Arsenal earned their first point at Chelsea in six years – a fully deserved reward for an excellent display that could even have brought victory against the Premier League champions, who finished with 10 men.
The Gunners had previously only kept one clean sheet in their past 18 league games at Stamford Bridge, so this will surely leave manager Arsene Wenger satisfied after the defensive fiasco of the 4-0 loss at Liverpool in August.
Pedro missed Chelsea’s best chance in the first half when he raced clear but was blocked by Arsenal keeper Petr Cech.
Arsenal, however, had arguably the better chances as Danny Welbeck headed wide in front of goal and Aaron Ramsey struck a post, Alexandre Lacazette firing the rebound over an open goal.
The second period was a tighter affair, the Blues’ frustrations boiling over in the closing minutes when David Luiz was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Sead Kolasinac.
Excellent Arsenal show real steel
Wenger insisted the debacle of the 4-0 loss at Liverpool in August – a performance that provoked fierce criticism of both manager and players – was an “accident”.
The words were greeted with cynicism by those who had been at the scene of identical Arsenal ‘accidents’ at Anfield three times in the past four years and wondered whether Wenger was again at odds with the reality of the Gunners’ plight.
Arsenal’s display on Sunday, full of steel and discipline as well as attacking intent, gave the Frenchman’s theory plenty of weight as they stood toe-to-toe with the champions and were the better side for spells.
The trick now is for Arsenal to provide further evidence that this excellent performance – at a ground which has been a stage of unrelenting misery is recent years – is the rule and the display at Anfield is the exception.
Wenger’s team selection was an improvement on the fiasco of Anfield, where Alexandre Lacazette and Kolasinac were inexplicably left out when threat and physical presence were essential.
Arsenal’s manager cut an agitated figure in his technical area for much of the game, spending time in dialogue with the officials nearby, but there was much for Wenger to be satisfied with as they more than matched Chelsea.
Luiz continues Mane debate
Luiz was shown a straight red card for his reckless challenge on Kolasinac near the touchline with only three minutes left.
And yet the Brazil international may have feared dismissal earlier in the half when his flying overhead kick caught Laurent Koscielny near the face in the penalty area – before referee Michael Oliver issued a yellow card.
The incident revived the debate sparked by Sadio Mane’s dismissal for Liverpool at Manchester City last Saturday, when his high boot injured keeper Ederson.
Social media was instantly alive, especially with Reds fans highlighting what they regarded as an injustice.
Jon Moss was the referee at Etihad Stadium and was clearly implementing the law that says: “Serious foul play – a tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force…”
Oliver clearly deemed this not to be the case with Luiz’s challenge on Koscielny – but it will not stop the debate.
Chelsea left frustrated
The Blues have recovered impressively with four straight wins after the opening-day home defeat by Burnley – but Stamford Bridge was seething with frustration at the final whistle here.
Arsenal were clearly the happier side, although they will feel irritated they could not get three points as Chelsea were kept out with a performance containing a resilience the Gunners are often accused of lacking.
Pedro wasted Chelsea’s best chance, while Alvaro Morata showed plenty of good touches but also a willingness to go to ground too easily under physical challenges.
The hosts’ mood was summed up by manager Antonio Conte’s animated fury in the closing moments, especially after Luiz’s red card.
It was not the best of the days for the champions.
Man of the match – Shkodran Mustafi
Conte sees a goal drought for the first time
- Chelsea failed to score in a competitive home match under Conte for the first time (27 games).
- The last time that they failed to net in a competitive game at Stamford Bridge was in April 2016 against Manchester City when Guus Hiddink was in charge – 29 games ago.
- This was the first 0-0 draw between these two sides at Stamford Bridge since April 2005 and the first time that Chelsea have failed to score at home against the Gunners since then.
- Arsenal have now failed to score in eight of their past 14 trips to Chelsea.
- Chelsea have been given as many red cards in their past five Premier League games (three) as they had in their previous 73.
‘The battle was total’ – what they said
Chelsea manager Conte: “It was a good, open game with both teams trying to win. Every game against Arsenal is always very tough. We knew very well what type of game we would face. Both teams are great teams – it’s a good draw.
“David Luiz, you know very well that I don’t like to comment about the referee. I don’t do it in the past, or the present. You need to see what happened before the tackle.
“We have great respect for officials, but it is strange to finish a third game in a row against Arsenal with 10 men.”
Arsenal boss Wenger: “It was about mentality and a response from our last away game. We could have won it. It was an intense game.
“The battle was total. We are not in a transfer period and on the day we played Liverpool that affected us. We are all human beings. If you play 55 games a season you can have a bad performance.”
Chelsea face Championship side Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup on Wednesday (19:45 BST kick-off), before returning to Premier League action against Stoke on Saturday (15:00).
Arsenal are also in EFL Cup action on Wednesday as they welcome Doncaster Rovers of League One to Emirates Stadium (19:45), before hosting West Brom on Monday, 25 September in the league (20:00).