Arsenal and Chelsea played to a nil-nil draw at the Emirates, leading to further congestion at the top of the English Premier League.
Monday’s match of English Premier League powers saw the points shared between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates. It was the first match that pitted Arsene Wenger against Jose Mourinho since the sides drew at the Emirates in 2007, a result that officially crowned Manchester United champions. Both teams came into this match as contenders for the Premier League title. Arsenal came into the week at the top of the Premier League with improved cohesion in defense and attack compared to last season. Chelsea have yet to figure out how to best utilize their resources, especially their wealth of attacking midfield options, but still remain in the hunt by picking up points without playing well.
Chelsea started the match in a defensive 4-3-3, really more of a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-5-1 with John Obi Mikel often operating in between the midfield line and the back-line. This was a bit of a departure from many of Chelsea line-ups Mourinho has used, often fielding three attacking midfielders and a runner in central midfielder. Frank Lampard and Ramires were the other two central midfielders. Eden Hazard and Willian came infield from their wide positions to launch counter-attacks with Fernando Torres up top as the lone center forward. Branislov Ivanovic and Cesar Azipilecueta played right and left back respectively, while Gary Cahill, John Terry, and Petr Cech made of the center of the back five.
Arsenal came out with an asymmetric 4-2-3-1 with Ozil dropping deep to create some space for Rosicky and Ramsey to occupy. The back five was predictably, Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, and Kieran Gibbs, as Laurent Koscielny was out due to the laceration he picked up against Manchester City. Mikel Arteta operated as the deepest-lying midfielder with Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, and Theo Walcott ahead, with Walcott the most fixed to his position, high and to the right. Oliver Giroud started up top. Jack Wilshere missed the match due to suspension.
Chelsea dominated the first half, stifling Arsenal for the first 30 minutes and then creating some opportunities to score in the final fifteen minutes. They were especially dangerous on the counter attack. Chelsea also created the best scoring chance of the half, as Frank Lampard’s volley rattled the crossbar.
Arsenal were sloppy in possession. That allowed them to be exposed on the counter. In particular, Aaron Ramsey played possibly his worst half of the season. Despite their poor play, Arsenal should have been a man up with a penalty opportunity after a 15 second span of play.
John Obi Mikel’s challenge on Mikel Arteta, from which Arteta was extremely fortunate to avoid major injury, should have been a sending off. Then, as the play progressed after the challenge, Willian took Theo Walcott’s legs out from under him in the penalty box. Mikel avoided any kind of card and a penalty was not awarded. Obviously, those two decisions, even if Arsenal had missed the penalty, would have changed the entire complexion of the game, and those two poor non-calls were just of few of the poor decisions made by head referee Mike Dean.
The second half saw Arsenal as the superior side over the course of the 45 minutes. Probably the biggest change Arsenal made in their attack was having Ozil higher up the field with Tomas Rosicky dropping deeper to help create space for the German. Also, Arsenal utilized Kieran Gibbs higher up the pitch as Branislav Ivanovic showed little desire to get forward from his right-back position. Olivier Giroud has a couple of opportunities. The best opportunity to score for either side came in the 85th minute when Giroud made a near post run, only to have his effort deflect off Cech and go over the bar. Finally, it did not help Arsenal going forward that their midfield did not press high up the pitch. Often Arsenal’s midfielders had to made long runs back into defensive positions as Chelsea comfortably played the ball into advanced areas. This left them fatigued towards the end of the match.
Chelsea, while they did have a couple of good looking counter attacks and spells of play, were not nearly the attacking force they were in the final fifteen minutes of the first half. While Arsene Wenger did not make any substitutions, Jose Mourinho replaced Eden Hazard, his best-performing attacker, with Andre Schurrle at the 73rd minute, replaced the disappointing Willian with Oscar in the 77th, and, when he looked to secure his nil-nil draw, brought on David Luiz for Fernando Torres in the 87th.
Jose Mourinho was satisfied with the point saying:
“For us, it was especially important not to lose, because if we lose we go to five points difference to the leader. And with this result we keep it to two to both leaders. This is important. Of course, we tried to win, with a different perspective. You want to control the game with good possession, and with a very defensive concentration and stability.”
Arsene Wenger, though not happy with dropping two points, acknowledges the team did will to make sure they did not lose:
“…when we had the chances we could not take them. And then, it was very important not to lose our defensive focus because this kind of game you can lose one-nil. In the end, it was a nil-nil. I was a very intense game but a locked game…we played with great focus, great concentration, great desire, just couldn’t get the goal.”
The stand out performer of this match was Per Mertesacker, who calmness in defense was critical for Arsenal to avoid conceding a goal.