By Mo Khan
Arsenal and Chelsea played out their second goalless draw of the season at Aldershot Town's Recreation Ground on Monday night.
The result leaves Neil Banfield's team four points adrift of leaders Tottenham in Reserve League South, but they have a chance to bridge the gap when Spurs visit Underhill on February 27 for a mouthwatering second-string derby.
Arsenal would welcome three points against their North London rivals but they had to settle for just one at Chelsea. The hosts named a strong outfit as Portuguese internationals Paulo Ferreira and Maniche joined fellow first-teamers Lassana Diarra and Carlton Cole in the starting line-up.
Arsenal made two changes from the side that started against Portsmouth last week. Sean Kelly returned to partner Matthew Connolly in defence as Mitchell Murphy dropped to the bench and Theo Walcott, who scored on his debut at Pompey, was replaced by Jay Simpson on the right of midfield.
Chelsea were first to threaten and England Under-21 international Cole wasted no time in having his first shot at goal after just three minutes, but Mart Poom saved comfortably for the visitors.
The Gunners almost opened the scoring themselves after five minutes as the energetic Armand Traore burst forward from left-back and fed Anthony Stokes. The Dubliner checked his run and sent over a right-foot cross towards Arturo Lupoli and Nicklas Bendtner in the middle but Chelsea managed to clear at the expense of a corner.
The game was swinging both ways as Diarra and Maniche battled Arsenal's Alexandre Song and Fabrice Muamba for midfield supremacy.
And Chelsea were next to go close as Jonas Elmer advanced from left-back and produced a wonderful cross on to the head of Cole. The striker could only guide his header into the side-netting.
But Arsenal were beginning to enjoy more possession and looked threatening going forward with Stokes and Traore combining well on the left and Lupoli looking menacing up front.
Indeed, it was the Italian who twice nearly broke the deadlock but saw his first attempted lob over Chelsea keeper Yves Ma-Kalambay sail just over the bar before a second lob was plucked from the air by the hosts' keeper.
Cole then exchanged passes with Blues' skipper Danny Hollands but saw two efforts blocked superbly by Traore.
The second half saw the tempo drop a notch or two as both sides made changes. However, half-chances came and went as both teams looked to end the stalemate.
Stokes showed great trickery to evade two markers on the left before testing Ma-Kalambay but the keeper saved well, low down to his right.
The game looked to be drifting towards a scoreless conclusion when Chelsea almost won it late on. A move down the right culminated in Scott Sinclair seeing two goal-bound efforts repelled by the Arsenal rearguard -the second, a superb point-blank range save by Poom.
Arsenal continued to press forward themselves and Matthew Connolly made a charge upfield to win Neil Banfield's men a corner. Chelsea cleared and the game drew to a close to complete 180 minutes of goal-less action between the sides this season.
- Simpson 64
- Efrem 64