Chelsea return to earth with Arsenal bore draw
Unexciting London derby dents both teams' top-four ambitions
THE FIRST time Arsenal met Chelsea this season they conjured up a classic, the Gunners winning 5-3 at Stamford Bridge, but the return fixture at the Emirates produced no goals and barely any excitement. It was a bad result for both sides and though Arsenal remain in third they are now only three points clear of Newcastle, whose fine form continued with an easy 3-0 win at home to Stoke, and who have a game in hand on their London rivals.
Chelsea are in sixth, just one point behind Tottenham who lost away at Queens Park Rangers, and while the Blues were off colour they at least had the excuse of having beaten Barcelona on Wednesday. Arsenal had no such excuses but that didn’t prevent Arsene Wenger blaming the Blues for the goalless encounter. “They locked the game completely,” moaned the Arsenal manager. “They had to win as well but tried to lock the game, catch us on the break... Chelsea are very strong physically in the middle of the park and had a very defensive-minded midfield. They killed the game and we were not quick enough to open them up.”
Not for the first time this season Wenger was as wayward in his analysis as his team were in their precision. The Gunners were a pale imitation of the side that beat Manchester City a fortnight ago with their midfield missing the creativity of the injured Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal hit the woodwork twice in the first half though Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny will both probably feel they should have scored with the goal at their mercy.
At least Koscielny later redeemed himself when his desperate lunge blocked Daniel Sturridge’s goal-bound shot. And that was about as much action at the Emirates saw on a disappointing afternoon that ended with Chelsea boss Roberto di Matteo bemoaning his side’s fixture schedule. “It was our third game in less than six days,” said the Italian, adding: “The demand is incredible; it's crazy that we have to play in such a short period of time this amount of games. It's dangerous for the players because the risk of injury increases. There are four games left and three home games - we've got a tough schedule but we can do it [finish in the top four].”
If the Blues are to do that they must beat Newcastle when the Magpies come to the Bridge on 2 May. Their defeat of Stoke was their sixth league victory on the bounce and came courtesy of goals from Papiss Cisse and two from Yohan Cabaye. Asked later if he believed Newcastle could qualify for next season’s Champions League, manager Alan Pardew replied it was “really a possibility” and added: “We're not going to hide from that or make some stupid cliches about [how] we're not going to do it.”
Tottenham’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League took another blow as they went down to a goal from Adel Taarabt at Loftus Road. The Moroccan was later sent off for a second bookable offence but that won’t diminish much from Rangers’ joy at a win that lifts them three points clear of the relegation zone. As for Spurs, who saw Jermain Defoe waste two good chances late on, they must somehow rediscover their form and win their remaining four matches if they want to play in Europe next season. “We are going to have to win the lot,” said manager Harry Redknapp. "It is going to be very tight but we are capable of doing that… it is not all over yet. We will have to wait and see.”
In the day’s other results Aston Villa and Sunderland drew 0-0 while Bolton and Swansea shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw at the Reebok Stadium, a result that leaves the Trotters one place off the bottom of the table. Just above Bolton are Blackburn, who improved their chances of avoiding the drop with a 2-0 defeat of Norwich. Rovers are now three points shy of Wigan, who were brought back down to earth following back-to-back victories against Manchester United and Arsenal, with a 2-1 defeat to Fulham.