MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 0 CHELSEA 0
The Blues return from north London with a well-earned point following a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates.
In a game shorn of many clear-cut opportunities, Frank Lampard went closest to scoring the decisive goal midway through the first half when he raced on to an Eden Hazard chip and smashed his volley against the bar.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with the defensive players on both sides coming out on top, although Olivier Giroud went close twice late on for Arsenal.
A first clean sheet in the league since the 3-0 win at West Ham is most welcome, while for Petr Cech it was his 150th Premier League shut out, and attention now turns to two successive home games, starting with the visit of Swansea City on Boxing Day.
Jose Mourinho made three changes from the 2-1 win over Crystal Palace just over a week ago. Gary Cahill returned to partner captain John Terry in central defence, with David Luiz dropping down to the bench. With Michael Essien suspended, John Mikel Obi returned to the starting line-up, while there was also a start for Lampard. Fernando Torres, who scored the opening goal against the Eagles, led the line once again. A strong substitutes' bench contained both Juan Mata and Oscar.
For Arsenal, Thomas Vermaelen played alongside Per Mertesacker at the heart of the defence and, with Jack Wilshere unavailable due to suspension, Tomas Rosicky was handed a start wide on the left-hand side.
With Arsenal unbeaten at home in the Premier League since the opening day of the season, it was important for us to start the game in a positive, assertive manner, and we were seeing plenty of the ball durng the opening few minutes, albeit without threatening from an attacking perspective.
Tactically, we began the game with Lampard, Mikel and Ramires operating as a midfield trio, and it appeared as though Mourinho had instructed them, and those players further forward, to press Arsenal high up the pitch, with the home side forced into a couple of uncharacteristic early errors.
Having kept only one clean sheet in our previous 11 league games, the team were set up early on to get men behind the ball when Arsenal were in possession and not afford the home side too much space in dangerous areas, and it was a strategy which proved effective for the opening 20 minutes with the hosts struggling to get in behind.
On the first occasion they did, a teasing Bacary Sagna delivery was expertly diverted behind by Cahill as Olivier Giroud looked set to pounce in a crowded penalty area.
Moments later we had our first real sight of goal following a quick break; Willian supplied the cross after Hazard had instigated the move inside our own half, but the header from Ramires lacked power and dropped over Wojciech Szczesny's bar.
Just after the half-hour mark we then produced the first real moment of quality in the game and came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock.
Lampard rolled the ball into Hazard on the edge of the Arsenal box; the Belgian looked up and chipped the ball back into the path of the midfielder, who had continued his run, and as he met it first time on the volley, the ball flew past Szczesny and crashed against the underside of the bar.
The danger wasn't completely clear, and as the loose ball bounced around inside the Arsenal box, Ramires swivelled and fired straight at the Polish goalkeeper.
Suddenly we were beginning to look a threat, and Torres was next to go close, spinning his marker on the edge of the box and firing towards goal, only to be thwarted by another Szczesny save.
The game, which had struggled to get going for much of the first half, was beginning to spark into life as the clock ticked towards the break, and the home supporters were appealing for a penalty when Willian and Theo Walcott tangled inside our penalty area. Referee Mike Dean, however, waved the claim away.
The Brazilian was then involved in the action at the other end as we broke at pace following an Arsenal corner. Ivanovic climbed highest to head Walcott's delivery away, and as the ball was worked out to Hazard he drove at the retreating defenders and slipped it in to the overlapping Willian whose strike was comfortable for Szczesny.
It was the Blues who threatened first after the restart, once again utilising the pace of our attacking players on the break.
As Cahill did well to block a Rosicky strike, the ball fell kindly for Willian who took two Arsenal players out of the game with a quick burst before feeding Hazard. With Torres to his left, the Belgian opted to seek out Willian, but his cross, intended for Ramires, was headed away to safety by Vermaelen.
Minutes later Willian was released again down the right, but on this occasion, with three players up in support his pass was behind Ramires, and though Hazard was able to retrieve the ball he was left with too much to do and, under pressure from two defenders, the chance went begging.
As the game approached the hour mark, there appeared to be no sign of a breakthrough from either side, and it was becoming increasingly clear the first goal could prove pivotal to the balance of the contest.
Lampard tested Szczesny from distance with a fizzing effort after Torres had done well to head the ball back into his path under pressure, while at the other end Terry was forced into a couple of defensive headers in quick succession as Arsenal attempted to seize the initiative.
As the rain continued to pour down challenges were beginning to fly in; Ivanovic and Mesut Ozil clashed, and minutes later the Serbian was on the receiving end of a late Sagna challenge.
Sensing the need for fresh legs, Mourinho made his first substitution of the night with 16 minutes remaining, replacing Hazard with Andre Schurrle, while soon after Oscar was introduced at the expense of Willian.
As the game began to flow from end to end, Arsenal saw their best chance of the game go to waste. Aaron Ramsey, a peripheral figure up to that point, lifted the ball over the Chelsea defence into the path of Giroud, but as Petr Cech raced off his line to narrow the angle, the Frenchman fired into the side netting.
It was the home side looking the more dangerous as the game entered its final stages, and Giroud again went close when he got the faintest of touches on a Kieran Gibbs cross, but Cech was equal to it and diverted the ball over the bar with his knee.
The home side forced a couple of late corners as they looked to steal it, one of which forced Azpilicueta into a clearance off the line.
At the other end, meanwhile, substitute David Luiz fired a free-kick straight into the Gunners' wall with what was our last real sight of goal.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Mikel, Lampard; Willian (Oscar 77), Torres (David Luiz 87), Hazard (Schurrle 73).
Unused substitutes: Schwarzer, Cole, Mata, Eto'o.
Booked Ramires 63
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen (c), Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Walcott, Ozil, Rosicky; Giroud.
Unused substitutes: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski, Bendtner.
Booked Walcott 65, Rosicky 69
Referee Mike Dean