Aston Villa climbed out of the Premier League’s bottom three with a drab 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal at Villa Park.
Neither side produced their best football in sodden conditions. Arsenal’s best chances came to players who could be charitably described as ‘not natural finishers’ – Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson.
Villa coped better with the rain, but came no closer than with Brett Holman’s second half drive that Wojciech Szczesny pushed onto the crossbar.
The silver lining for Villa is that they climb to 17th, ahead of Reading, and can take satisfaction from a clean sheet having conceded eight against the Manchester clubs in their last two games.
Paul Lambert served a touchline ban, and may have been grateful as he could huddle in the dry at the back of the stands while his opposite number Arsene Wenger got a soaking.
Wenger made several changes three days after playing in the Champions League on Wednesday, and with a trip to Everton looming on Wednesday.
Full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs came in, while Theo Walcott remained sidelined with a minor shoulder complaint.
Villa’s more direct style helped them make the early running – Andreas Weimann saw an early cross-shot palmed away while Gabriel Agbonlahor had a penalty claim turned down by Lee Mason after an excellent Per Mertesacker challenge.
Arsenal eventually got into their stride – Aaron Ramsey shifted the ball nicely to get a shot away that Brad Guzan saved with his feet.
Then, just before half-time, Koscielny missed the best chance of the half. The defender turned to meet a low cross with a left-foot shot that he scooped over the bar from eight yards.
Jenkinson’s chance came just after the hour mark, when Olivier Giroud flicked on a Mikel Arteta corner and the defender skied his shot under little pressure.
Ramsey did no better when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain beat Ciaran Clark and whipped in a low cross that the Welshman could not direct goalwards.
Agbonlahor had another chance when Benteke dragged the ball into his path, but the Villa captain fired at Szczesny.
The best moment of an otherwise forgettable game came on 78 minutes from Holman, who smashed a 25-yard shot that Szczesny did well to touch onto the bar.
Arsenal’s fans questioned their team’s passion as they trudged off after another disappointing result. They are already 10 points behind the Premier League leaders – a figure that will increase if Manchester City win on Sunday.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa): A very solid performance from the improving Irishman, who coped well with the twin attack of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson down the Arsenal right.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 7; Lowton 6, Vlaar 6, Clark 7, Stevens 7; El Ahmadi 6, Westwood 6, Bannan 7, Weimann 7; Agbonlahor 6, Benteke 7. Subs: Albrighton N/A, Holman 7, Lichaj 7.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 7; Jenkinson 6, Koscielny 6, Mertesacker 6, Gibbs 6; Arteta 7, Ramsey 5, Cazorla 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6; Podolski 5, Giroud 6. Subs: Coquelin N/A, Arshavin 6, Gervinho 5.