Arsenal and Manchester United held each other to an intriguing but ultimately frustrating 0-0 goalless draw where Edinson Cavani spurned a superb late chance to earn three crucial points for the Red Devils at the Emirates Stadium.
An absorbing first half brought few clear cut chances for either side, Nicolas Pepe cutting in from the right and curling just wide of the far post with Arsenal's best chance. United perhaps had better quality efforts. Fred's first-time effort from outside the box drew a fine save from Bernd Leno, who was also sprightly on his feet to close down Marcus Rashford when the ball broke to him at the back post from a Paul Pogba cross.
Arsenal greatly improved in the second period, Alexandre Lacazette rattling the crossbar on the hour moments before Emile Smith Rowe's fierce low drive brought a good low save out of David de Gea.
United looked perhaps more at ease in a counter-attacking role and had the game's best chance in the 89th minute when Cavani took a cross off the toes of an onrushing Anthony Martial, volleying wide from close range as the visitors were forced to settle for a point that suited their needs rather less than Arsenal's.
Arsenal youngsters set the tone
If any moment typified what is so admirable about Arsenal's clutch of wonderkids, around whom Mikel Arteta's team is coalescing, it was not a free-flowing attacking move, a moment of impudent skill or a brilliant shot at goal. Instead in the 29th minute Gabriel Martinelli came hurtling into view, making up what looked like a 20 yard gap to Marcus Rashford to whip the ball off his boot as he was readying a volley, heading the ball out for the safety of a corner. Rarely has conceding an attacking set play to an opponent looked so impressive.
With the ball they could be devastating, without it their work rate was infectious. At the interval no-one had recovered possession more frequently than Smith Rowe. Martinelli was not far behind his fellow youngster's five with three of his own. It was particularly notable that the English prospect was almost conducting the Arsenal press, on one occasion clearly instructing Nicolas Pepe where and when to move.
These players were needed to halt the Manchester United tide in the first half and did so, winning the ball back and starting attacks of their own. The quality in the attacking end was not always present with Martinelli – who completed just 20 percent of his passes in the final third – perhaps explaining why he was withdrawn for Willian at the interval, and as the game wore on Smith Rowe began to miscue the most decisive of passes, particularly frustrating for Pepe when he seemed to be through on goal.
Such are the tribulations for youngsters, ones they will naturally learn from. But in a game where Arsenal defended with diligence, commitment and quality it was the most inexperienced members of Mikel Arteta's side who were setting the tempo.
Manchester United struggle to find their role in the game
Perhaps United, such relentless exponents of counter-attacking excellence on their travels, were confused as to how best to approach a game against a 'big six' opponent who refused to be drawn out in too great a number. Had it not been for the trapping of the Emirates Stadium one might have assumed the team in grey were the hosts, tasked with setting the tempo.
It was a role that ill-suited them. Pogba's ingenuity aside there seemed to be few avenues for United to create a shot against a massed defense, making 69 passes in the final third but largely failing to stretch Arsenal's defense away from their positions. For all the quality of Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani, they are not necessarily players who can charm their way through a disciplined backline so much as outstanding in the final moments of an attack. Only twice was Leno really tested, for all the visitor's territory they looked ill at ease with the tone of the game.
A far more comfortable role for them came in the second half, where Arsenal began to dictate terms and United could play on the counter. One incisive attack on the hour showed what they could do, Bruno Fernandes slicing through a retreating opponent on the right before the ball flashed to Luke Shaw on the left for a brilliant low cross that asked a lot of a recovering David Luiz. It was none of the few occasions where the home defense really looked to be dragged out of position with the Red Devils just lacking that spark in the final third to beat a solid defense.
Luke Shaw: Simply put there is not a better English left-back right now. His delivery in attack invariably asked questions of Arsenal whilst he defended impressively with covering headers and solid positioning. RATING: 8
Rob Holding: The center back was consistency and reliability personified, winning 100 percent of his aerial duels and making 10 of Arsenal's 22 clearances. He did not put a foot wrong and with rhythm in his legs he exudes the composure that suggests he won't for a while. RATING: 9
Premier League outlook
The draw perhaps suited Arsenal's purposes more than their opponents', extending an unbeaten run in the Premier League dating back to Boxing Day. The point leaves them in eighth whilst United remain second but have now played a game more than Manchester City, who are three points clear at the top of the table.