(Saturday 21 April 2012)
This was the 150th league meeting between these two London clubs. There have been some memorable and classic recent games. This was one to forget quickly.
The Blues made eight changes to the team that started in the win against Barcelona in midweek but continued with their safety-first defensive formation. While they comfortably contained the Gunners the point gained did little to help Chelsea’s chances of finishing the Premier League campaign in the top four.
Only Petr Cech, John Terry and Gary Cahill from last Wednesday’s starting line-up began this game. At the back the suspended Branislav Ivanovich was replaced by Jose Bosingwa while Ryan Bertrand came in at left back to give Ashley Cole a break.
With Frank Lampard, Raul Meireles and John Obi Mikel rested in midfield Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and Oriol Romeu were brought in. And up front Juan Mata, Didier Drogba (nursing an injury) and Ramires were rested in favour of Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou.
While the personnel were different the approach employed by interim coach Roberto Di Matteo was similar to that used when Chelsea secured their 1-0 win against Barcelona. Three midfielders sat in front of the back four and, with pace in the wide areas, Chelsea relied on quick break-outs from defence.
There was still plenty of quality in the Chelsea side and they were comfortable in the early stages of the game. The (as usual lethargic) home crowd at the Emirates Stadium were frustrated with their team’s failure to break down the visitors while Chelsea moved the ball around intelligently, though they created few genuine openings.
Nonetheless Arsenal created the first real chance – Van Persie directing a free-kick against the outside of the post. Soon after, Arsenal needed a saving interception from defender Koscielny to prevent Torres from getting on the end of a low centre from Malouda. And after a Torres shot was blocked Cahill sliced a difficult chance over the bar.
The impressive Koscielny then turned attacker as the first half drew to a close. Unmarked at a free-kick, his header cleared Cech comfortably but bounced back off the bar. Arsenal finished the half strongly with Van Persie forcing Cech into a near-post save.
The pattern in the second half matched that of the first, with Chelsea bright and positive in their own half while offering little real threat to the Arsenal goal. They fed off breaks and half-chances while Arsenal had clearer opportunities. But both sides failed to make the most of the few opportunities that came along. Sturridge had one shot saved and hit a second strike straight at the Arsenal keeper, while at the other end Van Persie volleyed over the bar.
Arsenal had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty turned down and Van Persie then hooked another shot wide. Arsenal pressed for a late winner but Chelsea held on comfortably.
A repeat of this scoreline on Tuesday, when Chelsea take their slender 1-0 lead to Barcelona for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final, and no Blues supporters will complain.
by Nick Sheppard