Analysis: Jose Mourinho's frustrating Chelsea team show signs of 2004-07 vintage in 0-0 draw with Arsenal

The visitors will be far happier with their evening’s work, to judge by the exasperated chants of 'Boring, boring Chelsea' coming from the home fans

Emirates Stadium

There are more important things in football than possession alone. There is certainly more than one way to play the game. No one knows this better than Jose Mourinho, whose acutely rebalanced Chelsea side blocked and bullied Arsenal into a 0-0 draw.

Arsenal are second in the Premier League on goal difference, and Chelsea fourth, but the visitors will be far happier with their evening’s work, to judge by the exasperated chants of “Boring, boring Chelsea” coming from the home fans at the final whistle. Chelsea have not always looked like a Mourinho side this season, lacking that discipline, that physicality, that machine feel, but here they did. They might not have the power of the 2004-07 vintage yet, but this was one of their best impressions yet.

Mourinho, speaking last Friday, sensed exactly what this Chelsea side needed. Good teams, especially Mourinho ones, are built on stacks and stacks of clean sheets. His title-winning side of 2004-05 recorded a remarkable 25, the next season still 20. This time, though, they had taken just four in their first 16 league games, one measly quarter of the sample size.

So a cavalier 4-2-3-1 with four forward players is not always the right answer and, on Monday night, Mourinho changed shape. “We can improve results by having more security when we lose possession of the ball,” Mourinho said last week, and here he was true to that. Out went the 4-2-3-1 and in came a camped, disciplined 4-5-1. Ramires played as a third central midfielder, along with Jon Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard, while Willian and Eden Hazard were the stocky scurriers up and down the flanks. For the first time this season in the league, neither Oscar nor Juan Mata started.

It was the same system Chelsea used for their last truly convincing performance, the 3-0 win at West Ham United one month ago, suggesting that, for now at least, the closer this team are to the traditional Mourinho template, the better. They are not going to blow teams away and so efficiency is the priority instead.

 

From the start Chelsea made it clear that they were not here to be polite guests, but wanted to play with the muscle and physical edge that has so often discomfited Arsenal over the years. In the first few minutes, Cesar Azpilicueta clattered Aaron Ramsey before Frank Lampard thundered into Bacary Sagna. It was not pretty but it was effective, Arsenal barely finding their rhythm in the first half.

Read more:

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0 match report: Dean’s mistakes deny top spot to Arsenal

Mourinho’s frustrating team show signs of 2004-07 vintage

Arsenal 'cry too readily' - Mourinho

Wenger: If I told you we'd be top at Christmas, you'd have told me I was mad!

Mourinho mocks Arsenal fans

Excessively physical football is a risk, though, and without the festive generosity of Mike Dean Chelsea might not have reached half-time level. When Mikel flew into a tackle with Mikel Arteta and planted his studs on his opponent’s shin, it looked a very obvious dismissal and yet Dean was unmoved. Seconds later, Willian tripped Theo Walcott in the box and yet no penalty came.

In the second half Ramires, the crucial extra midfielder, shuttling up and down ahead of Mikel and Lampard, greeted Arteta with a tackle almost as bad. This time the referee did produce a card, but it was only a yellow. Branislav Ivanovic’s studs flew perilously close to Mesut Özil’s neck, prompting some second-half handbags.

Even after their recent improvements, their 2013 resilience, their new-found efficiency and discipline, there is a sense Arsenal can still be outfought, outmuscled, that they have the quality to be champions but not the nerve. This was the case last time Mourinho was here, when Didier Drogba asserted himself over Arsenal with almost remarkable routine.

Chelsea do not have Drogba any more but they still carried a threat on the break. Lampard’s shot flew off the underside of the bar and down and out, after exchanging passes with Hazard. Ramsey gave the ball to Fernando Torres, who found Hazard, who found Willian, who shot at Szczesny.

With Arsenal stifled by Chelsea’s immaculate defence – they did not produce a shot on target until the 85th minute – Mourinho could sharpen up his attacking options, introducing the nimble Oscar and the rapid André Schürrle into wide areas for the game’s final quarter. They could never break in behind, but there are worse things in football than being boring.

“If we cannot improve our efficiency in front of goal,” said Mourinho last week, “we have to improve at the other end.” This was a very satisfactory start.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home