Arsenal missed the chance to take another step toward securing a spot in the Champions League place after fellow European hopefuls Everton held firm in a lively 0-0 Premier League draw at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
The Londoners, who had won four in a row to move up to third and are chasing qualification for the continent’s elite competition for a 16th straight season, had the better opening, with French striker Olivier Giroud guilty of two bad misses.
Giroud prodded wide at full stretch with the goal at his mercy late in the first half and blazed over from a good position near the end to cap a frustrating night for the hosts, who were put off their stride by a well-organized and combative Everton side.
“The game was basically down to physical intensity — it was unbelievable from first to last minute,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
Arsenal have 60 points from 33 games, followed by Chelsea on 58 from 31, Tottenham Hotspur on 58 from 32, and Everton with 56 from 33.
Leaders Manchester United, with a 15-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City, were to have the opportunity to move closer to regaining the title at West Ham United yesterday, as City were to host fellow FA Cup finalists Wigan Athletic and Chelsea visited Fulham.
Wenger cut an annoyed figure throughout the first half on Tuesday, spending much of the time complaining to the fourth official at what he deemed to be some over-zealous challenges.
Gibson was booked and then escaped with a lecture, to the howls of derision from Arsenal fans baying for red, after appearing to cynically bodycheck Theo Walcott.
Everton, who have not won at Arsenal since 1996, had clearly set out to stop the England frontman and Steven Pienaar was shown yellow for a clear shove to stop Walcott’s progress towards the penalty area. Pienaar had wasted a good early opening when he fired over from 6m from Seamus Coleman’s low cross behind Arsenal’s back four.
Arsenal, unsettled by the visitors, countered with Kieran Gibbs’ skied effort and finished the half on top.
Giroud was left to wonder how he missed when he stretched to meet Aaron’s Ramsey’s cross, but could only divert wide with the goal gaping and a well-timed Phil Jagielka block denied Santi Cazorla. Arsenal pressed strongly after the break with Tim Howard beating away a fierce Cazorla strike.
Everton were always a threat on their rare forays forward and impressive young midfielder Ross Barkley curled a 20m effort just inches wide.
Manager David Moyes said his side faced a tough task to seal a top four place.