A Stalemate.. Its Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

For two clubs who have played out so many classic encounters over the years, this once deserves to be forgotten as quickly as possible. But it could have significant ramifications for both in their respective bids to finish in the Champions League places. Arsenal stay third with three matches remaining, but Tottenham and Newcastle are six points ahead with two games in hand. Those two are a point ahead of Chelsea with one game in hand, meaning the Blues’ place in next season’s Champions League may rest on them winning the competition this time..

Three days on from that first-leg victory over Barcelona, and with the trip to Spain a high priority, it was hardly surprising Blues boss Roberto di Matteo made so many alterations to his starting line-up. Eight changes including the introduction of Ryan Bertrand ahead of Ashley Cole, while Fernando Torres replaced Didier Drogba who has a knee injury. Petr Cech, John Terry and Gary Cahill were the only men to keep their places, but Chelsea’s side still featured plenty of quality and they were perfectly comfortable in the early stages.

HD PHOTOS:

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MATCH HIGHLIGHTS (IN HD):

https://chelseanewsletter.wordpress.com/match-highlights/

The Blues looked happy to sit back and absorb pressure in the early stages when Arsenal gained possession but looked sharp and threatening when they sprung out of their compact defensive shape to attack. Torres nicked the ball away after some diligent defensive work in the Arsenal half on a couple of occasions but despite moving the ball well in midfield Chelsea could not take advantage in attack. Salomon Kalou half-heartedly appealed for a penalty after he had lost control of the ball when through on goal on the left-hand side. The home side slowly grew into the game, though, and wasted a golden chance to take the lead after 14 minutes. Theo Walcott guided a superb free-kick towards the back post that dropped to Robin van Persie but the Dutchman could only stab his finish wide. Petr Cech remained untroubled until the Gunners carved out a flurry of opportunities as the half drew to a close. Laurent Koscielny was entirely unmarked when he headed a van Persie free-kick against the crossbar before the Dutchman controlled Alex Song’s excellent pass to force Cech into a good block inside the penalty area. Walcott was hauled off just after the hour mark with a hamstring injury that was handled in a way that will not have pleased the watching Stuart Pearce, England’s interim manager. Gary Cahill appeared to lean on van Persie when challenging for a high ball in the penalty area but referee Mike Dean remained unmoved despite the striker’s protests. Van Persie began to find more space as play became more stretched in midfield but could not take advantage, wriggling away from a couple of Blues defenders and a stranded Cech in the box only to see his shot blocked on the line. Koscielny had to be alert to slide in and prevent Sturridge from shooting from close range at the other end as the moment of decisive quality needed to give either side the edge did not come.

Chelsea, who will try to defend a 1-0 lead in the Nou Camp on Tuesday, are in sixth spot, a point behind Newcastle and Tottenham, with four games left. With Arsenal’ three matches remaining, they have 65 points, six ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United who both have played two games fewer.

POST-MATCH INTERVIEW:

Roberto di Matteo:

“We put ourselves in good position with breaks, we just missed some quality in the final pass to get a goal. Arsenal play a similar game to Barcelona with possession and rotation. We contained them well but going forward we looked dangerous. “We had a few players out because of injuries and illness today and I selected the best team to get a result. It was out third game in less than six games, it’s impossible to use the same 11 players but we have a great squad and today they showed their quality and worth. “The demand is incredible; it’s crazy that we have to play in such a short period of time this amount of games. It’s dangerous for the players because the risk of injury increases. “There are four games left and three home games – we’ve got a tough schedule but we can do it [finish in the top four].”

Arsene Wenger:

“They locked the game completely. They had to win as well but tried to lock the game, catch us on the break. We lacked a bit of fluency, played with the handbrake on, feared not to be exposed on counters and were not complete spontaneous. “It was a very tough game physically but we showed great character and were a bit unlucky with our chances. We knew would have few chances but they had none, zero. “I felt it was more a nervous thing today than ‘end of season’. Chelsea are very strong physically in the middle of park and had a very defensive-minded midfield. They killed the game and we were not quick enough to open them up, but still had chances.”

The Press Reports:

The Observer, David Hytner: “This was not a good game, to offer one of the understatements of the day, yet the point for both teams did not feel too bad. Arsenal consolidated in third place to retain control of their destiny in terms of a Champions League finish while Chelsea conserved their most important players for Tuesday’s semi-final showdown against Barcelona in Europe’s elite competition. They did not suffer too much damage. Happily for them, they picked up no injuries.”

The Official Chelsea FC Website: “It is consecutive London derby draws in the league for Chelsea who earned this point with a much-changed side. For the second game running our opponents hit woodwork twice in the game and had the better chances. Good approach work by Chelsea was too often let down by inaccurate passing in the final third.”

 

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