Premier League - Duo off as Man City hold Arsenal
Wed, 05 Jan 21:50:00 2011
Roberto Mancini's suffocating tactics made clear the visitors only had designs on a point and they were fortunate to see the Gunners twice hit the woodwork during an imposing opening spell.
Although the hosts at least showed the determination to get the three points, they ran out of ideas in the second half apart from a Robin van Persie drive that brought the best out of Joe Hart.
Manchester United will be pleased to see their title rivals cancel each other out and Sagna and Zabaleta will both be banned for three games after going head-to-head in a silly set-to towards the end.
The hosts started at a furious pace and should have been ahead in the second minute when Samir Nasri danced into the box to pick out Jack Wilshere but the youngster overhit a simple cross to Van Persie in the middle. Theo Walcott retrieved the ball but City eventually cleared the danger.
Although City quickly broke to fire off target through James Milner, the Gunners carried all of the threat with Hart's hands warmed by Wilshere.
With nine minutes gone, Van Persie bought himself some space on the edge of the box and thudded a low drive against the outside of Hart's right-hand post.
With City reeling, Wilshere then forced a diving save from Hart to clutch his clever attempt.
Mancini's side weathered the storm but were still fortunate that Walcott dragged a shot wide after a neat turn saw him find plenty of space inside the box.
A rare scare at the other end came when Gareth Barry's free-kick went all the way to Carlos Tevez at the far post but he sliced his volley and Alex Song cleared for a corner.
The brief moment of panic only sparked Arsenal into life again as Nasri teed up Cesc Fabregas, who clipped a shot against the woodwork with Hart giving it up as a goal. The rebound fell to Walcott, who crashed it against the other post but the wide man was offside in any case.
Gradually, Tevez's endeavour enabled him to fight his way into the game and he sprung the offside trap to volley off target from a difficult angle after holding off Laurent Koscielny impressively.
Walcott blew hot and cold in the first half but he felt he deserved a penalty when his cross struck Vincent Kompany on the arm from close range. It would have been extremely harsh and referee Jones was right to only award a corner.
Hart safely fielded another shot by Van Persie as City were relieved to get in to the break on level terms.
Mancini's men were more comfortable after the interval but Van Persie seemed a man on a mission as he blasted a couple of speculative shots off target.
Just past the hour mark, the Dutch striker again tried his luck from long range and this time forced a superb save out of Hart, who dived to paw away in spectacular fashion.
It was to prove to be the closest Arsenal came to scoring in the second half and Mancini hinted at showing a little more adventure by bringing on Adam Johnson for surprise inclusion Jo.
Time and time again, the Gunners' moves were smothered by some stout City defending with Kompany and former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure in no mood to be beaten.
Arsene Wenger replaced Walcott with Andrei Arshavin, much to the England international's frustration, but there was no real Plan B and even the late introduction of Nicklas Bendtner as a target man failed to alter the shape of the game.
Just when everything was petering out, Zabaleta and Sagna decided to square up to each other after a clash on the touchline and their heads touched on a couple of occasions.
Zabaleta was shown the red card first by referee Jones, which seemed harsh, and Sagna had to follow as he was slightly more aggressive during the incident.
The Emirates crowd vented their frustration at City's performance as they tried to run down the clock and it is the home side who will be disappointed with a point.
City set their stall out to get a draw, as they did in their big game with rivals United at the City of Manchester Stadium, and they managed to hold out pretty comfortably in the end.Adam Marshall / Eurosport