Premier League - Arsenal held at Villa

Eurosport - Wed, 27 Jan 21:45:00 2010

Arsenal slipped to third in the Premier League after being held to a goalless draw at Aston Villa.

2009-10 Premier League Arsenal's Neves Denilson (left) and Aston Villa's Stiliyan Petrov battle for the ball - 0

Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky both hit the woodwork but the Gunners were unable to break down a staunch home defence superbly marshalled by Richard Dunne and James Collins.

The Londoners now find themselves three points behind Chelsea, who also have a game in hand, and a point behind Manchester United ahead of Sunday's big clash between the sides at the Emirates.

An open game that benefited from neither side fielding a midfield destroyer saw Fabregas come closest to breaking the deadlock in first-half injury-time when he struck the post.

The Arsenal captain beat three men with a surging run from deep before driving a diagonal shot against the far post. Rosicky then looked to turn in the rebound but Aaron Ramsey was in his way and eventually the Czech screwed his shot wide.

Brad Friedel's only real save of the opening period was when a corner dropped into the path of Denilson whose 20-yard drive was turned around the post by the diving American custodian.

At the other end Manuel Almunia had been called into action early when Emile Heskey's reverse pass was deflected into the path of Gabriel Agbonlahor whose shot was pushed away by the Spaniard, diving to his left.

Ashley Young also curled a free-kick just wide of the post and then set up a good chance for Stewart Downing but the former Middlesbrough winger volleyed a deep cross over the top.

If the first-half was even then the visitors certainly had the better chances in the second period.

Arsenal came close once more three minutes after the break. Gael Clichy's low cross from the left was only pushed away by Friedel into the path of Fabregas but Dunne was on hand to make a crucial close-range block.

Then the woodwork saved Villa again after a superb run from Arshavin who picked the ball up on halfway and beat Carlos Cuellar and Collins. His shot was blocked by the onrushing Friedel and dropped to Fabregas who fed Rosicky but the Czech hit the crossbar with a toe-poke from eight yards.

Villa were not without chances of their own as Downing nodded wide from close range after Bacary Sagna failed to deal with a deflected cross that looped into the air.

Ahead of a busy period, Arsene Wenger was dealt a double blow with Thomas Vermaelen forced off after 35 minutes - meaning Sol Campbell came on for his first appearance in a Gunners shirt in the top-flight since May 2006 - and then Eduardo hobbled off in the second-period, also with a muscle injury.

But despite the changes it was Arsenal who continued to press only for Villa to show why they have the joint best defensive record in the Premier League with three crucial blocks on goalbound efforts by the impressive Collins.

Arshavin did carve out a shooting chance in stoppage time but his curling effort was safely held by Friedel and Wenger continues to wait in his quest to become the second manager to reach 300 Premier League wins after Sir Alex Ferguson.

Lee Walker / Eurosport

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