With United facing a tricky away game at Liverpool on Sunday, Arsenal could have piled the pressure on Sir Alex Ferguson's team with a win over Sunderland at the Emirates.
However Arsene Wenger's injury-hit team, missing Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, were frustrated by a resolute Sunderland side who were determined to end a run of four consecutive defeats.
A disappointed Wenger was furious that an Andrey Arshavin goal had been disallowed for offside when replays appeared to show he had been onside.
"It's really disappointing and it's very difficult to take a decision like that in a game of this importance," Wenger told Sky Sports.
"We have to take it on the chin and continue to fight. But it's absolutely disappointing and unacceptable," added Wenger, whose side now face a daunting trip to face Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The draw leaves Arsenal three points adrift of United ahead of Sunday's game at Anfield. The Emirates stalemate was the only goalless draw on a day of breathless entertainment across the league.