Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal – It may not have been a first Premier League win away against one of the so-called ‘big six’ since January 2015, but Arsenal will claim a moral victory from this London derby.
Their terrible record on the road against the Premier League’s elite and the mauling at Anfield last month has dampened expectations at Arsenal to such an extent that a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea team that finished with 10 men will be viewed as a success.
It could and probably should have been a proper victory for Arsene Wenger’s men, who squandered the best opportunities and had a man advantage for the final minutes after David Luiz was sent-off, but a point represented progress of sorts.
None of last season’s top scorers for either side started the game, as Alexis Sanchez was dropped back down to the substitutes’ bench, where Olivier Giroud also sat, after playing 90 minutes in the Europa League victory over Cologne.
With Sanchez and Giroud both watching from the sidelines during the first half, the responsibility to threaten Chelsea’s goal fell to Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette, and the pair missed the best chances of the game.
Welbeck headed over the crossbar from Hector Bellerin’s cross, while summer signing Lacazette posted his early entry for miss of the season four minutes before the break.
Aaron Ramsey went on a brilliant winding run into the penalty area, which took him past Cesar Azpilicueta, and the Welshman’s shot rebounded off the post. Lacazette looked to have the simple task of tucking the ball into the net, but instead lifted it over the bar from four yards.
While Wenger and the rest of the Arsenal bench held their heads in their hands, Sanchez could be seen slapping the back of David Ospina with a big smile on his face. It was hardly the reaction of a man dedicated to the Gunners’ cause.
Mesut Ozil was ruled out of the game with a knee injury he suffered in training, but Arsenal did not miss the German who has so often been accused of failing to show up for these types of games even when he has been on the pitch.
Conte decided Eden Hazard was not yet fit enough to start his first game of the season for Chelsea, while Diego Costa, who has previously enjoyed facing Arsenal, was still nowhere to be seen.
That left Alvaro Morata flanked by Pedro and Willian, and it was Pedro who squandered Chelsea’s best chance of the opening period.
Having seen an early shot saved by Petr Cech, Pedro was sent through on goal by Cesc Fabregas in the 21st minute. It seemed certain the former Barcelona man would give the home side the lead, but Cech managed to keep the ball out with an outstretched hand.
Chelsea were struggling to create chances and impose themselves on Arsenal, which was highlighted by the fact Cech’s most significant action of the first half, other than saving from Pedro, was controlling a back pass from Nacho Monreal that could have easily resulted in an own goal.
Whether or not it was enforced, it was not a surprise that Conte made a chance for the start of the second half in which Chelsea needed to improve. Tiemoue Bakayoko replaced Pedro and Fabregas moved further forwards to help support Morata.
Luiz reappeared for the second period with a bandage around his left arm after tumbling into the advertising hoardings at the end of the first half. The Brazilian was booked in the 53rd minute for a high boot on Laurent Koscielny with an attempted overhead kick. You could almost hear the cries of inconsistency that will have reverberated around Liverpool, who had seen Sadio Mane sent off for a not dissimilar offence a week earlier.
Morata had been getting increasingly frustrated by being knocked to the floor by Shkodran Mustafi, but the striker earned a booking when he gave the Arsenal defender a taste of his own medicine.
In terms of who blinked first in looking for some magic from the bench, it was Wenger as he replaced Lacazette with Sanchez with just under 25 minutes remaining. But it only took three more minutes for Conte to send on Hazard in place of Willian.
The Chelsea change also included a switch in formation as Fabregas dropped back to form a five-man midfield and Hazard played just off Morata.
Wenger had been preparing to introduce Mohamed Elneny, but was forced to change his mind when Welbeck was hurt in a challenge with Luiz which resulted in the England international being replaced by Giroud.
Mustafi, and an Arsenal fan who made it on to the bench to celebrate, thought he had given the visitors the lead but his header was ruled out for offside.
There had been a distinct lack of quality from both sides in the second half until Hazard almost conjured what would have been a special winner.
The Belgian collected a pass from N’Golo Kante and danced around Granit Xhaka before cutting in to fire a shot towards goal that was well held by Cech.
But Chelsea’s hopes of snatching a late winner were effectively ended when Luiz was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Sead Kolasinac and Conte opted to play out the remaining minutes without a recognised striker as Andreas Christensen replaced Morata.