|Arsenal created few clear chances despite dominating possession [GALLO/GETTY]
Arsenal missed a golden opportunity to pile the pressure on English Premier League leaders Manchester United when they were held to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates against a resolute Sunderland on Saturday.
With United facing a tricky away game at Liverpool on Sunday, Arsene Wenger’s injury-hit team, missing Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, were frustrated by a Sunderland side determined to end a run of four consecutive defeats.
The Gunners, who head to Barcelona on Tuesday for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash, failed to close the gap on leaders United, but despite dominating the second period and striking the woodwork twice through Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri, were unable to find a match-winning goal.
With 10 games remaining United lead the way with 60 points, three ahead of Arsenal, who they still have to play at the Emirates in May.
Manchester City, who beat bottom club Wigan Athletic 1-0, are third on 53 and five clear of Chelsea who visit Blackpool on Monday. Tottenham are fifth on 47.
Having failed to overcome Birmingham six days earlier in the League Cup final, Wenger's men were once again found wanting when the stakes were high.
The Gunners League Cup hangover had already been partially eased by the time they returned to winning ways last week with the comprehensive 5-0 FA Cup defeat of Leyton Orient.
Manchester United's loss at Chelsea 24 hours earlier had opened up the title race and while Wenger's side were clearly distraught at losing to Birmingham at Wembley, the prospect of a bigger prize was suddenly more real.
Having won just one of their previous five league meetings with Sunderland, Arsenal were well aware of the task confronting them as they faced Steve Bruce's side.
Sunderland quickly showed they were determined to end their poor run of form and were quick to close the home side down, restricting the Gunners to a couple of hopeful early efforts from Nasri and Jack Wilshere whilst offering an occasional threat themselves.
With Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song injured, Wenger had been forced to reorganise his midfield, pushing Wilshere further forward and employing Abou Diaby and Denilson in front of the back four.
Wilshere and stand-in skipper Nasri created the best of the home side's first half openings but there was no doubt Fabregas's drive from the central areas was missed.
Nasri opened up the left hand side of the Sunderland defence with a neat dribble to force a corner from which Nicklas Bendtner directed an overhead kick into the arms of keeper Simon Mignolet.
Five minutes before the interval, Bendtner was presented with the best chance of the half when Wilshere's chip sent the Denmark striker beyond the Sunderland back four but the forward was again denied by Mignolet.
In the second period Wenger introduced Chamakh and Tomas Rosicky to strengthen his side's attacking options but the longer the game wore on, the more desperate Arsenal's attacks became.
Andrey Arshavin had an excellent chance to ease home nerves in the 63rd minute when he shot straight at Mignolet after being teed up by Chamakh.
Chamakh later headed against the bar after Nasri's free kick had been tipped onto the woodwork by Mignolet.
In the day’s other games, Birmingham City came down to earth with a bump as, six days after upsetting Arsenal to win the League Cup at Wembley, they went down 3-1 at home to relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion and dropped into the bottom three.
West Ham United edged out of the drop zone with a 3-0 home win over Stoke City.