With Vieira sent off shortly after half time and Chelsea ahead by a goal, it is impossible to think of this match as anything other than two points thrown away by the Blues. But we did not deserve three points. Until a late rally when Arsenal fell back to protect the draw, they were the better team in the second half despite being down to ten men.
This was a match that never really caught fire, mainly because referee Andy D’Urso decided that he was not going to let it build up any momentum. He came into the game with a reputation for handing out cards as easily as a Las Vegas dealer, and he was at it early on with Le Saux and Lampard quickly in the book. It resulted in a fitful game with neither side able to establish a rhythm.
Chelsea relied heavily on long, wide balls to Zenden and Gronkjaer to try to use their pace against Lauren and Cole. It was only partially successful, but Gudjohnsen showed early on with his movement that Ranieri was quite right to start him in place of the static JFH. At the other end, Le Saux was having troubles with Parlour and the Arsenal midfielder blasted a clear opening wide of the mark.
The first goal when it came was a surprise. Zola sent in a swerving, beautifully flighted free kick from forty yards out on the left and a leaping Gudjohnsen distracted Seaman enough that the ball went in the net untouched. This led to a furious Chelsea assault on the Arsenal net and a second looked likely. At half time, a memorable Chelsea win looked likely and it was made nearly certain when Vieira received a second yellow shortly after the restart for being late on Gronkjaer. There was nothing vicious about it, but D’Urso had made red cards likely by being so quick with the yellows in the first half.
Wiltord could have followed shortly after when he blatantly pushed Gronkjaer after a challenge. The ref decided to yellow card both players. This should have been the time when Chelsea pushed on and secured the second goal against the weakened Arse. Instead, it was Arsenal that was making the running and we were still struggling to get the ball in midfield, where Lampard was not having one of his better games. The equaliser came from a simple chip across the goal that was missed by Le Saux. Wiltord’s header was only palmed down by Cudicini and Toure put it in.
Ranieri rang the changes after that with Melchiot replacing Le Saux and Ferrer moving to left-back. JFH came on for Zola and Stanic for Zenden, who had faded badly in the second half. Unfortunately, the JFH/Guddy partnership never got going, although Gudjohnsen was looking the most likely to score. For the last five minutes, Chelsea buzzed around Seaman’s goal without ever getting a clear shot. If ever Chelsea were going to beat Arsenal, this was the day, but the final score was a fair one with Arsenal much the happier team at the end.
Cudicini: 6 — Not a great deal to do really.
Ferrer: 6 — Defended well, but as we know he adds little when going forward.
Gallas: 7 — Strong at the back and found time for several dangerous rushes up field.
Desailly: 7 — Still the Rock and looked desperate to win this. Wanted to charge forward at every opportunity to put some life into a quiet midfield.
Le Saux: 5 — Clearly not match fit, he struggled with Parlour in the first half and was further handicapped by an early yellow for a typically wild challenge. Did little to help Zenden out up front.
Gronkjaer: 5 — Tried to take on Cole and succeeded several times in getting behind him only to waste the final ball, as per usual.
De Lucas: 6 — Neat performance without ever stamping his authority on the game.
Lampard: 5.5 — Looked even slower than usual and failed to create much.
Zenden: 5 — Started quite brightly before becoming a peripheral figure on the wing in the second half.
Zola: 7 — Any inspiration came from him and Gudjohnsen. Brilliant free kick for the goal, weighting and flighting it perfectly.
Gudjohnsen: 8 — If there is to be an untouchable on this team, it must be him. Intelligent running caused Arsenal discomfort all game.
Melchiot (for Le Saux): 5 — Caught out of position several times against a ten-man Arsenal.
JFH (for Zola): 4 — Did nothing except allow Arsenal defenders to get in front of him for interceptions.
Stanic (for Zenden): 4.5 — He, like Ferrer, was totally predictable on the left. Feint to go outside, pull ball back onto right foot, play it back. Great.
Andy D’Urso: 3 — Showed no commonsense, got himself caught in a box of his own making by issuing yellow cards for every mistimed challenge. Late on, bottled several calls that would have resulted in second yellows, most notably when Wiltord blatantly took Gronkjaer late.