Manchester United made a piece of history at the Emirates Stadium but not quite in the way that they would have wanted. A draw after this all-action stalemate meant that they set a new club record for away league games without defeat.
The sequence now stands at 18 and features 14 victories. Ole Gunnar Solskjær had wanted a reaction to the shambolic home loss to Sheffield United on Wednesday night and he got that in the shape of a much improved performance. But his team could not find the cutting edge.
They had the chances to score during a dominant first-half performance and none better than the one Edinson Cavani spurned in the second half. From point-blank range, he could not find the target from a Luke Shaw cross. The Uruguayan was also inches wide with an 89th-minute scissor kick.
Arsenal were much better after the interval and they, too, had the opportunities to win with only the crossbar keeping out Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick. It is now an encouraging seven league games since they tasted defeat.
United’s crash against Sheffield United had framed the contest and it was certainly one of the shock results of a unique season. Before that, the club’s last league defeat had been against Arsenal in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford on 1 November. United’s unbeaten run in the competition had stood at 13 matches and it was near impossible to foresee the non-performance against the division’s bottom club.
Perhaps it was an illustration that cracks continue to lurk in United’s makeup and the question at the outset was whether Arsenal could locate them. It was plain they would have to do it the hard way because Mikel Arteta was without three key players in Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Saka, who reported a hip problem, had been in blistering form.
The biting north-London chill did little to cool the passions at the outset with Cédric Soares rattling his countryman Bruno Fernandes. Cédric led with his arm into an aerial challenge and he caught Fernandes before going after him with a few choice words in his ear. Fernandes jumped up and shoved the full-back; Cédric was booked.
Fernandes could be seen in conversation with Granit Xhaka and, shortly afterwards, he left his boot in on a challenge with the Arsenal midfielder, raking him down the achilles tendon. This time there was no card. It was spiteful, if hardly peak-level Arsenal-United animosity.
The game was more open than it had been at Old Trafford, with United pressing on to the front foot and coming to control the first half. Their passing and movement was slicker, their comfort on the ball more pronounced. The final action, though, eluded them, with Marcus Rashford playing one heavy pass to the overlapping Fernandes and also failing to unload a close-range shot after a Luke Shaw cross had come through to him.
Fred extended Bernd Leno after a corner had been half-cleared – it was an excellent save by the Arsenal goalkeeper – and Aaron Wan-Bissaka headed wide when loosely marked. Then there were Fernandes’s first-half moments. Having been released by Paul Pogba, he jinked inside David Luiz before curling off-target, then he saw a 45th-minute free-kick on the edge of the area hit a jumping David Luiz in the wall and loop just over.
Arsenal were happy to get to half-time at 0-0. Gabriel Martinelli almost played in Lacazette while Nicolas Pépé curled a yard wide after a driving run but Arteta’s team had not showed enough as a cohesive attacking force.
Solskjær had made five changes from Sheffield United and he had to reshuffle further when Scott McTominay was forced off on 37 minutes, Pogba stepping inside from left midfield. Arteta changed out of choice for the second half, replacing Martinelli with Willian, and his team were more purposeful on the restart; there was more intensity.
Twice they advertised the opening goal and twice United had to make decisive interventions. First, Willian popped up at the far post to meet Héctor Bellerín’s cross only for Wan-Bissaka to make a saving block and then he cut back for Pépé only for Harry Maguire to block.
A goal felt close and United thought they had it when Shaw cut back for Cavani. Incredibly the striker jabbed wide from close range, the ball brushing past the post off Leno. Back came Arsenal and, similarly, the finest of margins were against them. Lacazette’s free-kick had David de Gea beaten only to come back off the crossbar before Emile Smith Rowe was denied by a sharp save from the goalkeeper. Pépé also saw another low shot flash wide.