There may be only a handful of games left to play but the final two Champions League spots are still very much up for grabs after Saturday’s result. Chelsea, who trail third-placed Arsenal by seven points but have a game in hand, have only one away match left this term – at Liverpool – and a relatively kind run of fixtures at Stamford Bridge, against QPR, Newcastle and Blackburn. Of course, if Di Matteo’s men are able to knock out Barcelona and claim their first Champions League crown, a top-four finish is no longer a necessity – the Blues would qualify for next season’s competition at the expense of whoever finishes fourth. But Newcastle and Tottenham are still in the hunt, too. Both clubs can draw level on points with Arsenal if they win their two games in hand. It all makes for a fascinating end to the battle hotting up below the two Manchester clubs.
Although the Gunners were far from their free-flowing best, the visitors rarely looked like conceding on Saturday as they produced another solid defensive display following their midweek heroics against Barça. Three days after shutting out Lionel Messi and co. Gary Cahill and John Terry continued their impressive central defensive partnership at The Emirates. Laurent Koscielny came close to breaking the deadlock shortly before half-time, when his header from a Van Persie free-kick bounced off the crossbar with Petr Cech beaten. And Robin van Persie squandered a glorious opportunity shortly after, when he hit his effort straight at Cech. In the end, both sides could only muster a total of six shots on target in what was a largely underwhelming display from the London sides.
Aaron Ramsey failed to step up to the plate as he filled in for the injured Mikel Arteta in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. The Wales captain was carelessly caught in possession countless times in the first half, causing the restless Gunners faithful to get on his back early on and making it difficult for him to find a foothold in the game. Tomas Rosicky, meanwhile, continued his sparkling recent resurgence on Saturday with a brilliant display in the middle of the park, even if he faded after the break as a result of an illness in midweek. Gunners fans must be hoping the Czech Republic international, who was replaced by Abou Diaby in the 64th minute, can stretch his good form into next season after he signed a fresh two-year deal in the new year.
Ramires is fast developing into one of the top flight’s best attacking midfielders, and the Blues missed the Brazilian’s edge in the final third on Saturday afternoon. The energetic 25-year-old provided the crucial pass for Didier Drogba to sweep the Blues into a first-leg lead over Barcelona on Wednesday. And Roberto Di Matteo’s men lacked a similar calibre of pass on Saturday, with both Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres largely devoid of service throughout, despite the Blues looking content to leave north London with a point.
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