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Arsenal-Man United rivalry no longer what it used to be

Arsenal-Man United rivalry no longer what it used to be

After a decade of ill-tempered scrapping at the top of the Premiership, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson are finally agreed on something - Chelsea is too good for both Arsenal and Manchester United.

In a scoreless draw on Tuesday, both sides seemed agitated, worryingly lacking in cutting edge, devoid of the class or focused urgency that might have made them contenders.

The diminished importance of the game that has for a decade been the biggest in English football was evident in the lack of ferocity.

There may have been the odd outbreak of frustrated petulance in the second-half, but this was nothing to the bone-shuddering clashes of even a season ago.

But then, without Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira squaring up in the middle, it was never going to be.

That wasn't the only diversion from recent tradition.

Last year it was the physical treatment meted out to Jose Antonio Reyes at Old Trafford that was instrumental in derailing Arsenal's season, but Reyes was far more effective on Tuesday, chasing and harrying on the left of a midfield five, offering both an attacking threat and providing cover for Pascal Cygan.

Wenger, explaining his formation, said: "I felt I wanted to play with many offensive players and strengthen in the middle of the park when it is a physical battle."

Cristiano Ronaldo might have been expected to expose the makeshift left-back, but Cygan looked confident and assured in dealing with the Portuguese winger, although his propensity for gaffes almost cost Arsenal shortly before half time, Sol Campbell having to react sharply to snuff out the danger from a badly misplaced pass.

Ronaldo, in truth, had an evening to forget, frequently dribbling down blind alleys, and being subjected to a tirade from Wayne Rooney after he neglected a simple through ball to the 20-year-old for a wild slash at goal from 25 yards.

United's failure to cash in on a series of opportunities meant Jose Mourinho's men emerged from the packed festive schedule with a massive 13-point lead on their nearest rivals.

The gap to fifth-placed Arsenal is an incredible 24 and while no-one is prepared to hand the trophy over just yet, it appears both camps are resigned to the inevitable presentation ceremony at Stamford Bridge next spring.

"Chelsea's consistency is beyond us," said Ferguson.

"Eventually we hope to reach that level. We have a young team who will get better.

"You can see what is going to happen to us over the next two or three years and in the meantime we just keep going.

"We want to be the nearest team to Chelsea, just in case they have a Devon Loch moment and collapse. You never know what might happen."

The statement represents the nearest Ferguson is likely to come to an admission of defeat without actually making one - and Wenger is in total agreement.

"At the moment, with the number of points Chelsea have, Ferguson is right to say that," he said.

"Just now, we are not scoring enough goals and we are not ruthless enough.

"If you look at Chelsea, they have a mature team. All their players are between 25 and 30. They have power and a lot of self-belief," Wenger said.

Arsenal dominated the first half but it was United that created the game's best chances.

Cristiano Ronaldo blazed an excellent opportunity over a minute before the interval, while Ryan Giggs, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gary Neville all might have converted after the interval.

The nearest either side came to winning was in stoppage time when Emmanuel Eboue booted Wes Brown's header off the line.

"We had the clearer chances and you would hope to take one of them because that would have won the game," said Ferguson.

For Arsenal, the upward curve may take longer to negotiate than for United and the need to keep hold of Thierry Henry is paramount to the side's chances of challenging for honors in the future.

But Wenger remains bullish and rejects Patrick Vieira's claim the Gunners are still suffering from his absence.

"I have said many times it took us time to get beyond the grieving process,"

he said.

"But I think we have recovered from that now and it is not a problem."

Arsenal was reduced to a number of half chances from which it never truly looked like breaking through United's stout defense.

But Henry did think referee Graham Poll denied the hosts a clear penalty when he turned away Gunners' protests over Gary Neville's second-half tackle on Cesc Fabregas.

"I don't want to cause an argument or create trouble but I thought it was a penalty," said the Arsenal skipper.

"With a bit of luck on our side, the referee would have given us the decision."

By the end, however, Henry cut a distant, almost disinterested figure, his frustration matching that of the crowd: neither of these sides is what it used to be.

Updated : 2021-06-25 12:06 GMT+08:00