Arsenal were grateful to keep their FA Cup hopes alive after a goalless draw at Cardiff City here on Sunday.
The north Londoners endured an uncomfortable afternoon at Ninian Park but held out to ensure a replay at the Emirates Stadium, where they will be confident of securing progress to the fifth round.
Cardiff, feisty to the last, were given a deserved standing ovation by their fiercely partisan home support but they departed with twinges of regret after failing to take any of a clutch of early chances.
Even so, after a fourth round largely devoid of the sort of seismic shocks for which this competition is renowned, the romantics were thankful for small mercies.
Arsenal may not have been floored by the Welsh club, but they were given a bloody nose and manager Arsene Wenger will not relish the prospect of a second meeting.
He will, nevertheless, be content enough at having avoided a slip-up. All the ingredients were in place: a capacity crowd shoe-horned into a defiantly old-fashioned stadium, a sparky atmosphere and, just for good measure, a smattering of historical omens, not least that on the sole occasion the FA Cup has left English soil, it was Cardiff who claimed it. Their opponents in the 1927 final? Arsenal.
But Cardiff, beaten in last year’s final by Portsmouth, were not simply relying on hoary cup cliches to fuel their optimism.
The south Wales club arrived here on the back of a 10-game unbeaten run, harbouring genuine hopes of turning this tie into a Premier League game next season.
Their confidence showed. Cardiff began brightly, moving the ball slickly across a bobbly pitch and subjecting Arsenal’s makeshift defence – missing a trio of experienced regulars in William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre and Gael Clichy – to a rigorous examination.
Cardiff manager Dave Jones’s only complaint was the failure to land a killer blow. For that, Ross McCormack could shoulder most of the blame: the Scot wasted a glorious chance in the 11th minute when he was picked out by Joe Ledley’s left-wing cross, but miscued his header from 12 yards, while he also dragged a shot well wide after springing Arsenal’s offside trap moments later.
Arsenal’s nerves were there for all to see in the 20th minute when goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, standing in for Manuel Almunia, kicked straight to Cardiff left-back Mark Kennedy.
The former Ireland international slid a pass to Paul Parry, whose well-struck shot curled just over.
For Arsenal, it was a chastening first half, with only Robin van Persie showing flashes of inspiration.
The Dutchman’s clever reverse ball in the 21st minute played in Samir Nasri, but the winger shot too close to Peter Enckleman, while Kieron Gibbs was similarly wasteful after being teed up by another astute pass.
Even so, Arsenal were largely frustrated, and none more so than Aaron Ramsey. The former Cardiff midfielder, who left Ninian Park in a five million pounds deal before the season started appeared too anxious to impress against his old employers and was substituted soon after the interval, his sole contribution a litany of misplaced passes and erratic shooting.
Arsenal were better served by van Persie, who nearly broke the deadlock when his near-post shot was blocked by Enckleman’s legs.
Substitute striker Emmanuel Adebayor then fluffed a routine volley after van Persie chipped to the back post before McCormack almost snatched a late winner for Cardiff when his 30-yard free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar.
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