Andrey Arshavin endured a frustrating Arsenal debut as his new side were held to a costly goalless draw by Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium. The Russia playmaker gave glimpses of the sort of form that convinced Arsene Wenger to sign him from Zenit St. Petersburg in a £15 million deal earlier this month, but he could not break down a stubborn Sunderland defence before he was withdrawn, exhausted, in the 63rd minute.
Arshavin will improve as he builds up his stamina, but he is not the only one at Arsenal running on empty. This was another exasperating afternoon for Wenger, whose side enjoyed an overwhelming share of possession and created a clutch of chances, only to be denied by a combination of poor finishing and doughty defending.
It is becoming a familiar failing. This was Arsenal's third consecutive goalless draw in the Premier League, the first time they have endured such a run since 1998, and until Wenger is able to welcome back his injured trio of Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo, it is difficult to see where the spark will come from.
They are now six points adrift of fourth-placed Aston Villa and Arshavin might wonder whether his 'dream' move will feature UEFA Champions League football next season. His debut was almost granted the perfect start in the fifth minute when he scooped up Andy Reid's loose pass and advanced towards the edge of the penalty area. With Sunderland's defenders scurrying backwards, Arshavin had time to pick his spot but fizzed his shot fractionally wide.
Ten minutes later, he came even closer. Neat interplay with Nicklas Bendtner in the right-hand channel allowed Arshavin space to cut inside and strike a fierce left-footed shot, which drew a flying save from Marton Fulop. Arshavin did not wait long to return the favour to the Danish striker. In the 30th minute, the debutant received Robin van Persie's clever pass, broke to the by-line and chipped a precise cross to Bendtner, whose angled header was palmed aside by Fulop.
Arshavin's sprightliness aside, it was a frustrating half for Arsenal. When they weren't busy wasting chances - van Persie should have notched his 15th goal of the season after being set clear by Denilson's through-ball only to chip agonisingly wide - they were cursing Sunderland's resilience, especially in first-half stoppage time when Reid hacked Kolo Toure's goal-bound header off the goal-line.
Those spurned chances appeared to sap the belief from Wenger's side. There was no fluency or fizz in their display in the second-half and Sunderland, following the established template for visiting sides in these parts by squeezing as many men as possible behind the ball, were comfortable.
Carlos Vela replaced the fading Arshavin, but he merely added to the home crowd's frustrations by wasting two golden chances, dragging wide at the back post with the goal gaping and then missing his kick from ten yards. Those wasted chances were greeted with howls of anguish from the home fans and, when van Persie shot straight at Fulop in the dying moments of injury time, the stadium was already half-empty.