All eyes were on Robin van Persie and the Manchester United striker did not disappoint. He scored on his return to Arsenal to deny Arsene Wenger's side an important three points in the pursuit of a Champions League place.
The Dutchman equalised from the penalty spot before half-time for newly-crowned champions United, who were given a guard of honour before kick-off, having been brought down by former team-mate Bacary Sagna. The goal cancelled out Theo Walcott's early opener.
Walcott in his post-match interview said Arsenal would view the draw as a point gained. But whether that is the case in the race for the Premier League's top four remains to be seen.
Arsenal needed a win to stay ahead in the pursuit of Champions League qualification and deployed German forward Lukas Podolski in a central striker role, with 17-goal Olivier Giroud starting a three-match ban for his red card at Fulham. England midfielder Jack Wilshere had to again be content with a place on the bench, as did captain Thomas Vermaelen.
Van Persie returned to face his former club as United visited. A much-talked about guard of honour went without a hitch but one-time Arsenal favourite Van Persie still received a hot reception as passions ran high following his controversial £24million move last summer. Wayne Rooney and Nani both also started in attack.
Arsenal had a clear plan to stifle United in midfield by not allowing the likes of Michael Carrick, who, like Van Persie, is a nominee of the PFA Player of the Year award later on Sunday night, any room to operate. Tomas Rosicky was particularly effective when continuing his excellent form of the latter months of the season.
With central areas congested, United looked for wide areas in which to find success. Having made a slow start, they exposed Arsenal right-back Sagna on several occasions before the Frenchman fouled Van Persie for the penalty. In the second half, Rooney dropped a lot deeper in order to find space and caused Arsenal far more problems than in his almost anonymous first half.
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Man United|
|6||Shots on Target||4|
|6||Shots off Target||5|
With United gaining control of midfield after the hour mark, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger decided to introduce star man Wilshere in place of the tiring Rosicky. But the change had next to no impact. The same can be said of replacing Aaron Ramsey with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho coming on for Podolski.
Sir Alex Ferguson's first change was to send on Anderson for Rafael da Silva, with Phil Jones dropping back into defence. The move gave United more creativity as they looked to counter-attack. Ryan Giggs also came on for Nani and saw a late chance deflect just wide, while Rooney was given a late breather for Javier Hernandez.
Phil Dowd had brandished six yellow cards before half-time, and eight in total, including one for Van Persie for a sliding challenge on Per Mertesacker. The match official's no-nonsense manner was also required to break-up a coming together between Walcott and Jonny Evans. Dowd did make the correct call on the penalty, when Sagna brought down Van Persie. But he was perhaps let down by one of his assistants in failing to spot Walcott may have been offside when opening the scoring. Sagna was lucky to avoid a second booking after the hour for a challenge on Patrice Evra. Ferguson was after the match unhappy five of his United players were shown yellow cards.
Rosicky was lively for Arsenal in midfield but the poor performance of Sagna cost Wenger's team. The full-back was caught out of position before his mistake with a back-pass led to his foul on Van Persie to give United their penalty equaliser.
All eyes were on Van Persie and, before his goal, he had endured a frustrating match. However, when offered greater space in the second half, he delivered some wicked crosses and almost set Rooney up for a winner.
Fourth-placed Arsenal sit two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to qualify for the Champions League but Wenger's team have played a game more. Arsenal must therefore take maximum points in their remaining games against already-relegated Queens Park Rangers and struggling Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United.
A potential record points tally has now gone for Manchester United , who can no longer mathematically surpass Chelsea's target of 95. There will consequently simply be a party atmosphere surrounding concluding fixtures versus Chelsea, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.