Arsenal's early-season stutters continue. Though Chelsea were reduced to 10 men for the last 20 minutes of a frenetic London derby, Arsenal failed to take advantage of a superiority evident even before Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had been sent off after a clash with Martin Keown.
Arsenal enjoyed the best of the chances, went ahead with a neat goal by Thierry Henry after 16 minutes and should have put the game beyond Chelsea's reach in a frenzied finale when Nwankwo Kanu stabbed just wide from eight yards and Gilles Grimandi miscued a header with the Chelsea defence absent without leave, claiming offside. Chelsea, breathless but unbowed, were content with a point earned by Hasselbaink's first-half penalty. "We should have killed off the game in the last 15 minutes," said Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, who left out Sol Campbell from the starting line-up and sensed battle fatigue in troops returning from international duty.
Quite what this says about the title pretensions of both teams is open to debate. On this form, familiar failings threaten to undermine the challenge of both teams. Arsenal lacked the killer instinct; Chelsea looked fragile down the flanks and lightweight in attack. But for several fine saves by Ed de Goey in the Chelsea goal, Arsenal would have come away with rather more reward for some pretty approach play, notably from Robert Pires. Chelsea, at least, showed impressive resilience once Hasselbaink's elbow to the face of Keown had brought the inevitable red card from referee Mike Riley.
"Of the challengers to United, Leeds, Liverpool and Arsenal are all better teams than us because they are more settled," admitted Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea coach. "But, in time, we hope the child will become a man." Time, though, might be at a premium if Ranieri's expensively remodelled army does not show more attacking coherence and composure than yesterday's performance. Of the new boys, only Emmanuel Petit has settled in to his rhythm with assurance. Frank Lampard, despite almost putting Chelsea ahead in the second half, is still adjusting to Ranieri's tactical demands, while Boudewijn Zenden was only fitfully effective. It was left to the familiar, hunched, figure of Gianfranco Zola to prompt a lethargic Chelsea into life after Henry had capped Arsenal's excellent start with an opening goal.
There was a touch of controversy about the manner of Chelsea's equaliser. Zola, twisting and turning through the Arsenal defence, was tripped by Keown then bundled over by Tony Adams. Referee Riley unhesitatingly pointed to the spot and Hasselbaink scored his second goal of the season. "It was doubtful," Wenger said. "I'm not going to say that Zola dived, but the ball was past him and he went down with two hands out in front of him in a very professional way." A dive, in any other language.
Wenger, though, was strangely reluctant to comment on the incident right in front of the dug-out which saw Hasselbaink given the red card and Keown, his victim, booked. Hasselbaink has played in the Premiership long enough to know that his reaction to Keown's bear-hug was unacceptably violent, but the Arsenal man thoroughly deserved his punishment for blatantly provoking the Chelsea forward. All in all, it was not a glorious afternoon for the England defender, just returned after injury and suspension. "Maybe I was too superclose to see the sending off," explained Wenger.
You shuddered to think of the combustion that might have been created had Patrick Vieira been available to renew his acquaintance with Petit, his old Arsenal midfield colleague, instead of serving a suspension for his sending-off against Leicester. Petit, though, still had his work cut out to shore up the Chelsea midfield, even with the more prosaic Grimandi replacing Vieira for Arsenal. Ranieri restored Zola to the starting line-up and gave William Gallas, a £6.2m signing from Marseille and Chelsea's seventh Frenchman, his debut at right-back.
With Henry exploiting the space between Gallas and John Terry and Ashley Cole showing no signs of his England exertions, Gallas had the bemused look of a tourist on Waterloo Station. Chelsea had an early warning when Henry skipped past three tackles to curl a shot straight at De Goey. In the 16th minute, a goal designed and made in France gave Arsenal a deserved lead. The instigator was Robert Pires, the executor Henry, who slipped the ball home from 10 yards after De Goey had parried Pires' shot. Arsenal nearly profited further as Henry latched on to Marcel Desailly's misplaced backheader and lobbed the goalkeeper. But Graeme Le Saux headed off the line and Chelsea pushed forward, the penalty capping their first sustained period of attack.
Dennis Bergkamp, a fitful figure all afternoon, might have done better with a header just before the break and miscued a volley just after it, but it was not until late in the game when Kanu had replaced him and Chelsea's 10 men were tiring that Arsenal really raised the tempo. Three times Kanu had chances to put the game beyond reach, but De Goey and the Chelsea defence stayed admirably firm.
Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1
Hasselbaink pen 31 Henry 17
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 40,855Reuse content