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VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Arsenal held by cautious Manchester City

adebayor vieiraBy Jonny Payne.

If Arsenal’s match against Barcelona at the Emirates two weeks ago was the perfect advert for football, then the Premier League’s marketing department will be pulling their hair out at the sight of a dull goalless draw between the Gunners and Manchester City.

Fifth-placed Manchester City managed only one shot on target, a limp Craig Bellamy shot, while third placed Arsenal hit the target on only four occasions, with much of the play being dictated ineffectively in midfield. It was not a good advert for arguably the best league in Europe.

Arsenal took to the field knowing that the title was realistically out of reach and third place was secure bar a collapse of Lehman Brothers proportions.

A win for the visitors, meanwhile, would have put them in pole position to secure the all-important fourth place after Tottenham’s defeat to Manchester United earlier in the day – but in truth the blues never looked like taking three points.

For much of the game City were happy to let Arsenal have possession, putting ten men behind the ball. It was an interesting tactic for a team that has spent millions recruiting some of the best talent in the league in search of Champions League football for next season.

Arsenal, with a heavily depleted team without the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin, William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen, were much the better side and spent much of the time around their opponents box probing for an opening.

The clear-cut chance never came though, as City’s defenders – helped the Nigel De Jong and Patrick Vieira in midfield – put up a solid barrier in front of Shay Given’s goal.

The most notable moment of the match was the second-half introduction of former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who in the previous meeting between the sides this season had put himself firmly on the hate list of Gunners fans after his inciting goal celebration. It was a wonder Adebayor-shaped voodoo dolls were not being sold outside the stadium before kick-off.

Arsenal started with Robin van Persie for the first time since November. The Holland forward had been in the form of his life before his knee ligament injury but he had looked surprisingly sharp with substitute appearances against Tottenham and Wigan in the last fortnight.

With Gallas and Vermaelen still out, Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre continued at the heart of defence. Arshavin had not recovered in time, but Alex Song, who limped off in the Wolves match three weeks ago, returned in midfield.

Arsenal fans had to wait to give Adebayor a hot reception as he had to settle for a place on the bench, but other former Gunners Patrick Vieira and Kolo Toure both started, receiving rapturous applause from the Arsenal faithful.

Arsenal started in control, with van Persie seeking to use his quality to open up the visitors’ defence, Samir Nasri and Thomas Rosicky looking to exchange places at every opportunity and Theo Walcott trying to use his pace down the right.

Wayne Bridge, the Manchester City left-back was looking uncomfortable against the pace of Walcott and would have been pleased to have been taken off with a thigh injury after only 27 minutes.

Manchester City were content to let Arsenal spray the ball ahead of them, feeling assured that they could limit the Arsenal attack to half-chances, and maybe hit the home team on the break as they proved so effective at doing at Stamford Bridge in their victory over Chelsea.

It was a plan that worked. Nasri and van Persie both tested Shay Given but from narrow angles that a goalkeeper of Given’s quality had no trouble dealing with.

Patrick Vieira almost came back to haunt his former team as he found space inside the Arsenal box, but Sol Campbell put in a trademark crunching tackle on his former captain to avert danger.

The second half continued in much the same vain, until the inevitable introduction of Adebayor. A chorus of boos and whistles hailed the arrival of the former Togolese international in the 52nd minute, the complete opposite to the man he replaced, Patrick Vieira, who was applauded as he walked off.

Complete with pigtails and bright red boots, Adebayor looked immediately lively, with jeering from the crowd greeting at every touch. His arrival did liven the game up, however, and soon Alex Song and Craig Bellamy – who is never far from controversy – clashed after a innocuous challenge.

Manchester City looked happy to settle for a draw, but Arsenal’s players showed more endeavour as they looked for the winning goal. Arsenanl manager Arsene Wenger brought Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue on for Walcott and Rosicky in the hope of creating some chances.

With twenty minutes remaining, Abou Diaby tried his luck from range, only for Given to turn the ball around the post. It was to be the last contribution the Irishman made, however, as he dislocated his shoulder in the process. Faroe Island international, Gunnar Nielsen replaced the 32 year-old for his first Premier League appearance.

After Van Persie scythed down Adebayor earning a yellow card, in what was surely revenge for Adebayor’s stamp on the Dutchman earlier this season, Arsenal’s number 11 then curled a free-kick just over with six minutes remaining.

Despite eight minutes of added time due to the injury to Given, Arsenal failed to open up a resolute Manchester City defence. Both teams would be content with a draw, bit it looks to be turning into a disappointing end to another disappointing season for the Gunners.

The result virtually guarantees Arsenal Champions League football once again however, something most Arsenal fans would be more than happy with given the widespread predictions at the start of the season that they would struggle even to make fourth place. On the evidence of Manchester City’s performance, however, Arsenal’s place in the top four will not be threatened anytime soon.

Arsenal Team: Fabianski 7, Sagna 6, Campbell 8, Silvestre 7, Clichy 7, Song 7, Diaby 6, Nasri 7, Rosicky 6 (Bendtner 7), Walcott 6 (Eboue 7), van Persie 7

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