Chelsea's blueprint for Champions League glory was laid out last Wednesday. To the dismay of Arsène Wenger, it was fine-tuned here. Whether in pre-match hope or expectation, the Arsenal manager had described the defensive strategy that Chelsea adopted against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first-leg as a "one-day situation".
Wrong. Roberto Di Matteo made wholesale changes to his starting XI as he contended with Chelsea's "crazy" schedule but the approach that he employed to secure the 1-0 scoreline that his team will take to the Camp Nou on Tuesday was not dissimilar. Three midfielders sat in front of a back four that put their bodies on the line; there was pace in wide areas, and there was a result that Di Matteo and his players said they were happy with. One thing was clear. Chelsea will sign up for more of the same in Catalonia.
It could be that Chelsea's most realistic route into next season's Champions League lies in them winning the tournament this time out. Although they still have Newcastle United to play at Stamford Bridge, they are running out of opportunities to gatecrash the Premier League's top four.
The frustration, though, belonged to Arsenal. Hard on the heels of Monday's home loss to Wigan Athletic, this was a game that Wenger wanted to win and he felt that his team had the chances to do so. He lamented a "very unfair result" and it seems as though Arsenal are spluttering to the finish, even if they remain the slight favourites to come in behind the Manchester clubs for the final automatic Champions League qualifying berth.
Their trips to Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, either side of the home game against Norwich City, could feature anxiety.
Wenger complained that his team had been forced to play the role of stooges. "Chelsea adopted the system they played against Barcelona," he said. "They wanted to practice for Tuesday night." But he had other grumbles, which went beyond a strangely disjointed performance from his team.
Robin van Persie, he said, should have had a penalty in the 80th minute when Gary Cahill appeared to shove him, while the clearest chances of a dismal game did fall to those in red, with Van Persie, on his 50th appearance of the season for club and country, curiously off-colour in front of goal. Laurent Koscielny also headed against the crossbar, from Van Persie's chipped free-kick, in the 42nd minute. It spoke volumes for the spectacle that one of the principal talking points was the hamstring injury that Theo Walcott suffered, which forced his withdrawal and will rule him out of Arsenal's remaining matches. Stuart Pearce, the England caretaker manager, who was in the crowd, will hope that the winger can recover in time for Euro 2012, as Wenger predicted he would.
Walcott had felt the hamstring after tracking back in the 57th minute only to carry on after treatment. When he pulled up and collapsed to the turf on the hour, following a forward surge, it was possible to wonder why he had not already been withdrawn or withdrawn himself.
The home crowd were irritated at their team's lack of tempo and inspiration. All of Arsenal's creative talents were under par. With Chelsea massing men behind the ball when they did not have it, it was heavy going, not least for the neutral. What is it about early kick-offs?
Di Matteo's selection had felt a little scratchy, with only three of his line-up certain to start at the Camp Nou – Petr Cech, Cahill and the indefatigable John Terry. It was the substitutes' bench that was well stocked with leading players. Chelsea's ambition was limited but they were compact throughout, with Oriol Romeu, on his first appearance since 5 February, anchoring the narrow midfield trio. Chelsea were happy to try their luck on the counter, and they almost profited in the first half when Salomon Kalou twice got in behind Arsenal.
On the second occasion, Koscielny needed to bail out Wojciech Szczesny, who had bolted from his line while on the first, Kalou felt that he had been tripped by Bacary Sagna. He had not been. But Chelsea had louder shouts for a penalty when Sagna tangled with the onrushing Ryan Bertrand. Chelsea also flickered when Cahill lifted a shot over the crossbar.
Van Persie fluffed his lines from point-blank range in the early running, from Walcott's free-kick, and was spared embarrassment by an erroneously raised offside flag, while he shot straight at Cech before half-time and, as Arsenal summoned a spirited finish, he had a few more sightings. The closest that the visitors came was when Koscielny denied Daniel Sturridge with a saving block.
Chelsea took heart from their resilience. Onward to Barcelona.