty spot. The Czech striker decided to hit the ball first time and only succeeded in scooping the ball over the bar. A bad miss for a player of his calibre.
Just past the half-hour, Gareth Barry let fly from distance. Lehmann seemed to be deceived by the swerving ball and adjusted his body at the last second to save. The ball entered the Arsenal area a few seconds later and the dangerous Luke Moore was felled as he bore down on goal. Referee Uriah Rennie waved away the home side's appeals for a penalty.
Up to this point the visitors had not tested Thomas Sorensen. That did not change with Mathieu Flamini's 38th minute chance but the Frenchman's opportunity was the clearest of the half. Hleb's sliderule pass was touched on cleverly by Fabregas and the 21-year-old went clear on the right of the area. His effort, a rising shot blazed over the bar, smacked of a player with one goal in over 50 appearances for the Club.
Within eight minutes of the restart, Baros had blazed an equally wasteful effort over the same bar from exactly the same position. Moore again beat Campbell the sent the former Liverpool front man clear. He only had Lehmann to beat and looked franticly for an outlet. In the end he had to try himself and the shot fizzed over the bar.
Ljungberg responded in the fine fashion as his rasping left-foot drive from 25 yards thumped back off the bar. Villa poured on the pressure after that but the next chance came to the visitors again when Sorensen had to clutch Van Persie's snap-shot.
Wenger brought on his three attacking substitutes and went for the win. Reyes and Henry blasted wide then, with two minutes left, Campbell nodded down a corner and the unmarked Toure half-volleyed wide from six yards.
Had that gone in, Arsenal would have stolen the three points. The one they gained was a fair reflection of this high-tempo New Year's Eve affair.
Referee: Uriah Rennie
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.