Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0 match report: Referee mistakes, including Theo Walcott penalty appeal, deny Premier League top spot to Arsenal
Chelsea provided physical opposition to the Gunners at the Emirates
All of the aggression and needle of the great rivalry that characterised Arsene Wenger v Jose Mourinho Part I in the last decade, but so little of the quality tonight that once made these two clubs the pre-eminent sides in English football.
There was plenty of pain in the December rain, largely inflicted, it should be said by Mourinho’s foot soldiers or, as they were at times, the foot-up soldiers. Ten games and counting and Wenger’s Arsenal have still not defeated a Mourinho side and whatever they might say at the Emirates, it is a record that rankles with the locals.
Mourinho was booed off at the end, along with referee Mike Dean, and regaled with “boring, boring Chelsea” from those left in the home seats around the tunnel. It was a criticism he leapt upon later, “I agree,” Mourinho said. “I played against them 10 times and I never lost.” Then, for reasons that were not entirely clear, he started singing a chant of his own “Funny, funny Jose”, before adding, “ten times they don't win once.”
Mind you, that was mild compared to the criticism of Arsenal for their appeal for what was a blatant red card when John Obi Mikel caught Mikel Arteta studs-up above the ankle in the first half. “They like to cry,” Mourinho opined, “that’s tradition”. On the tackles itself he said that “Football is for men,” and then sensing he may have strayed into dangerous territory added, “or for women with fantastic attitude.”
If he was looking for a fight, Wenger did not rise to the bait, at least not tonight but as of now it feels like the old bad feeling is creeping back in. It is most definitely on again after the summer rapprochement. As for the Premier League title race, it feels as enthralling as ever.
It was not pretty but it was effective, Arsenal barely finding their rhythm in the first half.
It is Liverpool who lead at Christmas for the first time since 2008, second are Arsenal on goal difference with Manchester City one point behind on 35 and Chelsea on 34. With two points dividing the top five teams, the season is set perfectly - even if this game did not allow for any definitive judgements.
It was a bad night for referee Dean who should have sent off Mikel for his challenge on Arteta on 36 minutes, which met the excessive force criteria. Just seconds later there was a penalty appeal against Willian for a trip on Theo Walcott that looked plum, which was not given. Frank Lampard had rattled the crossbar minutes earlier, which was as close as Chelsea got to scoring.
And then in the second half it got that little bit more aggressive when Branislav Ivanovic caught Mesut Ozil with a high foot and the shoving and finger-pointing becoming ever more intense. But what is worth remembering is that not until Olivier Giroud forced a save from close range out of Petr Cech with six minutes of the game to play was there finally an effort on target from either side.
This was raw and attritional throughout. There were Arsenal trying desperately not to bow to the recent trend of history and succumb to Chelsea. And then there was Chelsea being, well, Chelsea.
It was a classic Mourinho performance: his team refusing to budge despite the pressure and, along the way, very little leeway given to his creative talents. Eden Hazard shimmered with promise in the first half but his manager gradually grew tired of him conceding possession and he was withdrawn for the more orthodox Andre Schurrle instead. When David Luiz came on for Fernando Torres with minutes remaining it was clear what direction Mourinho was taking.
Faced with risking defeat against a direct title rival, Mourinho settled for a draw. He had done so at Old Trafford earlier in the season, preferring to take his chances getting three points at Stamford Bridge.
The first half passed without incident until Lampard hit the bar following a nice diagonal ball from Hazard. Then came Mikel’s lunge. Following that the ball was worked forward to Walcott in the penalty area and, quite frankly, things got worse for Dean. Willian stabbed his foot to get the ball away from Walcott in the penalty area and the Arsenal man went straight over the challenge with the ball untouched.
There was the old physical approach from Chelsea at the start of the game when Cesar Azpilicueta went through Aaron Ramsey. Lampard caught Bacary Sagna. Tomas Rosicky tried to level it up with fouls on Ramires, Hazard and Lampard. The concern for the home team was the anonymity of Mesut Ozil in that first half and Ramsey seemed a long way from his best this season.
It got no more refined after the break with another bad challenge on Arteta, this time from Ramires who was booked. Dean finally started reaching for the cards with Walcott going into the book for a trip on Azpilicueta. Rosicky’s fouling earned him a place in the book. Remarkably, Mikel managed not to get his name taken.
It was a challenge by Ivanovic on Ozil, not a strong influence on the game against his former coach Mourinho, that really stoked things up and began the recriminations and pushing that suggest a game is reaching boiling point. Yet Arsenal were never able quite to convert the late pressure into a goal to decide the match.
There was a good chance for Giroud but he sliced the ball wide on 78 minutes running onto Ramsey’s ball in behind the defence. Six minutes he finally got the first shot of the game on target and Cech proved equal to it. Later, Azpilicueta kicked a shot from Sagna off the line. While Chelsea lived dangerously they were never likely to be overwhelmed. John Terry and Gary Cahill were outstanding.
So it proved that Mourinho’s men ended the game attacking and with a series of corners that, in the end, Arsenal defended well given the circumstances. There was something impressive too in the way that Arsenal, with Thomas Vermaelen partnering Per Mertesacker in the centre of defence, did not give in to the onslaught.
The goalless draw means that Chelsea end the calendar year without a goal away from home in the Premier League from one of their strikers. There was not a single shot on target from the away side and that told its own story. So far the indications have been that Mourinho will not sign a new striker in January although that is a problem that surely needs fixing.
Yet for all that, the obstinate old qualities in Mourinho’s Chelsea remain. They may not be pretty to watch on nights like these but they served a cold reminder to Arsenal, and their resurgent new team, that these are the kind of obstacles that they will have to overcome if they have their eye on that first title since Mourinho first pitched up in England.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Walcott, Ozil, Rosicky; Giroud.
Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Monreal, Jenkinson, Flamini, Cazorla, Bendtner, Podolski
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Willian, Hazard; Torres.
Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Cole, Luiz, Schurrle, Mata, Oscar, Eto'o.
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