GOAL BOUND: Arsenal's Robin van Persie (centre) has an effort at the Chelsea goal
A 0-0 draw was the last thing that was expected when Arsenal entertained Chelsea at the Emirates, but that is precisely what transpired in what must be said one of the poorest performances from the Gunners all season.
Desperate for the points to cement Champions League football next season, Arsenal were faced with a side that had narrowly beaten Barcelona with a largely defensive game plan, and with an eye on the return with the La Liga side next week, the Blues rarely ventured forward with Wojciech Szczesny rarely being threatened in the Gunners goal.
We did get to see the return of Abou Diaby just past the hour mark, but that spark, that cutting edge that was needed by the Gunners did not materialise and that was a huge disappointment for their fans.
It was a largely forgetful opening, but still the Gunners managed to strike the woodwork twice. Theo Walcott’s free-kick on 14 minutes found Robin Van Persie but his effort hit the outside of Petr Cech’s upright, and bounced away.
Three minutes before the break, and this time Laurent Koscileny had a free header that beat Cech, but his effort bounced off the bar from Van Persie’s free-kick.
And to a large extent, that was it really. Suffering the affects of their mid-week Champions League exertions, Chelsea were content to play at a slow pace that suited their plan to hit on the break.
Bizarrely Arsenal were prepared to let them have that wish, or was it a ploy to try to sap any energy reserves and then explode with pace ? We wondered, but that theory eventually proved futile.
The latter stages of the half suggested that could be the plan. Awoken from their slumber, Arsenal began to pass and move at pace. Tomas Rosicky fed Walcott, and with Van Persie waiting in the middle, his cross was blocked for a corner.
Chelsea with Fernando Torres in attack rarely threatened, but when Szczesny ran out of his area to the danger of Salomon Kalou, he was relieved to see Koscielny alert to the danger and cleared for a corner with the Gunner’s goal gaping.
With Mikel Arteta injured and Yossi Benayoun ineligible, Arsene Wenger was forced into the Alex Song, Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey midfield, with the Wales captain having a half that could possibly have been his worst in the red and white.
Time and time again, he squandered possession, and the restless Emirates crowd only applauded in sympathetic cheek when he won a midfield header.
Van Persie had another effort and again after another swift exchange of passes, Song found the Holland marksman on the left. His aim was true, but a fine point blank reflect save by Cech ensured the half ended goal less.
On a day when defences had to be on their game, Thomas Vermaelen was solid in defence and made an excellent block on Dean Sturridge when the Blues’ striker threatened to break clear.
Arsenal fans have been demanding that Wenger use Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain more regularly. Given a start here, the teenager’s performance only strengthened Wenger’s decision to use him sparingly.
Perhaps being a substitute with more that 20 minutes to go would suit him? Oxlade-Chamberlain resorted to dropping deep to collect the ball, and his much vaunted pace never really came to the fore.
Walcott was seeing more of the ball, but again there was no consistent penetration. There was more injury woe for Wenger with Walcott suffering a hamstring injury, that will mean his Arsenal season is now over.
Van Persie had seen Cech make a point blank stop to deny the Gunners and with time running out, did the same again. Substitute Andre Santos adapted well to a left midfield role, and was perhaps the more likely to create the danger. He did just that, winning the ball to feed fellow substitute Gervinho.
The Ivorian played in Van Persie, who teased and beat Gary Cahill, but could not get past Cech again. Van Persie’s finishing has been of the highest order, and with another ball from Song, he beat the Chelsea defence, but rushed a shot that flew off target.
Wenger said after the game: “I just felt we were a bit nervous today because we knew we could not afford to lose the game. We didn't pass the ball quickly enough.
"Chelsea are experienced enough to force you to play the ball where they want you to play it. We couldn't open them up enough and our change of pace in the game wasn't good enough.”