Arsenal played at home to Chelsea yesterday knowing that a win would virtually end Chelsea's chances of finishing in the top four. Chelsea were in the middle of a very tough schedule of FA Cup and Champions League games, and their team selection reflected that. Some of their better players were left on the bench, as they looked to shackle Arsenal and hope to snatch a win with a breakaway attack.
Arsene Wenger had a few decisions to make in his own team selection, and Aaron Ramsey was given the chance to replace the injured Mikael Arteta. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in on the left hand side of the Arsenal attacking trio with Gervinho on the bench. The biggest surprise was probably the inclusion of Kieran Gibbs at left back which meant Andre Santos was left on the bench.
The most important change in the Arsenal team was the return from suspension of Laurent Koscielny to bolster a defence which had looked a shambles at times in the defeat to Wigan last Monday night. It meant Johan Djourou dropped to the bench, and Arsenal had their first choice central defensive pairing back together again. Koscielny has been Arsenal's best defender this season, and the team is always stronger with him in it.
Chelsea set their stall out early on, and Arsenal found it hard to find their flowing football. Far too often Arsenal players were caught in possession, as Chelsea packed the midfield and defended in numbers. Despite not really clicking again Arsenal had some very good chances to get the goal that would have opened the game up.
Unfortunately Robin van Persie has hit a barren patch at the moment, and he failed to put away the best of those chances. He managed to hit the outside of the post from only a yard or so out when he met a Theo Walcott free kick early on on the game. There were other chances for him too, but none of them were as easy as that one.
Koscielny hit the bar not too long after that with a free header from a RVP free kick, but there was no Arsenal player following up to take advantage. Chelsea made a couple of very good blocks late on in the game, but far too often Arsenal's final ball wasn't up to standard and they created very little as a result.
At the other end Chelsea looked dangerous on the break quite a few times, but they never actually looked like scoring. Wojciech Szczesny came off his line quickly on a few occasions to mop up at the back, and Koscielny made one fantastic last ditch challenge to deny Chelsea also. Szczesny was a little lucky to keep his goal intact at one stage when Bacary Sagna was on hand to save him when a Solomon Kalou looked to have gone around him just outside the penalty area.
Tomas Rosicky had been sick during the week, and he wasn't quite at his best for the hour that he played. Abu Diaby came on for him, but he looked very rusty after yet another long spell out through injury. Gervinho and Santos both came on as well, and they had a much more positive influence on the Arsenal team.
I have been unimpressed with Gervinho since his return from the African Cup of Nations, but he looked a lot better yesterday. Santos came on for Chanberlain in an attacking role, and he gave his all in an attempt to get the three points for Arsenal. He got stuck in all over the pitch, and showed some of the fight and skill which others seemed to be missing.
The result was far from a disaster for Arsenal, and they are still the firm favourites to finish third with only three games left to play. Newcastle are their closest challengers now after they won yet again yesterday, but they have some very tough games to come. Spurs were beaten by QPR, and their chances of a top four finish are fading badly.
Chelsea seemed more than happy with their point, but they will probably have to win their last four matches to secure a place in next season's Champions League. I think Arsenal can probably finish in the tip three if they can win two of their remaining three games. The first of those is a trip to Stoke next week, and it's never been an easy venue for Arsenal.
The three teams Arsenal have left to play have little to play for, as they are all secure in mid-table positions. Hopefully Arsenal's need for points will give them more drive than their opponents in those games, and they can get the victories they need. It would an absolute disaster for the team to finish outside the top four after all of their hard work to get back in the frame.
Arsenal will have to play those games without Walcott who went off with a hamstring injury yesterday. It looks like his season has ended, and he will join Arteta in the stands for the rest of it. Arsenal's injuries seem to building up yet again, and the squad is starting to look very thin at this stage.
The team have a week to work on training to try to get some drive back into their play. Hooefully the played can rise to the challenge in those last three games, and get the results the team needs. It would be nice for the team not to have to play in the final qualifying round for the Champions League next August for a change.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game.
See you tomorrow.