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Van Nistelrooy miss gives 10-man Arsenal a draw
Pete Oliver | September 22, 2003 14:55 IST
Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy missed an injury-time penalty as 10-man Arsenal returned to the top of the premier league following a dramatic 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Van Nistelrooy blasted his spot-kick against the crossbar after referee Steve Bennett had ruled that Martin Keown had pushed substitute Diego Forlan as he tried to reach a Gary Neville cross.
But Arsenal's hard-earned draw at the home of the champions was overshadowed by another sending-off for captain Patrick Vieira.
The France midfielder collected his ninth and Arsenal's 52nd red card of Arsene Wenger's Highbury reign when he clashed with Van Nistelrooy 10 minutes from the end of a previously dull game.
Vieira, booked two minutes earlier following a series of fouls, reacted angrily to a challenge by Van Nistelrooy and was dismissed for swinging a boot at the United forward.
The pair had to be separated as Vieira left the field and the bad blood was still simmering as the game ended in disgraceful scenes.
Van Nistelrooy's third missed penalty of the season was greeted with delight by the Arsenal players after the final whistle.
Keown caught Van Nistelrooy as the defender celebrated Arsenal's escape, sparking another free-for-all, which remarkably ended with Bennett failing to add to his previous seven yellow cards.
The explosive scenes came as a marked contrast to what had gone before in a cagey game in which neither side wanted to lose ground even at this early stage of the title race.
Arsenal's defence, criticised for conceding three goals to Inter Milan and missing Sol Campbell following the death of his father, did an effective job against a mis-firing United, whose lack of sharpness was perfectly summed up by Van Nistelrooy's late blunder.
Wenger left French internationals Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord on the bench following the Champions League defeat.
Thierry Henry was supported by Dennis Bergkamp and between them they managed to prompt some uncertainty in United's defence in a disappointing first half.
With Bergkamp also lending a hand in midfield, United were given little room to play, although Cristiano Ronaldo was always a willing outlet and provided the home side with their most attacking threat.
His quick feet also drew a number of fouls and it was from free kicks that United went closest to scoring before the break.
Ryan Giggs, who has taken on the responsibility for set-pieces following the departure of David Beckham, clipped the outside of a post after 14 minutes and picked out Van Nistelrooy, whose header landed on top of the net.
Quinton Fortune and Ronaldo forced Jens Lehmann into routine saves, while at the other end an Ashley Cole shot was the closest Arsenal came to breaking the deadlock.
After surviving a scare when a mistake by Neville almost let in Freddie Ljungberg, United finally increased the tempo at the start of the second half.
Ronaldo shot tamely at Lehmann before Van Nistelrooy missed the only clear-cut chance of the game with 54 minutes gone.
Arsenal's previously sound defence was caught sleeping by Neville's routine long throw to leave Van Nistelrooy in the clear but after turning inside Kolo Toure the striker could only manage a weak effort that went straight to Lehmann.
With Vieira his usual commanding self in the middle of the pitch, Arsenal formed a formidable barrier for United to pass but had limited attacking ambitions of their own with too few players getting forward to maximise their occasional breaks.
If a point had been their primary target, that certainly became the case when Vieira saw red.
Thanks to Van Nistelrooy's wastefulness they got it.