Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Brendan Rodgers is Christmas No.1 as Liverpool top Premier League table

Arsenal and Chelsea draw to leave Kop on top

Brendan Rodgers of Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers of Liverpool
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil (L) clashes with Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic (R) as Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs (hidden) and Chelsea's Willian (C) try to intervene during their English Premier League soccer match at The Emirates in London December 23, 2013.
Crunching tackle: Theo Walcott cuts down Cesar Azpilicueta

Liverpool's Carnlough-born manager Brendan Rodgers will celebrate Christmas Day in style tomorrow with his side top of the league on goal difference.

Arsenal and Chelsea's ill-tempered 0-0 draw at The Emirates last night confirmed the Reds as No.1 hits of the FA Premier League this festive period.

Blues boss Jose Mourinho admitted he was satisfied with a point in a game of few chances, while Arsenal were denied a first-half penalty.

"It was important not to lose and be five points behind the leaders," said Mourinho. "We are completely alive."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said: "It was 100 per cent a penalty when Theo Walcott was fouled, in my mind there is no doubt."

Lacklustre Gunners and Chelsea fail to show their title credentials

By Sam Wallace

All of the aggression and needle of the great rivalry that characterised Arsène Wenger v Jose Mourinho Part I in the last decade, but so little of the quality last night that once made these two clubs the pre-eminent sides in English football.

There was plenty of pain in the December rain, largely inflicted, it should be said by Mourinho's foot soldiers or, as they were at times, the foot-up shoulders.

There was a challenge from Jon Obi Mikel on Mike Arteta in the last ten minutes of the second half that was a blatant meeting of studs and shin. It was a red card – excessive force under the current guidelines – but waved away by referee Mike Dean.

Just seconds later there was a penalty appeal against Willian for a trip on Theo Walcott that looked plum, which was not given.

And then in the second half it got that little bit more aggressive with Branislav Ivanovic diving in on Mesut Özil and the shoving and finger-pointing becoming ever more intense.

But what is worth remembering is that not until Olivier Giroud (pictured) forced a save from close range out of Petr Cech with six minutes of the game to play was there finally an effort on target from either side.

This was raw and attritional throughout. There were Arsenal trying desperately not to bow to the recent trend of history and succumb to Chelsea. And then there was Chelsea being, well, Chelsea.

It was a classic Mourinho performance: his team refusing to budge despite the pressure and, along the way, very little leeway given to his creative talents.

Eden Hazard shimmered with promise in the first half but his manager gradually grew tired of him conceding possession and he was withdrawn for the more orthodox André Schürrle instead.

When David Luiz came on for Fernando Torres with minutes remaining it was clear what direction Mourinho was taking.

They went off to the chants from the home support of "Boring, boring Chelsea" but this is how they do it.

Mourinho also settled for a draw at Old Trafford earlier in the season, preferring to take his chances getting three points at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea did not create a chance of note but they left north London with a point. It was a first half that ended miserably for Mike Dean who, in the space of little more than 10 seconds, missed the two big decisions of the half.

The 36 minutes that had preceded it had been unremarkable and then suddenly it felt like the game could have tipped Arsenal's way.

The first was a bad studs-up lunge by Mikel that was way too late to take the ball away from Arteta and instead made contact above the ankle. Arteta went in with force too but it was Mikel who made contact. It comfortably fitted the excessive force criteria for a red card but somehow Dean did not get the full scope of its severity.

Then the ball was worked forward to Walcott in the penalty area and, quite frankly, things got worse for Dean.

Willian stabbed his foot to get the ball away from Walcott in the penalty area and the Arsenal man went straight over the challenge with the ball untouched. Dean took a long look at that one and waved it away.

It had been a hard battle in the rain before then. Frank Lampard rattled the underside of the Arsenal crossbar with a volley from Hazard's pass on 33 minutes but otherwise there had been little work to do for the goalkeepers.

There was the old physical approach from Chelsea at the start of the game when Cesar Azpilicueta went through Aaron Ramsey. Lampard caught Bacary Sagna. Tomas Rosicky tried to level it up with fouls on Ramires, Hazard and Lampard.

After the break there was another big challenge on Arteta, this time from Ramires who was booked. Dean finally started reaching for the cards with Walcott going into the book for a trip on Azpilicueta. Finally, Rosicky's judicious fouling earned him a place in the book. Remarkably, Mikel managed not to get his name taken.

It was a challenge by Ivanovic on Özil that really stoked things up and began the recriminations and pushing that show a game is reaching boiling point. Yet Arsenal were never able quite to convert the late pressure into a goal to decide the match.

There was a good chance for Giroud but he sliced the ball wide on 78 minutes running onto Ramsey's ball in behind the defence. Six minutes he finally got the first shot of the game on target and Cech proved equal to it. Later, Azpilicueta kicked a shot from Sagna off the line.

Mourinho's men ended the game attacking and with a series of corners that, in the end, Arsenal defended well given the circumstances.

The goalless draw means that Chelsea end the calendar year without a goal away from home in the Premier League from one of their strikers.

There was not a single shot on target from the away side and that told its own story. So far the indications have been that Mourinho will not sign a new striker in January although that is a problem that surely needs fixing.

The obstinate old qualities in Mourinho's Chelsea remain. They may not be pretty to watch on nights like these but they served a cold reminder to Arsenal, and their resurgent new team, that these are the kind of obstacles that they will have to overcome if they have their eye on that first title since Mourinho first pitched up in England.

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