Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso scored the goals as the Blues came from behind to lead a thrilling London derby but we were denied all three points by a Gunners’ equaliser in added time.
Despite being a flowing attacking game, it had begun to look as though the two goalkeepers would end it as the stars, both Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech having made fine saves. Arsenal, who had been on top for longer in the first half, had also been denied by the woodwork but the north Londoners did make the breakthrough midway through the second half with a Jack Wilshere goal.
It was a lead they held for only three minutes however. Hazard’s equaliser, a penalty, was the 100th Premier League goal he had either scored or assisted. Then, as a second half in which Chelsea had given as good as we got drew to a close, Alonso looked to have repeated his heroics in our game away against Tottenham at the start of the season when he ran into the box to score late on, but in the 92nd minute, there was heartbreak when Hector Bellerin fired in from distance to salvage a point for the home side, although there was still time left for substitute David Zappacosta to smash a strike against the Arsenal crossbar.
For the last of our four Premier League matches in 12 days over the Christmas and New Year period, there were returns to the starting line-up for Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Andreas Christensen, and if there were tired legs among the two sides, it certainly did not detract from the spectacle served up in north London.
After five minutes of relatively gentle sparring between these two London rivals, N’Golo Kante conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position and the Blues were thankful the deflection on Alexis Sanchez’s strike kept it off-target. We responded with some pressure around the edge of the Gunners’ penalty area but then faced a counter-attack which thankfully was ended by an over-hit cross.
Another home-side attack on 13 minute stretched the Blues defence for the first time but Ainsley Maitland-Niles, in for the injured Saed Kolasinac, centred the ball too close to Courtois.
The game suddenly sprang to life in a big way. Firstly Alvaro Morata had a one-on-one chance against Petr Cech after the home defence badly misjudged a Victor Moses high ball forward, but as in the previous game against Stoke, the Spaniard could not finish it. This time he shot well wide.
Then Arsenal had a penalty shout turned down when Maitland-Niles tumbled with little obvious contact with Victor Moses, and moments later the fans in the nearby visitors’ section were breathing a big sigh of relief when a Sanchez shot was touched onto the inside of one post by Courtois, rebounded off the inside of the opposite upright and was grabbed on the line by the keeper.
The Gunners were finding space too easily amidst the right-hand side of our defence and from a pass in from there, Alexandre Lacazette spun and shot but was denied by a very good Courtois save low down to his left.
We had been on the back foot but on 26 minutes, Chelsea put together our best move so far. Hazard and Fabregas threaded the ball through to Bakayoko who although marked, got a good strike away which Petr Cech pushed over the bar.
With half-an-hour gone of this fast-flowing contest, Jack Wilshere was punished with a yellow card for sliding through late on Fabregas, who soon after made an important challenge on his counterpart just as he was unleashing a strike on Courtois’ goal. Cesc followed that with an attempt to pick out Bakayoko’s run into the box which unfortunately the Frenchman did not collect.
Fabregas was constantly the man looking most likely to make something happen for the champions, although it was Kante’s sharpness that led to a foul on Bakayoko by Granit Xhaka on the edge of our opponents’ area. This was a chance for a half-time lead but Alonso struck the free-kick too high.
Arsenal responded with a shot from Ozil that went close. There were 38 minutes played and this did not look a game destined to end scoreless.
In a reverse of the game’s first booking, Fabregas was carded for a challenge on Wilshere although this yellow looked harsh. Cesc certainly believed he had won the ball. He also had a good chance on the stroke of half-time to open the scoring but teed up by Hazard after Kante had won the ball on halfway, his first-time shot was scooped high and wide.
We had two further opportunities to take the lead within the first five minutes of the second half but met our match in Cech. Firstly, our former keeper saved with his leg from Hazard and then with two hands kept out an Alonso header.
There was no doubting the quality of the two goalies on show and Courtois blocked a Lacazette shot soon after, but this was a better Chelsea in the opening stages of the second period, although Antonio Conte did make an early adjustment when he swapped Moses for Zappacosta.
Cesar Azpilicueta made an important contribution inside our six-yard box to keep the home side at bay as they threatened from a corner, and then Gary Cahill did similar after Ozil had found a way in behind our defence.
We could not keep this up however and on 63 minutes the resistance cracked, Wilshere firing in off the post when a pass struck Kante and fell into his path. It could have quickly been 2-0 but Courtois saved Lacazette’s deflected shot and two minutes later we were level.
The penalty was awarded for a foul by Hector Bellerin on the twisting and turning Hazard, who converted conventionally with a firm shot past Cech.
It was 1-1 and still all to play for and the next openings were all for the Blues, but Bakayoko was challenged before he could get a shot away, and then Morata scooped wide after his pace had beaten Calum Chambers to a Fabregas ball. Kante watched a deflected drive concern Cech but drop wide.
We were inside the final 10 minutes when Conte brought on Willian for Hazard and the Brazilian’s impact was rapid. His visionary ball gave Zappacosta the chance to attack Maitland-Niles and it was a contest the Italian won. His centre was low and there was Alonso, popping up to side-foot his sixth goal of the season from six yards out.
Could the Blues hold on for a 2-1 win? Christensen, back after three games either ill or on the bench, made a vital block and Zappacosta also cleared with a header, but not even Courtois on this form could keep out Bellerin’s sweet strike with time running out.
There was to be one more chance and it fell to Chelsea. Morata, again one-on-one, was denied by Cech but the ball fell to Zappacosta who smashed it against the crossbar.
So it ends with the points shared between these two sides in the two league games this season, with two cup encounters to come.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Moses (Zappacosta 56), Bakayoko, Kante, Fabregas (Drinkwater 71), Alonso; Hazard (Willian 82), Morata.
Unused subs Caballero, Rudiger, Pedro, Batshuayi.
Scorers Hazard pen 67, Alonso 84
Booked Fabregas 43, Courtois 89
Arsenal (3-4-3): Cech (c); Chambers (Walcott 88), Mustafi, Holding; Bellerin, Xhaka, Wilshere, Maitland-Niles; Ozil, Lacazette (Welbeck 80), Sanchez.
Unused subs Ospina, Mertesacker, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi.
Scorers Wilshere 63, Bellerin 90+2
Booked Wilshere 31, Holding 53, Ozil 67
Referee Anthony Taylor