LONDON, England, April 21 – Chelsea failed in their efforts to break into the top four before they head out to face Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final after Roberto Di Matteo’s side played out a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium here Saturday.
A solitary point for Arsene Wenger’s side, meanwhile, meant the Gunners missed out on the opportunity to tighten their grip on third place.
Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie – who denied before the game he had met with Barcelona officials to discuss a possible transfer – was unable to break the deadlock with two late opportunities.
Chelsea, though, can take heart from a resolute defensive display that they must repeat next week of they are to protect their slender 1-0 first leg lead and progress into the Champions League final.
And the draw means they have lost just once in 14 games since Di Matteo took temporary charge of the side.
The team sheet confirmed where Chelsea’s priorities lay with Di Matteo making eight changes to the line-up that stunned Barcelona midweek.
After two challenging games – the Blues beat Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley just three days before they faced Barca – it was inevitable Di Matteo would seek to freshen up his side.
But with keeper Petr Cech and centre back pairing Gary Cahill and John Terry the only players to retain their places, it was clear the manager’s thoughts were already on the trip to Spain.
It was no surprise then that the visitors took time to settle although Arsenal were similarly unconvincing.
The first meeting between these sides this season last October produced eight goals as Arsenal pulled off a remarkable 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge.
By those standards, however, this was a surprisingly tame encounter with both keepers surviving the first half largely untested.
Robin Van Persie was inevitably Arsenal’s biggest threat and the Dutch striker struck the post from Theo Walcott’s free kick although the effort may well have been ruled out for offside had Van Persie found the target.
Van Persie’s future had once again been the subject of debate before kick-off following Arsene Wenger’s insistence a decision on the forward’s next contract would be resolved before he joins up with Holland for the Euro 2012 finals.
The Arsenal captain has one year left on his current deal and has so far resisted the club’s efforts to open negotiations about extending his stay.
He did, however, use his column in the matchday programme to explain his midweek visit to the Barcelona team hotel was to meet friend and Holland team-mate Ibrahim Afellay, and not to meet officials from the Spanish club.
Three minutes before the interval Van Persie demonstrated his qualities as a provider of chances when his floated free kick should have brought a goal for Laurent Koscielny.
The Arsenal centre-back was allowed to drift clear of his marker and should have done better than loop a header against the bar.
Then sixty seconds later Van Persie got the chance to test Cech with a left foot angled shot but found the Chelsea keeper alert despite a long period of inactivity.
Chelsea had been restricted to a handful of opportunities on the break but had been unable to produce the final ball to create a notable first half chance.
And they fared little better during the second period when Arsenal again dominated possession without finding a way past Cech.
The two best opportunities came late on, and both fell to Van Persie.
With seven minutes remaining Alex Song’s long ball released the striker behind the Chelsea back four but Van Persie was unable to direct his right foot shot on target.
Then two minutes later the forward turned Cahill but was again denied when Cech moved quickly off his line to smother the shot.