Friday 23 March 2018

Blue wall keeps Arsenal off the summit

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech punches the ball off the head of Arsenal's Mesut Ozil GETTY
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech punches the ball off the head of Arsenal's Mesut Ozil GETTY
Referee Mike Dean (R) gestures as he talks with Arsenal's Mesut Ozil (C) and Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic

Henry Winter

Giroud blows chance to shoot Gunners clear as Mourinho maintains hoodoo over Wenger

This was mission accomplished by Chelsea, who left the Emirates with what they came for, a point, from a match that was a great advertisement for late-night, last-minute Christmas shopping.

There was more entertainment watching Arsene Wenger attempting to zip up his long sleeping-bag coat.

It was a stalemate that will have been most enjoyed by Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, who are now top of the Premier League tree at Christmas. It was a poor game, not helped by the inclement conditions or some of Chelsea's robust ending of Arsenal moves.

Arsenal needed a creative force, but Mesut Ozil was disappointing, Aaron Ramsey subdued and Olivier Giroud largely easily controlled by the excellent John Terry and Gary Cahill. Only Kieran Gibbs really impressed for Arsenal on a bleak night for football.

Some of the football really was as wretched as the weather. Mistakes littered the first half. Some of the challenges were poor. Arsenal struggled to find their stride, hustled relentlessly by the visitors.


Chelsea had started in a 4-3-3 with Jose Mourinho flooding midfield; John Obi Mikel was in front of the back four, Ramires and Frank Lampard in close attendance.

Chelsea were working hard, denying Arsenal the space to build their famous passing moves. They intercepted and tackled, occasionally fouling. Cesar Azpilicueta caught Ramsey. Lampard dived in on Bacary Sagna, leaving the right-back floored.

Mourinho had clearly ordered his men to close Arsenal players down rapidly and aggressively, particularly his old Real Madrid schemer, Ozil.

Chelsea were defending well. When Sagna crossed from the right, Gary Cahill slid in to clear. Terry, reading the situation well, then calmly intervened to cut out Ramsey's attempted pass to Theo Walcott. This was a disciplined performance from Chelsea, with occasional fast forays upfield. Fernando Torres was "up" for this, running at Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen.

Chelsea had the best chance of the half, Lampard finding Eden Hazard and then running into the box. The Belgian's return was good, inviting Lampard to volley at goal. The ball clipped the bar and thudded out, clearly out.

Chelsea attacked again, Torres turning and bringing a low save from Wojciech Szczesny. Moments later it was Mertesacker sliding in to block Torres.

The game then passed through a contentious period, catcalls being directed at referee Mike Dean. Mikel and Arteta flew in to contest the ball but the Chelsea man followed through brutally, catching the Spaniard, who writhed in pain. Dean deemed it a 50-50 much to Arsenal's bemusement.

Then Walcott darted into the box, turned back and was caught by Willian. Dean again caused consternation amongst Arsenal supporters, players and management by flamboyantly signalling no penalty. Arsenal were hardly shrinking violets, Tomas Rosicky felling Azpilicueta. Yet it was the Arsenal fans who were most enraged by Dean's leniency during the first half and the referee was booed as he walked off at the break.

This was a derby, a game played for high stakes in the Premier League race, and a match slightly compromised by the swirling rain, but it still made poor fare for the viewing hundreds of millions. Still the tackles went in. Ramires was booked for flattening Arteta. Walcott was cautioned for bringing down Azpilicueta.

Football broke out occasionally. Branislav Ivanovic hooked a shot goalwards but Szczesny saved comfortably. The Pole then dropped down to smother a powerful drive from Lampard, following Torres' perfect nod-down. Ozil remembered he was brought in to influence games of this magnitude; the German international unleashed a shot midway through the half that Ivanovic blocked. Moments later, Ivanovic almost sliced open Ozil's face in challenging for the ball and the German was hardly stooping.

This was the type of test of character that Arsenal knew they would have to face to answer questions about their fortitude this season. Rosicky fought fire with fire, clattering Ivanovic after 70 minutes.

Mourinho began making his changes, seeking to control the game. The hard-running Andre Schurrle came on for the disappointing Hazard. Oscar replaced Willian. In between, the arguments continued. Azpilicueta disputed the game's finer points with Sagna. Giroud remonstrated with Mikel. Some of the players queried events with Dean. The Premier League debating society was out in full force.

Arsenal should have scored as the clock ticked down. Giroud lacked his early-season sharpness and was beaten to the ball by Cahill.

Then Ramsey lifted the ball across for Giroud to power down the inside-left channel but he sliced his shot wide. Lukas Podolski was on the bench but Wenger clearly did not feel the German international was ready to return to such fray as this.

Arsenal still chased a breakthrough. Gibbs got forward and lifted in a cross but it curled out. Arsenal almost scored with five minutes remaining, following a slick move. Gibbs, one of the few bright lights on a gloomy night, stormed upfield, trading passes with Rosicky, running on to the return and crossing low from the left. Giroud got a touch but Petr Cech saved. Ivanovic headed out Walcott's corner.

It was so difficult to find a yard of space. Walcott tried to run upfield but was stopped by Ramires, who anticipated the winger's movement well.

Vermaelen then dispossessed Oscar with total assurance. Arsenal fans sighed with frustration when Giroud turned laboriously on halfway line, allowing Chelsea to clear. The sight of David Luiz coming on for Torres indicated that Mourinho was happy with a point.

Wenger's side still attacked. Walcott appeared on the right and lifted in a cross that Azpilicueta cleared for a corner. Vermaelen met the corner powerfully, heading down but Azpilicueta cleared off the line. By the end, Arsenal fans were chanting "boring, boring Chelsea" but the visitors departed the happier. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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