BIRMINGHAM, January 28- Arsenal survived a shocking miss by Aston Villa's Stewart Downing to earn a 0-0 draw at Villa Park on Wednesday.Arsene Wenger’s side extended their unbeaten run to ten Premier League games but missed the chance to regain top spot after a frustrating stalemate and remain third, two points behind leaders Chelsea who beat Birmingham 3-0.
Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky both struck the woodwork in a drastically different Arsenal team to the one that lost in the FA Cup at Stoke City, but they were under par and would have lost but for Downing’s blunder.
Wenger had protected his first team squad by fielding a virtual reserve side at Stoke but brought back the heavy artillery for this encounter.
The likes of William Gallas, Andrey Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo all returned as Arsenal began their quartet of blockbuster fixtures.
After this game they face Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool and Wenger will be acutely aware how serious his chances of lifting a first league title in six years really are in a few weeks’ time.
Villa should have been on a high after reaching the League Cup final last week with their incredible 6-4 triumph over Blackburn Rovers.
But the home side were strangely subdued in the first half, but for an early effort from Gabriel Agbonlahor that was pushed aside by Manuel Almunia.
Denilson forced an excellent reflex save from Brad Friedel in the ninth minute but it was largely a forgettable opening period.
Ashley Young did wriggle past Gael Clichy just after the half hour to find Downing at the far post but the England international’s half volley was high into the stands.
Arsenal were forced to bring on new signing Sol Campbell for his second game in four days towards the end of the half when Thomas Vermaelen, recalled after being rested last Sunday, limped off with an injury that ensures he will be doubtful for the visit of United this weekend.
But Arsenal did come close to taking the lead when Cesc Fabregas, who scored twice in the 3-0 win over Villa last month at the Emirates, danced through the home defence before driving a shot against the upright.
Villa should have been ahead five minutes into the second half but Downing produced a contender for miss of the season.
Young swung another inch perfect cross in at the far post and Downing somehow headed wide of an open net with Almunia stranded.
Arsenal missed a gilt-edged chance of their own in the 62nd minute, though.
Arshavin raced past James Collins and although his shot was smothered by Friedel the ball eventually found Rosicky who hammered his shot against the underside of crossbar.
Neither side could find a winner and a point was not ideal for O’Neill or Wenger.