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Arsenal FC's hopes of becoming only the fifth team to win all six group games in the UEFA Champions League ran into a Dutch defensive dam at Highbury, where Thierry Henry missed a penalty and fellow qualifiers AFC Ajax held them to a goalless draw in their final Group B tie.
The Arsenal talisman spurned his team's clearest opportunity of the first half - and of the match - when he sent his spot-kick wide of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's left-hand post. However, with both sides already through to the knockout rounds, there was no great cause for regret.
Despite the 'dead rubber' nature of the occasion, the two coaches' selections ensured there would be plenty of youthful exuberance on display. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger included only three players aged 25 or over in his lineup, Ajax coach Danny Blind only four. Commitment would not be a problem.
Indeed, Ajax centre-back Zdeněk Grygera took an early blow for his team when Henry fired a free-kick straight into the Czech international. Grygera bravely played on for 12 minutes before being replaced by Hatem Trabelsi, but this upset Ajax's rhythm. Chances were few and far between. Ajax probed, and Arsenal, without eight regulars, sought to respond.
The hosts' first opportunity came when José Antonio Reyes's corner from the right fell to Quincy Owusu-Abeyie in front of goal, but the 19-year-old Dutch forward was unable to swivel and connect. There were further signs of Arsenal frustration when two players were booked in four minutes, Mathieu Flamini and Aleksandr Hleb being cautioned for fouls. Hleb's late challenge on Hedwiges Maduro resulted in the midfielder limping off to be substituted by Nigel De Jong.
Ten minutes before the interval, though, Arsenal had a decent opening. Owusu-Abeyie robbed Thomas Vermaelen on the right, but rushed his pass and failed to find Henry, who was unmarked in the middle. Little had been seen of the French international, although shortly after he almost created a goal for Sebastian Larsson with a quick-thinking cross that the Swede volleyed wide.
This encouragement for the home support was followed by a surging 50-metre run out of defence by Philippe Senderos. He supplied Henry, who in turn fed Owusu-Abeyie on the right. The teenager cut inside and fired a left-footed effort which was parried by Stekelenburg and cleared.
It was three minutes into first-half stoppage time that Ajax could really breathe a sigh of relief, though. Reyes earned a penalty by going down under Tomáš Galásek's challenge, only for Henry to fluff his lines.
The midfield stalemate continued in the opening phase of the second period, with both teams working hard without making tangible progress. Then Reyes, racing clear down the left, was brought down by a late Johnny Heitinga tackle that prompted the third yellow card of the night and forced the Spanish international to hobble off. It was the cue for Robin van Persie, formerly of Ajax's great rivals Feyenoord, to enter the fray.
Van Persie persistence
The latter made an instant impression and his persistence on the right of the area, brushing past two markers, produced Arsenal's best moment of the half as Stekelenburg had to make a fine save. At the other end a Senderos mistake let in Markus Rosenberg, but the Swedish international blazed over.
As the weather worsened, the two sides seemed content with the draw, marking Arsenal's first failure to win at Highbury in all competitions since February. However, with a last-16 place already confirmed, neither coach will mourn the loss of two points tonight.
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