Thursday 22 March 2018

Relentless Blues maintain stranglehold over Gunners

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

Cesc Fabregas battles it out with Aaron Ramsey
Cesc Fabregas battles it out with Aaron Ramsey
Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill in action with Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny
Chelsea's Willian tussles for the ball with Arsenal's Nacho Monreal

Sam Wallace

Jose Mourinho has the Premier League in the proverbial headlock and the day is not too far away when the canvas will be slapped, the submission offered and Chelsea can get on with celebrating the fourth championship of the Roman Abramovich era.

In the meantime, there is no point pretending that the last days of their campaign is the great spectacle that English football sells itself as around the world.

Nevertheless, there is something compelling about Chelsea's ruthlessness, the way in which their defence seemed to multiply to block, tackle or head away the few attempts Arsenal had on goal.

Like a terrifying dystopian army that simply multiplies every time an attack is launched on it, Mourinho's Chelsea of 2015 have overwhelmed the rest.

The switch has been flicked from artistic to strategic, to borrow Mourinho's own analogy, and from the sleek vintage sports car of the early part of the season his team are now the monster truck with the outsized wheels of the last few weeks, riding roughshod over the rest.


The outstanding defensive performances need to be duly noted, however, and there were few better than John Terry, whom Mourinho said played his best game under his management.

No team turns counter-attack into a useful, time-guzzling period of sterile possession like Chelsea. No team is so well-drilled in simply doing what it has to do.

Mourinho and Chelsea have earned the right, over the course of the season, to come to the Emirates, with six games left, and play for a draw, but it would have been so much better if they had needed to win.

At the final whistle the home fans sang, "boring, boring, Chelsea", and yet, as with everything else, Mourinho had his response prepared for that eventuality.

"I think 10 years without the title, that's boring," he said, momentarily slipping back into full sneer.

With five points remaining between them and the league title, Chelsea cannot clinch it at Leicester City on Wednesday, but they can do so against Crystal Palace next Sunday.

In the meantime, the 13th showdown between Arsène Wenger and the coach who has plagued his last decade, ended without the first victory for the Arsenal manager, whose team tried to win the game with varying levels of competence.

It told you much that Arsenal's best chance of the game came in injury-time at the end of the game when the substitute Danny Welbeck failed to get on the end of a cross from Nacho Monreal. They had just one shot on target all game, as opposed to the three mustered but Chelsea,

When the final whistle went Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill celebrated together with the kind of joy normally reserved for goals.

Ivanovic sailed closest to the wind with two fouls on Alexis Sanchez that could have been bookings before he was cautioned for the third, but Chelsea had their quibbles with the referee, too.

If ever there was a Mourinho team to win a Mourinho championship in the gritty dog-days of April then it was this one. His two favourite strikers, Diego Costa and Loïc Rémy, injured. His third, the old warhorse Didier Drogba, just not up to pulling the plough any longer. And no thought given to promoting the teenage prodigy Dominic Solanke, despite having talked him up pre-match.

Instead, he picked Oscar to do the centre-forward's job, proof, if ever, that the position in Mourinho's teams is not necessarily about scoring goals.

In the first half, Drogba was on the bench thinking about the old days against Arsenal while Chelsea swarmed the midfield.

Sometimes Willian or Eden Hazard would offer their displaced Brazilian team-mate Oscar some support, but most of the time he was up there on his own, like a chemistry teacher covering a drama class.

The first half was the usual master-class of containment from Chelsea, who threw themselves in front of everything that dropped in their own box and still created the best chances themselves.tThere were two penalty claims for Chelsea in the first half, or one and a half to be scrupulously fair to Michael Oliver.

The first was decided by that age-old referee's protocol that, if the attacker gets to the ball first, it matters not how ruthlessly he is assaulted by the out-rushing goalkeeper.

In this case, David Ospina took out Oscar in the Wrestlemania fashion and got away with it.

Cesc Fabregas's ball clipped over the top had been woefully misjudged by Laurent Koscielny and Oscar lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and towards goal, where Hector Bellerin was able to get round to head it away.

The Chelsea man required treatment in the aftermath of the collision, a bang to the head hard enough to cause him to forget his new position.

No penalty given and much wry smiling from Mourinho.

Then, halfway through the first half, Fabregas dinked a ball past Santi Cazorla in the area and went over the leg stretched out by the Arsenal man to retrieve the ball.

There was undoubtedly contact, but halfway through his act of exaggeration, Fabregas appeared to be consumed by the embarrassment of his deception and it became a farce.

He was booked, although there was a case, albeit small, for a foul. Arsenal appealed for a Cazorla shot on 32 minutes that struck the arm of Cahill but there was little the Chelsea man could do about it.

The best chance of the first half was a ball sneaked through the Arsenal defence by Willian which Ramires tapped meekly at Ospina.

Fabregas was booed half-heartedly for much of the game on his first return to Arsenal as a Chelsea player.

Then, when he was substituted in the last minutes, he chanced a conciliatory round of applause to the home fans and found that it was reciprocated around much of the ground.

At half-time Drogba replaced Oscar, sent to hospital suffering from suspected concussion, and in the second half there was scarcely a chance worthy of the mention until the frantic later stages when Welbeck and Theo Walcott were introduced. (© Independent News Service)

Even then, Chelsea looked dangerous on the counter-attack and Arsenal gave the impression that they were ensnared in the trap that Mourinho had set for them. (© Independent News Service)

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