Arsenal will have to settle for a share of the Premier League lead for Christmas after a scoreless draw Monday with Chelsea, a high-tension London derby with far more controversial refereeing moments than actual scoring opportunities.
The bulk of the tough choices went against Arsene Wenger’s club, which has been a bit luckless of late, now without a victory since Dec. 4. (That includes Monday’s draw, a Premier League loss and a Champions League loss.)
Still, the draw with the West London visitors on a rainy and fiercely windy London night was enough to nudge the Gunners back into a first-place tie with Liverpool. Chelsea crept up as well, now aligned with Everton in fourth place.
Referee Mike Dean went lenient Monday on two Chelsea challenges that could have been red cards on another day. And he declined to point to the penalty spot in the first half as the shouts of derision rained down from the Emirates.
It all played into Chelsea’s plan for the day, which was either cynical in its stubbornly defensive approach or “classic and brilliant Jose Mourinho,” depending on your affiliation and point of view.
The pitch mostly played well and true despite the rain coming down in wind-driven sheets. (Truly, the stormy weather was quite awful, even by notoriously dodgy London weather standards.)
A true stalemate of the highest order – concern over conditions or just the weight of a big London derby had both clubs leaning toward caution – did spring to life somewhat after a half hour. First came Frank Lampard’s 34th minute smash off the crossbar, arranged by Eden Hazard’s clever little chipped pass. Minutes later John Obi Mikel was very fortunate to remain on the field after his nasty challenge on Mikel Arteta.
And just minutes after that, a Willian challenge on Arsenal speedster Theo Walcott could have easily convinced Dean to point to the penalty spot. Dean was consistent in his leniency through the night, also declining to show yellow for Tomas Rosicky’s high challenge just before break. Frustration nearly boiled over after intermission.
Chelsea, without Juan Mata to create, settled into a match of mucking it up and waiting for chances on the break. And Mourinho’s team did occasionally look dangerous early, although the visitors’ chances mostly dried up after 30 minutes as Arsenal’s central defense, with Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen, in for the injured Laurent Koscielny, held up.
Opportunities for the home team were almost completely unseen before a couple of flashes near goal over the last 15 minutes, including one good look by striker Olivier Giroud that missed badly at the near post.
Stamford Bridge defensive fixture John Terry was, as usual, in the right spots as he enjoyed an outstanding evening.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud.
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Willian (Oscar, 77), Hazard (Schurrle, 73); Torres.