Arsene Wenger remains without a victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea after Arsenal were shackled in a goalless London derby at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners boss was bidding for a first victory over his Portuguese adversary at the tenth attempt, knowing that was what his side required to return to the top of the Barclays Premier League at Christmas.
But a defensive-minded Chelsea claimed a draw which took them fourth in the standings and Arsenal moved second, behind leaders Liverpool on goal difference.
Wenger has had plenty of shots at masterminding victory over Blues sides managed by Mourinho, who now holds a record of five wins and five draws against the Frenchman.
There were numerous classics in Mourinho’s first Stamford Bridge spell, but the latest bout did not measure up.
Chelsea beat Arsenal on enemy territory in the Capital One Cup in October but their approach in the Premier League was less adventurous.
After 30 minutes of sizing each other up, the contest ignited when Frank Lampard hit the bar and the tackles began to fly in.
John Obi Mikel was fortunate to avoid a red card for a studs-up tackle on Mikel Arteta and, in the same move, referee Mike Dean also opted not to award a penalty when Willian tripped Theo Walcott.
Willian passed up a good opportunity on the counter-attack for a Chelsea side which had set up defensively, putting men behind the ball in an effort to limit the space Arsenal’s creative players, such as Mesut Ozil, could work in.
Arteta’s right ankle took another hefty blow from Ramires, who was booked, as the second half continued in much the same vein as the first.
Olivier Giroud sliced wide with 11 minutes remaining and was denied by Petr Cech at point-blank range with five minutes to go.
Wenger made four changes following the 6-3 loss at Manchester City, drafting in Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky, Thomas Vermaelen and Arteta.
Mourinho made six changes following the Capital One Cup loss at Sunderland, with Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Ramires, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres recalled.
The Blues’ former Arsenal left-back Ashley Cole, who attended his former club’s Christmas party last week, was named among the substitutes.
With Ramires, Mikel and Lampard deployed in midfield, Mourinho adapted his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation in an effort to nullify Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey.
It was Chelsea who threatened first when Torres’ attempt to burst through was brought to an end by a cynical challenge by Per Mertesacker, who was fortunate not only to avoid conceding a free-kick, but also a yellow card.
A delightful return pass from Hazard to Lampard nearly broke the deadlock, but the midfielder could not keep his shot low and hit the bar. Mourinho questioned fourth official Jon Moss to see if the ball had crossed the line, but replays showed the ball bounced well clear.
Wojciech Szczesny made his first save to stop a Torres shot on the turn before an Arsenal response in a move which might have seen Chelsea reduced to ten men. Arteta and Mikel both lunged for a ball in midfield and the Nigerian’s studs caught the Spaniard on the ankle. Play continued and Willian fell for Walcott’s trickery, hooking the winger’s ankle, but Dean deigned no foul had been made.
Willian should have done better at the other end than shoot weakly at Szczesny after Ramsey conceded possession to allow Hazard to counter.
Arteta was again fouled in midfield combat, this time by Ramires, who was booked, before Ivanovic enraged Ozil with a high-foot challenge. In a competitive contest Rosicky then slid in on the Serbian right-back, who went down easily, with the Czech booked for persistent fouling.
Hazard was replaced by Andre Schurrle and Oscar came on for Willian as Mourinho recognised the need for fresh legs on the flanks.
Ramsey’s pass then presented Giroud with a fine opportunity, but the France striker sliced wide of the near post from a position to the left of goal, with the angle becoming more difficult.
Gibbs then combined with Rosicky on the left and centred towards Giroud, whose close-range effort hit the spread-eagled Cech.
David Luiz came on for Torres with three minutes to go as Mourinho shut up shop, clearly happy with a point. Arsenal had a final chance to claim three points, but Azpilicueta cleared a Vermaelen header from a corner off the line.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Rosicky, Giroud. Subs not used: Podolski, Monreal, Cazorla, Flamini, Fabianski, Bendtner, Jenkinson
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Mikel, Lampard, Willian (Oscar 77), Torres (Luiz 87), Hazard (Schurrle 73). Subs not used: Cole, Mata, Schwarzer, Eto’o