Arsenal and Chelsea played out what was in truth a pretty dour, Avram Grant-faced draw today. Neither team was particularly sharp when they had chances, and the tempo was pretty low. Arsenal are now six points ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle, although those teams have two games in hand.
Here's how it all went down:
Arsenal started with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left and Aaron Ramsey alongside Alex Song behind Tomas Rosicky, while Chelsea played Oriol Romeu alongside Michael Essien in their double pivot, and Ryan Bertrand at left back in place of Ashley Cole. Early on, Aresnal's midfield were a little sloppy, and Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou were able to take advantage to bear down on goal, although both times Arsenal escaped with goal kicks.
Robin van Persie was marginally offside on 8 minutes, and two minutes later, Torres strayed offside himself. Arsenal's midfield was struggling a bit with holding the ball, which was understandable given the absence of Mikel Arteta due to injury. Arsenal's counterattacks were also a bit sluggish, but Chamberlain won a free kick on 14 minutes all the same, and Arsenal carved out a real chance from the delivery. Theo Walcott (!!) swung in the free kick, and Robin van Persie hit the outside of the post with his volley from three yards.
Arsenal won a corner on 16 minutes, from which Petr Cech caught and threw out for a counter, but Wojciech Szczesny caught Torres' cross. Aresnal's own counter was too sluggish, and Chelsea re-broke, and Szczesny had to save a good low effort.
Chelsea got a chance 22 minutes along, as Kalou got behind the defense and lashed a low cross in that Laurent Koscielny put behind for a corner. From the corner, Cahill's initial header came back to him eventually to shoot well over. It really was all Chelsea at this point, Arsenal's midfield struggling to maintain possession. Salomon Kalou was giving Bacary Sagna a hard time on the left flank, as well.
Arsenal finally put together something with some tempo 35 minutes along, and won a free kick, and then a corner. Nothing came of either, though, and they had to start again. 41 minutes in, they won another free kick, and as with van Persie earlier, they were very close, Koscielny totally unmarked, his tricky header crashing off the crossbar with Cech well beaten.
Another close one for a subpar Arsenal. Still 0-0. A minute later, John Terry put his header from a Chelsea corner just over. On 44 minutes, Alex Song found van Persie on the left with a lofted pass, the Dutchman's strike well saved by Cech. Arsenal won another corner as the Emirates briefly came to life.
A counter 46 minutes on looked promising until Chamberlain elected to cut inside, which didn't work, but it was better from Arsenal to finish the half. Mike Dean signaled the end of proceedings for the first 45 minutes, the score still 0-0.
There were no changes to begin the second half. van Persie escaped a bit on 49 minutes, Malouda fouling to slow him down and earning a yellow. A minute later, the shoe was on the other foot, as van Persie did the same to Essien and got his yellow. So that happened.
Arsenal were absolutely not pressing, and they were defending with a high line, a sure sign that they are not feeling it. It is also tremendously dangerous, and they almost paid the price as Daniel Sturridge nearly picked out Kalou under no pressure at all on 53 minutes.
56 minutes in, Walcott picked up a hamstring injury. He would stay on for the time being. van Persie finally was onside on 58 minutes, but could not evade Jose Bosingwa in the end for any kind of threatening effort.
Walcott's hamstring didn't last four more minutes, though, and he did end up having to come off in some pain. Gervinho would replace him. Arsenal won another free kick 63 minutes in, which van Persie stood over. He then proceeded to launch it into orbit.
Abou Diaby replaced Tomas Rosicky, who had been ill for the past couple of days, 65 minutes on. What this would portend, other than Rosicky being a bit grumpy and the death of a promising violin talent in Turkmenistan, I don't know.
John Obi Mikel came on for Oriol Romeu on 66 minutes. Robin van Persie's volley did not turn out as well as his Everton or Liverpool efforts on 68 minutes. Sturridge had two efforts on goal, both of which Szczesny saved.
69 minutes on, Andre Santos came on for Chamberlain. He would take up a left wing/inside forward position, presumably. Arsenal actually worked some passing inside the penalty area on 71 minutes, but Diaby's low shot was blocked. Bosingwa was booked on 72 minutes for tangling up Santos.
Kalou made way for Juan Mata on 74 minutes. Ashley Cole replaced Bertrand on 77 minutes. Nothing much was happening besides that. There was some football, somewhere, in the world. van Persie thought he had a penalty, but it wasn't. Cole got booked. There were nine minutes left.
van Persie missed with his right foot on 83 minutes. On 86 minutes, he had three looks at goal, and his effort in the end was put behind for a corner. He had a chance to shoot on 89 minutes, but elected to try to play Santos in instead, his pass cut out at the last possible moment.
There would be four additional minutes. Diaby did something hilarious. Gervinho had a shot blocked. That was really about it. Mike Dean blew for full time, much to the relief of the promising Turkmeni violin talent. Not the worst result possible, but it did open the door slightly for Tottenham and Newcastle.