|Oriol Romeu of Chelsea chases Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal during tight-fought London derby [GALLO/GETTY]|
Arsenal missed the chance to tighten their grip on third place in the Premier League on Saturday, drawing 0-0 at home to top-four rival Chelsea to keep the race for Champions League qualification in the balance.
The hosts came closer to breaking the deadlock in a London derby of few chances, with top scorer Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny both striking the goal frame in the first half.
The result leaves Arsenal within range of Tottenham and Newcastle, who are both six points behind Arsene Wenger’s team having played two matches fewer.
Wenger will also be concerned to see Theo Walcott hobble off with a hamstring pull, adding to the team’s injury problems in midfield and potentially casting doubts over the England winger’s participation in the European Championships.
Chelsea remained seven points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, with their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League now likely hinging on winning this year’s competition.
The Blues hold a 1-0 lead from Wednesday’s first leg of their semifinal against Barcelona and with the return leg coming on Tuesday, manager Roberto Di Matteo made eight changes to his team, leaving the likes of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Juan Mata on the bench.
It was therefore never going to be easy for the visitors against a team desperate to avenge Monday’s shock 2-1 home loss to lowly Wigan, a result that breathed unexpected life into the race for third.
And just like against Barcelona, Chelsea relied on the goal frame to get it out of trouble twice, although Van Persie will be wondering how he missed after striking the base of the post from no more than two yards out in the 14th minute.
Koscielny’s chance in the 42nd was also gilt-edged, the French center back finding himself unmarked from a Van Persie free kick but contriving to head the ball against the bar.
Chelsea, who won’t be unhappy with a point in the circumstances, looked dangerous on the counter-attack and from set pieces but lacked the killer ball as well as numbers going forward, with lone striker Fernando Torres often isolated.
Arsenal’s hopes of pressing home their narrow advantage in the second half weren’t helped by the hamstring injury sustained by Walcott, which may scupper his Euro 2012 chances with little more than a month to go before England names their squad.
The speedy winger pulled up with the problem in the 57th but decided to play on. Three minutes later as he attempted surge down the right, he came to a stop again clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Gervinho.
Van Persie missed a couple of chances late on when he shot wide from acute angles as the Netherlands striker failed to add to his league-leading 27 goals this season.