Arsenal endured yet another day to forget on home soil as they were held to a 0-0 draw by West Ham on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger paid the price for his decision to leave Robin van Persie, by far his most impressive performer in recent weeks, on the bench for over an hour against Gianfranco Zola’s resilient, if decidedly unambitious, side as they were thwarted at every turn by a well-marshalled defence.
The north Londoners did not lose ground on Aston Villa, their main rivals in the race for Champions League qualification, as Martin O’Neill’s team also dropped two home points against Wigan, but Wenger will still see this game – the first goalless league draw at the Emirates Stadium since January 2006 – as a missed opportunity.
Wenger might also have felt a poignant twinge amid his frustration. Just over a year ago, West Ham’s visit to the Emirates ended in a routine win for the home side which maintained their two-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table.
How times have changed.
Thirteen months on, Arsenal started this game eight points adrift of United and with their place in the elite group of Champions League clubs in serious jeopardy, courtesy of Villa’s barn-storming start to the season.
Van Persie’s absence was curious given the lack of experience in Arsenal’s team and it was hardly surprising that the Gunners laboured, particularly as West Ham packed men behind the ball, challenging Arsenal to pick a way through.
It did not make for pretty viewing. Arsenal, not for the first time this season, monopolised possession but had precious little to show for it, despite the best efforts of Samir Nasri in the first half.
The French winger, all quicksilver pace and twinkling footwork, strived hard to give his side a cutting edge.
His early corner was cannoned onto the crossbar by Abou Diaby, courtesy of a deflection from Matthew Upson, while another fizzed cross in the 19th minute picked out Nicklas Bendtner, whose effort was blocked by James Collins.
Zola showed his appreciation with a burst of applause from the dug-out, but that was far from Collins’ only contribution.
The Welshman even mustered a rare effort on the Arsenal goal after he connected well with Mark Noble’s corner but his header was cleared off the line by Gael Clichy.
That, however, was a rare forward foray from the visitors. Collins’ best moments came inside his own penalty area, most notably in the 49th minute when goalkeeper Robert Green could only half-clear Bendtner’s header.
Kolo Toure hooked the loose ball back towards goal with Green stranded, but Collins was on hand to head off the line.
When the Hammers’ back-line was breached, Arsenal’s strikers failed to capitalise.
Emmanuel Adebayor, having one of his increasingly frequent off-days, wasted two gilt-edged chances, slicing wide at the near post after being picked out by Bacary Sagna and then heading straight at Green from Carlos Vela’s cross.
Van Persie was finally unleashed as Arsenal grew desperate but the Dutchman struggled to make an impression and Wenger’s misery was compounded when Diaby was stretchered off in the closing stages with a serious-looking injury.