Blues frustrate Gunners
Goalless draw does neither side favours in race for top four
Last Updated: April 21, 2012 5:40pm
Alex Song and Fernando Torres vie for the ball at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal and Chelsea played out an uninspiring goalless draw at Emirates Stadium to keep the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League delicately poised.
The Gunners twice hit the woodwork in the first half and carved out the better chances throughout the game, but Chelsea again impressed with their resilience and threatened sporadically themselves on the break.
However, a disappointing contest never really came to life and neither side showed enough spark to deserve all three points.
The result will probably be best received at Tottenham and Newcastle, as the battle for UEFA Champions League qualification promises to go right down to the wire.
When these two sides met at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season they produced one of the most exciting games of the season as Arsenal prevailed 5-3, but the almost reckless commitment to attacking football would have infuriated the managers and a tighter affair was expected in the latest encounter with so much at stake.
Chelsea demonstrated in midweek that they could defend resolutely against the finest array of creative talent in the world as they kept a clean sheet at home to Barcelona to claim a 1-0 advantage at the halfway stage of their Champions League semi-final.
If the Blues can go on to claim European glory they will automatically qualify for next season's Champions League and deny one of their domestic rivals a spot if they finish outside the top four, and it seemed clear where Roberto Di Matteo's priorities lay from his team selection as only three players kept their places ahead of Tuesday's trip to Camp Nou.
Arsenal also made four changes in an effort to bounce back from a shock defeat at the hands of relegation-threated Wigan, and were quicker into their stride than they had been on Monday as Tomas Rosicky had the first shot at goal with an effort from distance that was comfortably held by Petr Cech.
Chelsea were again looking full of urgency in midfield, however, and caught Arsenal in possession more than once in the early stages.
Fernando Torres appeared lively but wasted a good four-on-three chance, before Salomon Kalou's claims for a penalty were waved away by referee Mike Dean after he had gone down in the box under pressure from Bacary Sagna.
Robin van Persie was then presented with a glorious chance to break the deadlock and extend his lead at the top of the Premier League scoring charts when he was picked out by Theo Walcott's delightful free-kick at the back post, but he somehow managed to poke wide off the post from no more than three yards.
Thomas Vermaelen got away with a cynical shunt that left John Terry in a heap, while Laurent Koscielny had to be alert to cut out Florent Malouda's low cross and Gary Cahill blazed over on the half-volley after the second of two corners that followed.
While Chelsea continued to look threatening with the counter-attacking tactics that had served them so well against Barcelona, it was Arsenal who finished the half strongest.
Koscielny found himself unmarked in the centre but could only direct his header from Van Persie's free-kick against the crossbar with Cech rooted to the spot, before the Dutch marksman fired straight at the keeper after being picked out by a fine pass from Alex Song.
It was Chelsea's turn to be frustrated at the start of the second period, with Koscielny sliding in for a well-timed tackle on Torres after initially being turned by the Spaniard and Wojciech Szczesny rushing off his line to gather a potentially dangerous long ball.
Vermaelen and Song also produced some strong defending as Arsenal kept their fans on the edge of their seats by keeping a high line.
Walcott then pulled up in pain and, after trying to play on for a moment or two, walked off gingerly to provide Arsenal and England with an injury worry at this late stage of the season.
Gervinho came on to replace him and immediately posed problems for the Chelsea backline with a probing run, but there was a lack of quality in the final third at both ends of the pitch.
With the game up for grabs, Di Matteo decided to shuffle his pack and send on heavyweight substitutes Juan Mata, John Obi Mikel and former Arsenal full-back Ashley Cole.
Mata soon had the ball in the net but the flag was up for offside and there was an ironic cheer from the crowd, which was bettered a few minutes later when Cole received a yellow card.
There was an increase in the tempo in the final stages as both sides committed more men forward in an effort to snatch a winner, but the breakthrough would not arrive.
Van Persie was at the heart of the late action, first seeing a penalty shout fall on deaf ears after going down under Cahill's challenge, and then slicing wide with his right foot.
The Dutchman almost found space to fire home a winner when he wriggled away from Cahill in the dying minutes, only to be denied by Cech.
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||2|
|6||Shots off Target||5|
|56.6||1st Half Poss.||43.4|
|56.5||2nd Half Poss.||43.5|
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|19||West Bromwich Albion||0||0|
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