LONDON (AP) - Chastened by a weekend humiliation, Arsene Wenger realized his Arsenal side was just anxious to avoid further anguish - even against a side floundering as much as Manchester United.
And Wenger was by far the more upbeat manager after a 0-0 draw on Wednesday that lacked the usual feistiness when these great rivals meet.
An opportunity might have been lost to reclaim top spot in the Premier League but Arsenal is only a point behind Chelsea in its pursuit to lift the trophy for a first time in a decade.
“You felt our team was highly focused not to concede tonight, and maybe restricted a little bit our game going forward because we were certainly hit by the five goals we conceded on Saturday,” Wenger said referring to the 5-1 loss at Liverpool. “And you could feel that a little bit tonight … we were nervous.
“Where we are usually always very dangerous breaking through the middle with speedy passing, Man United defended very well there.”
But for all United’s defensive resilience, a point wasn’t good enough for a team mounting a pitiful defense of its title. With Liverpool winning 3-2 at Fulham across London, United fell 11 points behind fourth place, making a place in next season’s Champions League look increasingly unlikely.
Through gritted teeth, David Moyes continues to avoid a public surrender, maintaining that United’s top-four chances are not over.
In reality, the club is already prepared for failure, with vice chairman Ed Woodward detailing plans earlier in the day for a significant overhaul of the squad in the summer transfer window, while emphasizing that winning titles isn’t central to the club’s financial health.
“If there is one club in history who have been great at winning games in the second half of the season and putting pressure on the teams above it is Manchester United,” Moyes said. “We will continue to try and do that and make it work.”
How different this visit to the Emirates Stadium was to United’s in April. Back then, Alex Ferguson’s team was welcomed onto the pitch with a guard of honor by Arsenal, having secured the title with weeks to spare. Now United is back in seventh.
Even with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata deployed by David Moyes, the visitors struggled to produce a real threat to unsettle Arsenal.
The match was characterized by a lack of finesse across the pitch, while the intensity these great rivals can usually be relied on to provide was clearly missing.
On a chilly night in London, the players seemed to freeze when the goal came in sight.
Few players could have been more motivated than Van Persie in his second season at United since leaving Arsenal. The Netherlands striker carved out a chance to score inside three minutes, dispossessing goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but produced a poor finish when he was through on goal.
It was the story of the night all round.