As Chelsea's players walked off at the end of this desperately disappointing goalless draw they were greeted by chants of "Boring, boring Chelsea" by the Arsenal fans waiting by the tunnel. They did not look as if they cared, though. This, after all, was José Mourinho in his purest form, a pertinent reminder that he is often more entertaining than the football his teams produce. They tend to be more pragmático than galáctico.

As the match neared its end, Mourinho was not even bothering to pretend that he would be delighted with a draw, just as he was when Chelsea visited Manchester United in August. With three minutes remaining, and Arsenal finally starting to find cracks in Chelsea's defence, off went Fernando Torres and on came David Luiz – heaven knows what Roman Abramovich will have made of that substitution – and Mourinho could soon be seen urgently ordering his players to get back after an attack had broken down.

Abramovich might dream of fantasy football but the qualities that have brought Mourinho success, and he has had a lot of it, are rather less romantic.

The clue was in Chelsea's line-up. It is questionable whether Mourinho truly trusts players whose unpredictable talent cannot be controlled by systems and tactics and there was no place for either Juan Mata or Oscar, both of whom might have provided that crucial touch of class.

Instead a muscular but decidedly functional midfield three of Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Ramires was expected to frustrate Arsenal. Indeed Chelsea were such awkward opponents that there were times in the first half when Mourinho, amusing himself with his own theatrics on the touchline, was almost marking Bacary Sagna on Arsenal's right.

For Arsenal, Chelsea posed a familiar challenge. Arsène Wenger has now failed to overcome Mourinho in 10 attempts – five defeats and five draws – and Arsenal have beaten Chelsea only four times in their past 23 encounters. Chelsea's ability to give Arsenal a case of the yips is unrivalled. More often than not, they have been too streetwise.

There had been a sense, though, that this was an opportunity for Arsenal to prove they possess the nerve for big matches and impose themselves on Chelsea, who have been uncharacteristically open, a previously solid defence starting to show signs of age.

Arsenal, by contrast, have played with great assurance and clarity all season and have developed a knack of winning when they are below their best, which has not always been their forte under Wenger.

Yet Arsenal have tired in recent weeks and this was a fourth successive game without a victory in all competitions. They came into this match having lost 6-3 at Manchester City last weekend and, although victory would have taken them back above Liverpool at the top, there was rarely fluency or conviction to their passing in midfield. With Aaron Ramsey struggling to gain a foothold, they missed the suspended Jack Wilshere's tenacity and drive while Mesut Özil whose influence has waned as he adapts to the rigours of English football, was largely anonymous.

At times tempers were frayed. Chelsea's midfielders thundered into tackles with considerable force and Mikel should have been sent off for a dangerous foul on Mikel Arteta, yet Mourinho dismissed Arsenal's complaints. "They like to cry, that's tradition," he said. "Football is a game of contact."

Having been knocked out of the Capital One Cup last week, Chelsea were determined to be hard to beat and ensure they did not fall five points behind Arsenal. Everywhere Arsenal, who did not muster a shot on target until the final 10 minutes, turned there seemed to be a blue shirt. Petr Cech had little to do.

Theo Walcott, who never had a chance to run at César Azpilicueta, a right-back out of position on the left, appealed for a penalty when Willian caught him but to no avail and, having established their physical superiority, Chelsea were unlucky not to lead at the break when Lampard's superlative volley hit the bar.

As the match wore on, Olivier Giroud, who has scored twice in his past 13 matches, twice went close and an Arsenal winner started to look more likely, the cue for David Luiz to make his entrance and for Operation Lockdown to begin.

The Arsenal fans voiced their disapproval of Chelsea's negativity after Mike Dean's final whistle but Mourinho, relishing his pantomime villain status, was in no mood to apologise, gloating about his record over Wenger instead. "Ten times, they don't win once," Mourinho said.

In more ways than one he has a point.