No win at Liverpool. No win at Chelsea. And no win at Arsenal. David Moyes has transferred his Evertonian stigma to Manchester United after he oversaw a second successive goalless encounter at the Emirates Stadium within a year. Even a goalless draw can seem as turbulent as the windy weather for the Scot on another unconvincing evening.
Moyes never left Arsenal with a win on 13 separate occasions. The outcomes varied from an encouraging 0-0 to a 7-0 evisceration, and it is perhaps symptomatic of his struggles this season that there was less to admire than when Everton left north London last April. United now trail Liverpool, in fourth, by 11 points and will almost certainly fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 19 years.
"If there's one club in history who are great at winning games in the second half of the season it's Manchester United'," Moyes optimistically said. He's certainly a trier.
Both teams rarely sparkled under the floodlights in a contest more reminiscent of their final stalemate at Highbury, rather than the gladiatorial epics of 2003 or 2005. Arsenal remain a point adrift of Chelsea but were booed at the final whistle. That elusive championship is slipping away again.
United came into this season-defining contest having scored an astonishing 19 goals less than they had after 25 games last season. The enviable attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata (four goals in five against Arsenal), Wayne Rooney (10 in 24) and Robin van Persie (three in three) was ample firepower to frighten an Arsenal side that sieved four in the opening 20 minutes at the weekend. Van Persie should have made it four in four in the second minute.
The ever liable Mikel Arteta dawdled inside his own third and was robbed by the Dutchman, who shot straight at Wojciech Szczęsny. Arsenal fans' air of resignation has festered since before their Anfield debacle and they weren't quite sure whether to mock their former captain or implore Arteta to buck up his ideas.
An electric start soon crackled again when Jack Wilshere danced his way into the visitors' area, leaving Nemanja Vidić disorientated, as Patrice Evra blocked his goal-bound shot. Vidić, partly culpable for Fulham's equaliser on Sunday, seemed bothered by the pesky, yet placid, Olivier Giroud.
Less hesitant were the narky Van Persie and Rooney about softening up their opponents. "Robin, you're a c**t." "Fat granny s*****r." It didn't matter. United have been a lightweight outfit ever since Roy Keane's sacking over eight years ago, and they have still bullied Arsenal. The inclusion of the bulky, albeit ineffectual, Antonio Valencia signalled a similar intention.
For such a pivotal fixture the Emirates, even for its own moribund standards, was unsettlingly quiet. The Mancunians, perhaps buoyed by the prospect of an all-nighter after trains to and from Euston were cancelled, were defiant despite their team's decline and intent on sadomasochistically enjoying it. Gooners, painfully familiar with springtime capitulations, were irritable and offered little encouragement. The jaunty swagger they boasted when Tottenham crossed the divide a month ago has downgraded to anxious reticence.
The teams contributed to an anti-climactic first 45. Arsenal, yet to score a League goal before the interval at home this year, were reduced to distance efforts and Van Persie slashed an effort horribly wide when he should have made more of Mata's through ball.
Perhaps the only occasion Tom Cleverley's timing has been comparable to Paul Scholes' was his decision to close his Twitter account before this game. Far from the youngest on the pitch, he looked like a boy amongst men and is sorely bereft of confidence. At least he was spared any more online flak.
Ominously for United, Arsenal had gone on to win 2-0 in the three home League matches that were scoreless at the break. That title trend came close to continuing when Laurent Koscielny rose to meet Mesut Özil's corner in the 62nd minute, only it was headed off the line by the vigilant Valencia. Suddenly, the volume was cranked up as it dawned on a portion of the home supporters they could leapfrog Chelsea into first.
The Gunners were galvanised, despite the spontaneous rendition of "David Moyes' Red and White Army," from the north-east corner, and were more expansive as United reverted to a more explicit counter-attacking approach. Mata, peripheral again, was withdrawn in favour of Adnan Januzaj after 75 minutes.
Arsenal went close again as Bacary Sagna's inviting cross eluded Giroud's front post dash. Arsène Wenger was left to rue his team's profligacy from the French full-back's wing play at Old Trafford in November and it was very nearly Van Persie, again, who administered the punishment on 90 minutes. Rooney drifted a gorgeous cross to the far post and the erstwhile Arsenal forward's point-blank header was magnificently tipped onto the crossbar by Szczęsny.
The game became frantic and De Gea, rarely worked by the hosts, was alert to deny Santi Cazorla a sixth goal in eight. However, when the game went into stoppage-time, both sides opted for harmless interchanges, much to the disgust of their supporters. It was a night to forget.Suggest a correction