Chelsea edged a step closer to the Premier League title after holding out for a goalless draw against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. With Arsenal needing a victory to have any chance of restoring their faint hopes of taking the championship, Chelsea were increasingly happy to frustrate their opponents toward a scoreless result that always looked on the cards. While they can’t now confirm the title against Leicester City on Wednesday, the celebrations of Chelsea’s players at the final whistle reflected that this was very much a case of job done for Jose Mourinho’s men.
Chelsea now lead Arsenal by 10 points with five games remaining and require just six points to clinch their first championship in five years. Given the position in the league and Chelsea’s rearguard effort in beating Manchester United last week, there was some surprise that the match contained as much penalty-box incident as it did in the first half.
The story of the opening 45 minutes was one of non-penalty appeals at both ends. Chelsea were denied two spot-kicks, when former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas was booked despite receiving contact from the outstretched leg of Santi Cazorla, while early on Oscar was clattered into by Thibaut Courtois. In another incident that brought the Premier League’s handling of concussions into the spotlight, the Brazilian was allowed to play on before being taken to hospital at halftime. Arsenal had a penalty claim, too, when Gary Cahill’s arm blocked a shot from Cazorla. While not a deliberate intervention, it was certainly a scenario that has led to many a penalty in the past.
Arsenal were left frustrated on that occasion, and, despite all their possession, Arsene Wenger's side were unable to break through. Just one shot on target for the hosts throughout the 90 minutes, a harmless effort from Mesut Özil, spoke volumes. There was no mauling of the type they received against Chelsea last season, but they still remain short of their London rivals.
With Diego Costas and Loic Remy still unavailable and doubts, too, about the fitness of Didier Drogba, Mourinho lined his side up without a recognized striker. Oscar instead filled the forward berth, but still Chelsea pressed surprisingly high against Arsenal on occasion in the early going. And they should have had the chance to go in front.
Just 16 minutes in, Fabregas’ ball over the top of Arsenal’s defense was latched onto by Oscar, who lofted it over the advancing Courtois only for Hector Bellerin to get back and clear off the line. Oscar didn’t see that conclusion, though, as he had received a nasty knock to the head by Ospina. It should have been a clear penalty, but by far the biggest controversy was that Oscar became the latest Premier League player to be allowed to continue despite exhibiting signs of a concussion.
The next penalty appeal was not long in arriving. This time Fabregas, booed throughout by his former club’s fans, turned cleverly past Cazorla into the box. The Arsenal man stretched out his leg and then tried to withdraw it, but contact was clearly made with his compatriot. While Fabregas’ reaction was theatrical and a booking was understandable, he was surely also impeded.
At the other end, the referee was called into action to adjudicate whether a spot-kick was required after Cahill handled in the box. Again, play went on. And soon Chelsea had their best chance when Ramires arrived on the end of Willian’s through ball but failed to get enough purchase or direction on his first-time effort.
The second-half was an almost non-event. Chelsea brought on Drogba for the injured Oscar, but they were now more than happy to play out the contest toward its seemingly inevitable conclusion. Arsenal only mounted enough pressure to threaten in injury time. But Chelsea’s defense, and especially their faultless captain John Terry, was always able to get a decisive touch to thwart the hosts.