Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho were right, the knock-out blows on Judgement Day were restricted to Las Vegas as the capital's contenders slugged themselves to a stalemate at Highbury. Thierry Henry twice put Arsenal ahead, but John Terry, then Eidur Gudjohnsen, pegged them back, both times from set-plays.
For once the old American description of a draw - "like kissing your sister" - seemed apt as each side were left uncertain whether to celebrate or mourn. Chelsea remain top, five points ahead of Arsenal and now four clear of the interlopers, Everton. Manchester United, though 10 points adrift, will feel they remain in contention, albeit distantly.
Good news then, for the Premier League. Described last week by Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, as "being in intensive care", the fact it still has a competitive title race may take it off the critical list, for now. Nevertheless, in a league in which the top clubs are rarely beaten Chelsea's lead is significant. While they will draw confidence from that, and from being the more polished team, Arsenal will be cheered by the knowledge they held Chelsea with a weakened midfield and finished the stronger.
They also started the sharper, taking 72 seconds to open the scoring. Cesc Fabregas, given space in midfield, sent the ball forwards towards Henry. Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho both went for the ball, but Henry beat both, heading down to Jose Antonio Reyes. As the Portuguese were drawn towards him, Reyes headed back to Henry who swivelled and then drove the ball past Peter Cech.
The goal invigorated Henry, who went on to give one of those performances that suggests he feels he has a point to prove. He indulged in his periodic bursts of pressing which lift the supporters and, by extension, his team-mates and always looked Arsenal's most likely source of goals. But for an uncharacteristic miss late on he would have had a hat-trick.
In recent years the team scoring first in these matches has usually lost, but while that will have encouraged Chelsea they took 15 minutes to muster a response. When it came, Gudjohnsen neatly laying back a left-wing cross to Frank Lampard, the shot was tipped over by Manuel Almunia.
That incident was the first of several that justified the day's two unexpected selections: Mourinho's choice of Gudjohnsen rather than Didier Drogba and Wenger's retention of Almunia ahead of the more experienced Jens Lehmann.
The Spanish goalkeeper could do nothing, though, when at the subsequent corner Terry lost his marker and rose ahead of Henry to head in.
It was the ninth goal of 21 conceded by Arsenal this season to come from a set-play and the 10th was not far away. Poor marking, indecisive goalkeeping and a lack of decent headers of the ball have contributed to a weakness which was also exploited by Bolton at Highbury and the consequence is Arsenal look like a Sunday league team at set-plays: there is plenty of arm-pointing but few taking responsibility.
Their preferred answer is to head upfield and score. They almost did here as Reyes and Ashley Cole combined, but Henry missed his kick in front of goal. Chelsea then took control, Almunia scruffily denying Gudjohnsen and Tiago heading over from Arjen Robben's cross. Then Robert Pires, under pressure from Lampard and Claude Makelele, took a tumble.
While Cech organised his wall, the referee, Graham Poll, asked Henry if he wanted to take a quick free-kick. He did. With Gudjohnsen frantically signalling Cech to move, but, crucially, stepping away, Henry chipped inside the unguarded far post with the aid of a deflection off Tiago. Chelsea protested in vain, the goal justly stood: it was Henry's eighth goal in 10 games against Chelsea and his 19th of the season.
At half-time, Mourinho reorganised. Carvalho, who was playing with a broken toe, departed and Drogba replaced Tiago - a clear attempt to exploit Arsenal's aerial weakness.
The warning was ignored as Lauren immediately conceded a free-kick in delivery range. Lampard flighted it in, William Gallas rose above the shorter and isolated Cole at the far post and Gudjohnsen, unmarked, headed in. Schoolboy stuff, it would never have happened in George Graham's Highbury heyday - but Arsenal fans will probably feel the beauty of the football they watch is a fair trade-off.
Not that they were often in their pomp yesterday. This fixture is normally a better footballing match than Arsenal's encounters with Manchester United, there being less emphasis on muscle and fewer vendettas. But this was not a classic technically - three of the goals came from set-pieces and there was a lack of flow to much of the play. But it did not lack for drama and commitment, nor for controversy, quick-wittedness and comedy defending.
That, of course, came from Arsenal but they escaped further punishment with Lampard putting a free header over and Terry less deadly with his second opportunity. Chelsea's expensive team also created some chances in open play, Almunia denying Robben after a fine run after 68 minutes.
Arsenal might also have won it, Henry unexpectedly shooting wide after a Fabregas pass had had provided the opportunity for he and Pires to combine gloriously. Robin van Persie also went close after another pass from the strong-finishing Fabregas.
By then Scott Parker was on as Mourinho settled for a draw. His arrival made enough Englishmen on the pitch for a decent card school, but if neither team could conjure a winning hand yesterday one of this pair should come up trumps by May, probably Chelsea.
Goals: Henry (1) 1-0; Terry (16) 1-1; Henry (29) 2-1; Gudjohnsen (46) 2-2.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Almunia; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Pires, Flamini, Fabregas, Reyes (Clichy, 82); Bergkamp (Van Persie, 82); Henry. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Senderos, Hoyte.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho (Bridge, h-t), Terry, Gallas; Lampard, Makelele, Tiago (Drogba, h-t); Duff, Gudjohnsen (Parker, 77), Robben. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Kezman.
Referee: G Poll (Tring).
Booked: Arsenal: Cole. Chelsea: Robben, Drogba, Lampard.
Man of the match: Henry.
Attendance: 38,153.Reuse content