Instinct suggests this snarl of a contest merely benefited those mustering a charge in the distant north-west but Chelsea will have gained conviction from a show of strength. Clean sheets away from home have been rare this term but, by reverting to a game plan more in keeping with his previous brushes with this derby, José Mourinho will have inflicted damage on Arsenal's own belief. The result looked to be more satisfying to the visitors.
Only in the frantic final moments, when Chelsea had retreated entirely into their shells and even hauled Fernando Torres from the fray for David Luiz, did Arsenal hint at pilfering a win. Twice Olivier Giroud might have prospered, first when liberated by Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey, then when finding space to meet Kieran Gibbs's low cross. But, where his first attempt had been sliced wastefully wide, the second was deflected high over the bar by Petr Cech, darting in to stifle at the forward's feet. The Frenchman's early season bite may well have been blunted by overuse.
Giroud departed the pitch shaking his head in disbelief as if he had been denied his just rewards, yet those were the clearest opportunities they chiselled out from the huff and puff and their nervy performance hardly warranted victory. Arsène Wenger acknowledged the edginess to their display born, he said, of that 6-3 mauling at Manchester City, a result which followed so swiftly on from the damaging defeat at Napoli in the Champions League.
His team are joint top of the table but have now gone four games without a win in all competitions. "We're going through a patch where it's a bit more difficult but it's how you deal with that," said the Frenchman. "It's a bit difficult but we'll come through it."
The sense is that momentum has been checked and this was an opportunity passed up, given Chelsea's recent and regular traumas on their travels. Yet Mourinho had drilled his players on defensive duties remorselessly since last week's Capital One Cup defeat at Sunderland, asking Mikel John Obi to suppress the "phenomenal" talent that is Mesut Özil and supplementing his midfield with Ramires's energy and Frank Lampard's threat.
The derby brought the spiky best from them; their defence, so porous in recent weeks, was strong-arm and aggressive. "It's their home game," said John Terry. "It's up to them to bring it to us." That summed them up.
Arsenal would bemoan the manner in which the visitors imposed their game plan on the contest at times. César Azpilicueta's unpunished clip of Ramsey's right heel set an early tone while also appearing to send the Welshman's radar off kilter. Mikel's lunge on Mikel Arteta, the Nigeria international planting his right foot into the inside of the Spaniard's right calf, was uglier – yet Mike Dean allowed play to continue.
Within seconds Theo Walcott was toppling over Willian's leg in the penalty area, the referee deeming the contact minimal and the reaction excessive. The managers, predictably enough, agreed to disagree.
Yet if that suggested the impetus was all one way, it was not. Chelsea had actually been the more composed through the first hour at least, tapping in to Ramires's energy and springing regularly on the break to stretch a home back line denied the presence of the injured Laurent Koscielny. When Eden Hazard dropped into space and clipped a glorious diagonal pass beyond the Arsenal rearguard, there was Frank Lampard, rolling back the years, to burst beyond Arteta and belt a volley on to the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced down and not over the line but the threat was clear.
Of the half-chances to which Mourinho referred after the match, Ramires and Willian might have done better when granted sights of goal. This team continues to create but not always convert. Therein lies the real frustration of the manager's second coming. No Chelsea forward managed an away goal in the Premier League in 2013.
"If we score goals in direct relation to the chances we produce, we'd be in a fantastic situation," he acknowledged.
"But it's not just a problem with the strikers – it's also a problem of the other people not transforming half-chances into goals and we had half a dozen of those today, where we were not aggressive, sharp or attacking people to score …"
Solve that weakness and Chelsea will be persuasive challengers at the top, though they will have relished this reminder that they can still be pragmatic and workaholic in key contests.
Arsenal, for their part, must rediscover their fizz. Perhaps Jack Wilshere might have made a difference, relishing an occasion as scrappy as this to illuminate the scene, but he was absent serving the first game of a two-match suspension.
Instead they yearned for a dash of quality from Özil or Ramsey to inspire them and, when their frustration was prolonged, tempers flared. In the end, and much to the delight of Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton, the capital's contenders simply cancelled each other out.