Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0
Arsenal might have had a penalty and Chelsea should have had a man sent off but just two shots landed on target all evening by the home side told the story more accurately.
On the final day of November, Arsene Wenger’s side were seven points clear; now they will eat their Christmas dinner in second spot, behind Liverpool on goal difference (otherwise known as Luis Suarez). It will probably taste like sand.
Chelsea remain lurking just behind them in fourth as Jose Mourinho extended his unbeaten head-to-head run with Wenger to 10 matches. Chelsea had played all 90 minutes in the knowledge a draw suited them just fine, and so it proved.
“We came here to win the game. But they’re at home — it’s up to them to bring it to us,” said Chelsea skipper John Terry afterwards.
Jose Mourinho admitted both sides were afraid to lose. “It was very tactical; both teams tried to win but were worried about losing. We want to be offensive,” he said.
That Wenger made changes from the 6-3 mauling at Manchester City nine days previously was no surprise but the line-up he chose appeared in no way concerned with shoring up the defence.
Tomas Rosicky was given the nod to help Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil make things happen in the Chelsea half and Mourinho’s picks seemed to have anticipated just that, with John Obi Mikel handed the task of “controlling Mesut’s areas”.
It was a tentative start from both sides and the first chance of the game was fluffed by Frank Lampard, whose connection was so miscued he merely ended up passing to Cesar Azpilicueta, who was now offside.
For long spells, Chelsea made sure everyone bar the isolated Fernando Torres, was behind the ball and Arsenal’s creative toils were not helped by referee Mike Dean being rather too lenient when tackles came flying in, with Azpilicueta especially fortunate not to be booked for hacking Aaron Ramsey from behind.
It took the home side a while to apply any meaningful pressure but eventually Gary Cahill had to show his class to stop Bacary Sagna’s cross reaching Olivier Giroud before Ramires planted a header just over at the other end.
The game meandered tamely past the half-hour mark before, suddenly, Lampard almost broke the deadlock, taking down Hazard’s pass to unleash a volley that beat Wojciech Szczesny but bounced down off the underside of the bar.
There was no question of it having gone over the line but it put Arsenal instantly into a panic, with Szczesny then having to deny Torres, whose next effort was blocked by a sliding Per Mertesacker.
The game was alive at long last and eyebrows were raised when referee Dean ruled no penalty after Walcott’s foot was trodden on by Willian. An even bigger call followed straight after when Mikel lunged in late and straight-legged on Mikel Arteta, hurting the Spaniard, and was not even cautioned when a straight red would have been justified.
A Ramsey error allowed Chelsea another counter attack, which saw Willian fire at Szczesny, and after so much of not a lot, the half-time whistle came as something of a disappointment.
So far the Mourinho masterplan, as usual in this fixture, was working but it took a while for the second period to regain the same temperature, with Hazard stumbling and scuffing another clear Chelsea chance wide early on.
It took another bad tackle to liven things up. Again Arteta was the victim, with Ramires overzealous. This time Dean did produce a card, a yellow.
Every minute that ticked by without a goal was helping Chelsea’s cause and hindering Arsenal’s, as well as prompting the watching neutrals to wish it was St Stephen’s Day already and Manchester City were playing Liverpool. Dean’s yellow card was soon out again, for Walcott’s foul on Azpilicueta.
Lampard forced a save from Szczesny from distance before the intermittent Ozil saw an effort blocked by Branislav Ivanovic, who then kicked the German in the chin from the throw-in. Tempers flared again, inevitably, before Dean booked Rosicky for a retaliatory lunge at the Serb soon after.
Giroud had been waiting for a sniff all night and Ramsey finally gave him one 10 minutes from the end but the Frenchman could only hit the side-netting. He tried again but saw a closer effort deflected just over. It wasn’t his, or Arsenal’s night, as Sagna found when Azpilicueta cleared his header off the line late on.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 7; Sagna 6, Mertesacker 7, Vermaelen 7, Gibbs 7; Arteta 6, Ramsey 7; Walcott 5, Rosicky 5, Ozil 5; Giroud 5. Subs (not used): Fabianski, Jenkinson, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski, Bendtner.
CHELSEA (4-1-2-2-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 8, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 7; Mikel 5; Ramires 5, Lampard 7; Willian 7 (Oscar 77), Hazard 6 (Schurrle 73); Torres 6 Luiz (87). Subs (not used): Schwarzer, Cole, Mata, Eto’o.
Referee: Mike Dean, 5.
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