A famous fixture that has seen tunnel bust-ups, flying pizza and goal sprees served up only two marvellous saves. This was truly forgettable fare, atrocious really, barring the memory of Wojciech Szczesny tipping Robin van Persie's header onto the bar and, moments later, David de Gea denying Santi Cazorla.
That was about it. Arsenal again pay the price for not buying another centre-forward; Olivier Giroud was poor, although he could have had a penalty.
United, finding respite from the storm of headlines about their season, will take greater pleasure from the stalest of stalemates. They defended well, particularly Michael Carrick shielding the back-line and Nemanja Vidic dominating the airwaves.
Delayed by the inclement conditions, supporters had still been filing into the Emirates when a flurry of early chances came and went, proving the high point of a mediocre 45 minutes. Mikel Arteta, looking to build from just outside the Arsenal area, was caught in possession by Robin van Persie.
The Dutchman ran into the box, having only Szczesny to beat, but failed to make proper purchase with his shot and the Polish keeper saved low.
Booed by his former fans, Van Persie was leading United's line, looking to link with Wayne Rooney, who was in the hole. Juan Mata was exiled to the left, only looking influential when moving inside for a period after 20 minutes. United fans hoping for Adnan Januzaj to start were disappointed with Antonio Valencia providing the width on the right.
For the watching Roy Hodgson, there was plenty to focus the England manager's thoughts in the centre where Jack Wilshere was steering the ball in that confident way of his towards a United area protected by Carrick and Tom Cleverley, who had earlier deactivated his Twitter account following too much abuse. Cleverley's role seemed at times to be closing down Wilshere through fair means or fouls. Wilshere still managed to find ways through, dribbling into the box early on before his shot was blocked by Chris Smalling. From Santi Cazorla's corner, Giroud easily eluded Vidic but headed wide.
Giroud was Arsenal's spearhead with Mesut Ozil a more forceful presence than recently in the 4-2-3-1 system. Tomas Rosicky was on the right, soon moving to the left, cutting inside and making David de Gea scamper to his left to hold his deflected shot. Rosicky's return added some subtlety and energy to Arsenal's forward movement, dribbling into promising positions. United had been hoping for some similar inspiration from Mata, their £37m record signing.
The Spaniard did make that brief move centrally, suddenly picking out a pass behind Arsenal's defence for Van Persie. He turned the ball on to his right foot but his shot skewed awkwardly across goal. It summed up the half.
Van Persie became isolated at times as Rooney dropped deeper to help out his midfield. Rooney, so often so vibrant against Arsenal, seemed out of sorts in the first period, screaming dissent at Mark Clattenburg.
Vidic kept clearing up at the back, from Giroud, and then Ozil. A few opportunities presented themselves before the break but they were rare shafts of sunlight in stormy skies.
Wilshere continued to be brought to earth, clattered by Valencia. Then Rafael fell awkwardly, challenging Giroud in the air, tumbling from a great height, landing painfully but eventually carrying on.
More entertainment was provided during the interval by Tony Adams, who strode on the pitch and regaled the Arsenal fans with some fond memories of his career at the club, including the fact that he immediately signed every contract Arsenal placed in front of him.
"Of course," he said. He just wanted to play for the Arsenal.
Another former England defender arrived for the second half. Rio Ferdinand ran on to replace Rafael, who had clearly not shaken off the after-effects of that huge fall.
Smalling shuffled over to right-back. The game continued to meander, too many players underperforming.
Rooney was poor. Mata suddenly burst into life eight minutes into the second half, pressing hard, playing good passes, enjoying his rare spell in the centre, before heading back to the left.
Mata then collected the ball off Patrice Evra on the left and went wriggling towards the dead-ball line. Bacary Sagna easily saw Mata off, a feat he repeated two minutes later.
Never a spectacle, the game faded even further. Passes were misplaced.
Players gave up the chase early, seeming too exhausted. Valencia nicked the ball from Gibbs but his cross was effortlessly picked off by Laurent Koscielny. Just when the game seemed to be dying of ennui, Arsenal awoke.
Just after the hour-mark, Ozil drove in a corner, Koscielny flicked a header goalwards and Valencia cleared from under the bar.
A minute later, Arsenal should have been awarded a penalty when Vidic pushed Giroud as he was attempting to meet a cross. Clattenburg waved play on.
United were crying out for Januzaj to give them some attacking threat. Mata placed a weak shot wide before Arsenal resumed their attacking. Rosicky was good, making some inroads but Vidic was aware of incoming danger.
Rosicky was then replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while Januzaj came on for Mata. Arsenal still had the better chances but Giroud's labours continued.
The striker wasted a wonderful ball in from Sagna, who curled it around Januzaj, the ball bounced up but Giroud was indecisive and the moment was lost. Van Persie, then almost scored from a superb attack.
Wilshere hesitated centrally, Carrick whipped the ball away and released Van Persie through the middle. The Dutchman quickly passed to Rooney, who measured his return towards the far post.
Van Persie's header was powerful and accurate but Sczcesny somehow pushed the ball up onto the bar and out. Then it was De Gea's turn to impress, throwing himself to his right to deny Cazorla.
Ozil could have won it for Arsenal but his free-kick was so poor, summing up a poor, poor game as both teams seem to settle for a point and leave both sets of supporters feeling frustrated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)