So far this season, Chelsea have played in some tough away games. Two stand out -- the game against Manchester United in the second week of the season, and the slog we just went through at the Emirates. In both matches, Jose Mourinho set out not to lose, and both times he succeeded with 0-0 draws, utterly frustrating the opposition and also frustrating the fans who tuned in with an attacking display that might be charitably described as 'tepid'.
It's difficult to feel good about a draw when a win was both within reach and would have put us in excellent table position. The Gunners were toothless here, failing to register a shot on target until very late on thanks to a superb display from the Chelsea back line*, and it's entirely possible that Mourinho's tactics were too conservative, preventing the Blues from pressing the attack and securing three points rather than one.
*Arsenal fans will argue that some very odd officiating from Mike Dean made an impact; they may well have a point.
The match itself was played in a torrential downpour, and the rain had serious adverse effects on the play. Passes were overhit, skimming off the water-logged turf, and the teams' collective touch was somewhere in the region of appalling. This led to some very bad lunging fouls from both teams, the obvious standout coming when Jon Obi Mikel went for a fifty-fifty ball and ended up putting his studs into the Arsenal midfielder's calf, without being penalised.
The hosts were up in arms about both that and a call that came seven seconds later, with Dean refusing to listen to screams for a penalty when Theo Walcott took a dire touch and went down after being hooked by Willian, but there were several more dangerous tackles which probably ought to have drawn sterner punishment. Dean never had control of the match.
Fortunately for Chelsea, they did. Arsenal were stifled by our numbers in midfield and some extraordinarily disciplined defending. Apart from a clash with Branislav Ivanovic in the second half -- not exactly well thought out, that one -- Mesut Ozil was kept quiet, and Ramires's powerful running through the centre allowed the Blues to turn the Gunners' roundabout of pointless possession into a dangerous-looking counterattack whenever they made a mistake.
Unfortunately, there was no bark to our bite going forward. Willian in particular had a rough day at the office, destroying two of our most promising chances with a poorly-struck (and poorly conceived) shot right at Wojciech Szczesny in the first half and then a botched pass to Eden Hazard in the second. Wasting those opportunities would have mattered less had Frank Lampard's shot been a millimetre or three lower.
It was the only moment of genuine quality in a match which probably deserved better. Hazard, who quickly realised that trying to dribble through the entire Arsenal side wasn't doing anyone much good, changed tack, scooping a delightful ball over compatriot Thomas Vermaelen for the vice-captain to surge onto. The volley was hit hard and true, blitzing its way past Szczesny only to crash off the underside of the crossbar, bounce down onto the line and trundle to agonising safety.
The near-miss, coming from the club's most reliable striker, felt like the pivotal moment of the game. Had it gone in and Arsenal been forced to push forward to equalise, the match would have become far more entertaining, a match of attack and counterattack rather than one which involved messing around in midfield before the ball went out for a throw-in.
Towards the end of the match, Arsenal did have a couple of chances to break the deadlock, but Olivier Giroud shanked a half-volley wide and then was denied from point-blank range in the 85th minute by John Terry. Cesar Azpilicueta then cleared off the line from a corner in injury time before the Blues went on the attack, with substitute midfielder and general chaos inducer David Luiz introducing some much-needed life into the final minutes. Sadly, he failed to introduce goals.
It's easy to be negative here. We all like to see Chelsea winning games, and this Arsenal side isn't so good that we should be scared of them. But after weeks of defensive catastrophe, a 0-0 draw at the Emirates in which the Gunners were completely shut down isn't the end of the world. We want better, but at least we didn't get a disaster.