EPL: Goalless, listless, hopeless

Manchester United's English defender Chris Smalling (L) vies for the ball with Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (R) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 12, 2014.

ARSENAL 0

MAN UNITED 0

There was a time when a clash between Arsenal and Manchester United signified all that was great about the Premier League.

That time appears to have passed.

Across all criteria - technical accomplishment, nerve and invention - this was one of the poorest encounters between the two sides in many years.

Both teams escaped with a point.

Neither could be said to entirely deserve one.

These two great houses of the Premier League have declined since the period between 1996 and 2004 when they duopolised the division.

Arsenal's slump has been slow and frustrating, United's swift and horrifying, but one thing was clear: Neither team are good enough to win major honours.

There were no "best" players on this pitch, there were just varying degrees of awful. There were chances for both teams to win.

It was the wave of ineptitude that flowed over everything, a nervousness that succeeded in ruining everything they tried to create.

Chances were missed, forwards fell over, passes went wandering, moves broke down, runs were unimaginative, possession was squandered.

It was abject stuff.

Arsenal have been destroyed by February once again. The thrashing at Anfield last weekend has shaken their confidence.

There were some positives to which the desperate could cling, the last-minute save from Wojceich Szczesny, the willingness of Mesut Oezil to seek out the ball, even if he couldn't do much with it afterwards.

But the truth is that Arsenal have fallen short once again.

Olivier Giroud looks tired and sad.

Per Mertesacker seems uncertain. Jack Wilshere had such a poor night that he did more harm than good.

They are just a point behind Chelsea but, when you look at their performances, it seems like so much more.

The Gunners have lost their momentum and, with Liverpool and Bayern Munich to play next, there's a chance they won't find it again for a while.

FOR SORE EYES

As for United, it's hard to know where to start. David Moyes claimed afterwards that he was proud of his players and that they were a great group to work with.

They're not a great group to watch.

There's no coherence in their play, no indication of what they're trying to do.

There was less of a reliance on crosses here, but to no avail.

The problem remains the central areas where Tom Cleverley, for all his protestations, continues to boggle the mind.

With a fading Michael Carrick alongside him, there is no dynamism at all.

At the back, Nemanja Vidic opened the performance by missing a tackle on the ground and then losing Giroud at a corner. The introduction of Rio Ferdinand brought some calm and class to the backline at least, but there are serious problems with this team.

Moyes continues to push the line that everyone is working hard, that they can only try and win their next game and that no-one is ready to give up, but there are precious few signs of any improvement.

Even taking into account what a difficult job this must have been, the collapse in form has been horrifying.

Since the start of the year, United have lost five times, drawn twice and won only three times, one of which was the second-leg "win" against Sunderland. It's not good enough.

The United supporters, on the other hand, are better than the team deserve.

As the match lurched into its final stages, they belted out a defiant chorus of "David Moyes' Red Army", repeating the refrain for almost 10 minutes.

In an increasingly hysterical sport, it is astonishing that they, above all fans, can remain so loyal.

They have had over 20 years of almost unbroken success, but their response to a season that looks set to end in failure is to reinforce their devotion to the cause.

Moyes is a very fortunate man. At other clubs, the A4 laserjet brigade would be demanding his head.

Manchester City and Chelsea have both dropped points in the past week, but neither have played so poorly that a collapse seems imminent.

The threat now appears to be a resurgent Liverpool, free from European entanglements and playing without fear.

Arsenal may yet work their way back into contention. United certainly won't.

For both teams, the past seems a far more pleasant place than the future


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