Both teams opted for the favoured 4-2-3-1, both with significant enforced changes from their previous matches. Arsenal looked a little depleted with the suspension of Wilshere and absence of Koscielny. Lampard was holding midfielder with Mikel and Torres returned up front after his goal at Palace last Saturday.
Many interpreted Chelsea’s starting eleven to be a 4-3-3 but Ramires was certainly not a defensive midfielder tonight. At times he was beyond Torres, charging down the opposing defender in possession. He switched with Willian a few times but on many occasions he was the focal point of the attacking midfield.
The opening stages produced very little, with poor passing the theme for the first half in particular. High pressing from Arsenal tested the susceptible ability of the Chelsea back four with the ball at their feet. Arsenal created the first of the half chances that came about as much of their focus was to get Walcott in behind time after time. Azpilicueta’s solid start set the precedent for the rest of the match by more than stepping up to the challenge. As the tempo increased, the tackles started to get tastier. Mourinho had clearly told his players to get stuck in as much as possible. If that was indeed the plan, they had certainly chosen the right referee to push the boundaries with. Dean, if nothing, was consistent in that he let an awful lot go from start to finish. Incensed by an unpunished, nasty challenge from Mikel and the non award of a penalty, a pumped up Rosicky, amongst others began to leave their foot in. With the tempo raised, Chelsea’s opportunities seemed to become more frequent. Lampard smacked the crossbar after linking up with Hazard and just before the break, Willian should have done a lot better when Ramsey messed up a straight forward back-pass.
The second half began in the same scruffy fashion. Arsenal started to impose more control but Chelsea managed to break things up with aggression and defensive concentration. Arsenal finished the first period with a comfortable majority of the possession and began the second with every intention of making sure that continued. Chelsea dropped deeper and looked to break with the skill of Hazard, pace of Ramires and technique of Willian. It became apparent that as the half went on, Arsenal were the only side likely to win it. As Chelsea got deeper, the better chances for the Gunners started to come about. One of Ramsey’s few decent moments was a tidy ball through to Giroud’s left foot that he screwed wide of the oncoming Cech’s right post. Arsenal’s best chance however produced a fine piece of last ditch defending from Terry and Cech as Giroud pounced to try and grab the winner. The home side pressed from corners as Sagna’s header was hacked off the line by Azpilicueta. Mourinho’s two like for like substitutions were proceeded by bringing Torres off for David Luiz – simply to make sure that Chelsea’s dogged away performance was rewarded with the point it deserved.
Arsenal needed those points more than Chelsea and Mourinho knew it. In such a tight league, you have to go into matches like this looking at the big picture. The fact of the matter is that tonight’s match was another heavyweight contest that Arsenal have not won this season. This evening’s hosts recently had a double header against Bayern Munich added to their hideously difficult looking March. Chelsea know that, Man City aside, all the other contenders have to come to bridge. As a result, I am confident that Chelsea are in a much stronger position in the title race.