By Richard Clarke
The concluding game at Emirates Stadium this season turned out to be conclusive for the Premiership title race.
This game took time to get going but it built to a wonderful crescendo. Two minutes before the break Khalid Boulahrouz fouled Julio Baptista as he went clear in the area. Gilberto scored from the spot and the Dutch defender was dismissed. Arsenal seemed set to kick-on in the second half but a late rally by Chelsea saw Michael Essien steer home a header at the near post.
Both sides could have won it in a quite incredible final 15 minutes. At the full-time whistle Jose Mourinho went the visiting fans and indicated they should hold their heads high despite losing their title.
Wenger's young side can do exactly the same. Their home and away fixtures against the other top four sides have brought three wins, two draws and just one defeat.
We can only hope Emirates Stadium will see equal excitement next term - with perhaps a little more consistency.
For once the Arsenal supporters were as concerned about the away side as their own. Ashley Cole was absent and therefore did not make his first return the club who produced him. Given that the left back had been carrying an ankle injury perhaps it was more of a surprise to see Didier Drogba left out the 16.
Wenger made just one change from the side that had beaten the Premiership other West London side the previous week. Denilson replaced Alex Hleb in midfield.
Manchester United's derby victory made this a must-win for Mourinho's men and, in his pre-match press conference, Wenger had suggested this would be a yardstick against which to measure side.
Expectation was sky high however the start of the game of was one of those Premiership paradoxes. There was plenty of industry on the pitch and bluster from the terraces. However, in truth, there was little going on. The only chance either side could muster in the first half-hour was an angled drive from Wayne Bridge which was smothered before he could get the ball away.
Apart from that it was a match of endeavour without endangering the goal. In the 29th minute, Adebayor nearly went clear after Boulahrouz slipped just outside his own area however Petr Cech mopped up. Joe Cole then scuffed a sorry effort wide before trickling a dangerous ball across Arsenal's six-yard area.
Nine minutes before the break Denilson nudged a pass into the path of Adebayor and the Togolese striker made Cech pull off the first genuine save of the match.
In the 43rd minute the game-changing moment arrived. Baptista latched on to a long punt forward and got the wrong side of Boulahrouz. The Dutchman clipped the Brazilian as he pulled back his foot to shoot. It was a clear penalty and sending off. Gilberto dispatched the spot kick and referee Alan Wiley despatched Boulahrouz to the stands.
It was a rare, rare goal because it would have been cheered in both the red half of North London and the red half of Manchester.
Chelsea knew they now had 45 minutes to save their season. They nearly made a tough job nearly impossible when, three minutes into the second half, Denilson's free-kick was nodded on to Adebayor at the far post. He teed the ball up then cracked a right-foot effort across the face of goal and just beyond the far post.
The visitors simply had to mount a response. Frank Lampard's free-kick over the bar suggested they were starting to stir. Their cause was aided when Denilson was stretchered off just before the hour following a tackle from Paulo Ferreira and Hleb came on.
However it was Arsenal who took the initiative. The home side started to fully exploit the freedom afforded to them around the Chelsea area. Hleb and Fabregas both saw shots blocked then Gallas, unmarked and six yards out, nodded over from a corner.
It seemed like the visitors were down to nine men such was the space and possession the home side were enjoying. However, once again, Arsenal would rue the chances they had spurned.
In the 70th minute Gilberto nodded a Chelsea corner to Wright-Phillips on the right flank. He darted to the byline and fired over a cross to near post. Essien ghosted in to divert a header into the far corner.
The pendulum had swung. Suddenly the visitors seemed not only back to the full compliment but were controlling the game. Cole finished off a fine move by slamming a shot high into the Arsenal net. However his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.
As the seconds ticked away, Chelsea desperately sought a winner. Lehmann saved well from a Lampard pot-shot but just as the 90 minutes were up Hleb saw a shot batted aside by Cech.
Play was now stretched and Chelsea spread up the other end straight away with Kalou forcing a fine tip over from Lehmann.
However Arsenal might have stolen the three points with the final kick of the game when Eboue rifled a shot against the bar from the right hand channel.
- Julio Baptista
- Denilson 59
- Silva Goal!
- Diaby 79
- Adebayor Yellow Card
- Hoyte 79
- Hleb 59
- Boulahrouz Red Card
- Wright-Phillips 80
- Mikel Yellow Card
- Essien Goal! Yellow Card
- Sinclair 80