It has not been often over the past two decades that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal has celebrated a 0-0 draw. In many ways, such joy and the club’s identity under Wenger contradict each other.
But in desperate times, identities must sometimes be compromised. “Desperate” might be hyperbolic, but a calamitous start to the campaign sent the Gunners to Stamford Bridge on Sunday needing a result. And they got it.
A 0-0 draw with Chelsea didn’t always feature beautiful, flowing passing sequences. It didn’t produce the entertainment of London derbies past. But for Arsenal, it yielded a welcome point, and some stability amid a chaotic two months.
For Chelsea, it yielded mostly frustration. A strong start gave way to a relatively bland last hour. That frustration manifested itself in the battered and bruised David Luiz, who flung himself into an 87th-minute challenge. He was given his marching orders, and deservedly so.
If either side’s performance merited three points, it actually might have been the visitors’. They came across London with a midfield overmatched on paper and a history of struggles against fellow top-six teams. But, to the surprise of many, they acclimated themselves quite well.
The opening 15 minutes and the first half’s most glorious chance were Chelsea’s. The Blues engineered multiple breaks through the heart of Arsenal’s midfield early. Then on 21 minutes, Cesc Fabregas created a bit of space for himself in midfield and played in Pedro. But the Spanish attacker, clear on goal, needed six touches to get his feet right and his shot off. That shot was saved by Petr Cech.
By that point, though, the Pedro chance was almost against the run of play. Arsenal had wrested control of the game away from the hosts. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka began to get on the ball. N’Golo Kante – with Fabregas not providing much defensive help – couldn’t do much to pull them off it.
Antonio Conte eventually inserted Tiemoue Bakayoko at halftime, perhaps an admission that the construction of his starting 11 had been flawed. But not before Arsenal had opportunities to go a goal up. Danny Welbeck flashed a leaping header wide of the far post in the 16th minute. Sixty seconds later, Alexandre Lacazette had a snap shot saved by Thibaut Coutrois. Both came after Hector Bellerin beat Marcos Alonso with pace down the Arsenal right.
With five minutes to play before the halftime interval, Ramsey bundled his was through the Chelsea defense and into the penalty box. His off-balance toe-poke came straight back off the far post, and straight onto the left foot of Lacazette. But the Frenchman sailed his volley high and wide.
The second half was less eventful than the first. Until the Luiz red, the most contentious moment also involved the Chelsea defender. His reckless attempt at a bicycle kick in a crowded penalty area caught Laurent Koscielny’s upper body, and nearly his face. Luiz was shown a yellow, but perhaps could have been gone right then and there.
At the other end, Skhodran Mustafi had the ball in the Chelsea net via a header off a set piece. But the assistant referee correctly raised his flag for offside.
Both managers played their wild cards in the final 25 minutes in attempts to nick all three points. Wenger turned to Alexis Sanchez, who scored the winner on Thursday in the Europa League against Cologne. Conte brought on Eden Hazard. The Belgian came the closer of the two to affecting the game when his 20-yard drive forced a save out of Cech.
With Hazard on in place of Willian, Conte shifted Fabregas to his third different role within the 90 minutes. Cesc began as Kante’s central midfield partner. He then moved to a more advanced role as part of the front three. Over the final 20 minutes, he sat behind Kante and Bakayoko in hopes of getting on the ball and creating from deep. But the Spaniard was largely ineffective after engineering the chance for Pedro midway through the first half.
Luiz lost his head late on, as he is wont to do. But two minutes plus stoppage time weren’t enough for Arsenal to find a winner. The point, though, will be satisfactory. With their backs up against the wall, the Gunners responded better than many could have expected.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.