Sunday 18 February 2018

Full points still a Bridge too far for the Gunners

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is tackled by Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is tackled by Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Matt Law

It may not have been a first Premier League win against one of the so-called 'Big Six' since January 2015, but Arsenal will claim a moral victory after giving fans encouragement that they may not have to suffer a season of embarrassment.

Arsene Wenger's players should really have secured a memorable victory, as they squandered the best chances and had a one-man advantage in the final minutes after David Luiz had been sent off. However, the Arsenal supporters who stayed behind to applaud their team are just relieved not to be going to work to face the same old jokes.

Arsenal's French striker Alexandre Lacazette lies injured after a collision with Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder Victor Moses. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's French striker Alexandre Lacazette lies injured after a collision with Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder Victor Moses. Photo: Getty Images

That a nil-all draw was achieved without the injured Mesut Ozil will not have gone unnoticed by those aware that Arsenal's last significant away victory - at Manchester City - was also secured without the German.

Ozil has often been accused of not turning up for big games even when he has been on the pitch and it was clear Arsenal were not carrying any passengers against Chelsea, as Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette forced the home defenders to look backwards and sideways with their passing.

An Arsenal defence that has so often been bullied into submission by Diego Costa also stood up to the test, with Shkodran Mustafi getting the better of Costa's replacement Alvaro Morata.

The commitment of Alexis Sanchez may well be questioned again as he appeared to find record signing Lacazette's contender for Miss of the Season funny from the subs bench, but this was not a performance that put the attitude of Arsenal's players under the spotlight.

Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal and N'Golo Kante of Chelsea battle for possession. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal and N'Golo Kante of Chelsea battle for possession. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

"I felt that it was a game with total intensity, two teams going for it and battles all over the pitch," Wenger said.

"We responded well, in domains where we were questioned. I like when the team shows that kind of response."

Inhibition

Lacazette and Welbeck missed Arsenal's best chances and Wenger acknowledged his team could have won.

"Overall we deserved the point, with more freedom and less inhibition we could have won by one or two goals' difference. But it was important not to lose today. I felt that in the team in the last 20 minutes, and we played with that in our minds."

Arsenal's Nigerian striker Alex Iwobi (L) vies with Chelsea's French midfielder N'Golo Kante. Photo; Getty Images
Arsenal's Nigerian striker Alex Iwobi (L) vies with Chelsea's French midfielder N'Golo Kante. Photo; Getty Images

Welbeck headed over from Hector Bellerin's cross, while Lacazette failed four minutes from the break. Aaron Ramsey went on a brilliant run to the penalty area and shot against the post. Lacazette looked to have the simple task of tucking in the rebound, but lifted the ball too high from four yards.

While Wenger held his head in his hands, Sanchez could be seen with a big smile on his face.

Antonio Conte decided Eden Hazard was not yet fit enough to start, while Costa, who likes facing Arsenal, was still missing. That left Morata flanked by Pedro and Willian, and it was Pedro who failed to take Chelsea's best opportunity.

Having seen an early shot saved by Petr Cech, Pedro was sent through by Cesc Fabregas in the 21st minute. It seemed the former Barcelona man would give his side the lead, but Cech stretched a hand to keep the ball out.

Chelsea struggled to impose themselves, which was highlighted by the fact Cech's most significant action of the first-half, other than saving from Pedro, was controlling a passback from Nacho Monreal that could so easily have resulted in an own goal.

Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Alvaro Morata of Chelsea battle for possession in the air. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Alvaro Morata of Chelsea battle for possession in the air. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Morata has scored three goals for Chelsea, all headers, but needs time to acclimatise to the physical nature of the Premier League. The ball rarely stuck when it was played into his feet and more often than not he was left on his backside by Mustafi. Morata earned a booking when he tried to give the Arsenal defender a taste of his own medicine.

Mustafi went closer to breaking the deadlock than Morata, but saw a header ruled out for offside after he had already started his celebrations in front of the Arsenal fans, one of whom had made it on to the pitch.

In terms of who blinked first in looking for magic from the bench it was Wenger, as he put Sanchez on for Lacazette with just under 25 minutes left. It only took three more minutes for Conte to send on Hazard in place of Willian.

Hazard almost conjured what would have been a special winner. The Belgian collected a pass from N'Golo Kante and danced around Granit Xhaka before cutting in to fire a shot that Cech held well.

Chelsea's hopes of victory were effectively ended when Luiz was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Sead Kolasinac. It was Chelsea's third successive red card against Arsenal and the fifth in their last eight games.

A more confident Arsenal might have pounced on the chance to take all three points, but this was their first point at Stamford Bridge in six years and these days Wenger's men are more than happy simply to avoid a beating. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

 

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