Chelsea revert to solid habits of old as they frustrate Arsenal by congesting the midfield and counter-attacking quickly
As the Chelsea manager pointed out after watching his team falter in their last outing at Sunderland, it was time for a rethink and a back-to-basics approach. Having been patchy on the road, they flexed their muscles to show the solidity of old. Chelsea were set up to make the midfield congested, to ensure Arsenal would find it difficult to develop any rhythm, and to use that platform to spring on the counter attack. The closest saw Frank Lampard lash against the crossbar and Willian shot weakly. For his next trick José Mourinho has to find the balance between defensive control and a clinical attack.
The confidence and relentless effort that was a hallmark of the Frenchman's scoring run earlier in the season has been replaced by frustration. He has scored in only one of his last eleven outings for Arsenal. In barren runs like this questions return about whether Arsène Wenger needs a different option, or even a shift in tactics to partner Oliver Giroud with a complementary forward, in the manner that Manchester City have used so potently with Alvaro Negredo and Serio Agüero. With chances at a premium, Giroud still had two chances to win the game. One was slammed wide, the other flicked off Petr Cech's knee.
Both these teams needed a reaction. Ideally, it would have been a positive reaction. But there were a few too many negative thoughts as avoiding defeat outweighed the impulse to chase a win. The focus on Arsenal to respond to a bad week was intense, but they began, to borrow Arsène Wenger's inimitable phrase, in "handbrakey" mode. Chelsea's focus on resilience was not overly tested and the most dangerous moment came when Willian was the man exposed at the back. He was lucky not to concede a penalty when a trailing leg made contact with Walcott. Mike Dean, who waved it away, is not Arsenal's favourite referee.
Eden Hazard shouldered the responsibility for Chelsea's creativity, and showed flashes that were too hot for Arsenal to handle. The options from the bench were tantalising, and it was Andre Schürrle who was the first trusted by José Mourinho to enter the fray, but curiously, it was in place of Hazard instead of to complement the Belgian. It was not an easy game for the technical players. Mourinho had spoken of his affection for Mesut Özil before the game but Arsenal's record signing found it difficult to impose himself. This was a game based more on plugging away than seizing the day.
Truthfully, it was heavy weather in all senses of the word. This was not a game to quicken the pulses. For Arsenal, it passed with barely a shot on target. For Chelsea, the late substitution of Fernando Torres for David Luiz suggested that the basic requirement was to make sure there are no silly slips to threaten a hard earned point. So, Arsène Wenger's wait for a win over José Mourinho goes on. But as both managers look at the table they can't be too disappointed. Arsenal a shade off the lead on goal difference, and Chelsea chasing hard two points off the top.