By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - A fixture billed as a pre-Christmas cracker was more 'In the Bleak Midwinter' than 'Jingle Bell Rock' as Arsenal's hopes of regaining top spot in the Premier League fizzled out in a turgid 0-0 draw with Chelsea.
Nine days after losing 6-3 at Manchester City and having seen their title rivals steal a march on them at the weekend, Arsenal found themselves stifled by a defensive Chelsea side and hardly managed a shot on target.
The home fans chanted "Boring, Boring Chelsea" on a rain-lashed night in north London but the visitors actually had the better of what few chances there were and will take greater satisfaction from a spirit-dampening encounter.
Both sides moved up a place in the table, Arsenal to second with 36 points, behind leaders Liverpool on goal difference, while Chelsea returned to the top four with 34 points, above Everton also on goal difference.
It could have been even better for Chelsea had Frank Lampard's first-half volley hit the back of the net rather than the underside of the crossbar.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who has never lost to Arsene Wenger in 10 meetings after Monday's draw, appeared quite content to maintain his hold over the Frenchman.
"We controlled the game very well. There was one big chance for us and lots of half chances and for them one big chance and no half chances," Mourinho told reporters.
"It was a tactical match. A match that Arsenal wants to win but doesn't want to lose and Chelsea wants to win but doesn't want to lose," Mourinho told Sky Sports.
"The (Chelsea) goalkeeper (Petr Cech) was not in the game, we controlled the game defensively. We let (Arsenal midfielder) Mikel Arteta play the ball from side to side, we were completely under control."
Fans who braved a howling gale and driving rain might have wished they had stayed at home to wrap up the Christmas presents.
Many home fans booed at the final whistle and their frustrations were shared by Wenger, who felt his side should have been awarded a first-half penalty when Theo Walcott was caught on the ankle by Brazilian midfielder Willian.
"I think it was a penalty, honestly. If I am wrong I apologise but from outside it looked a penalty," he said.
"Chelsea defended well, they were well-organised and we didn't find our zippy movements to play through the lines as we can do.
"But I think in the second half there was room to win the game. Overall they were happy with a point, we were not happy with a point."
Despite a cast list featuring the likes of internationals Mesut Ozil, Eden Hazard and Walcott, it was a night for the defenders' union to re-establish their authority after a flurry of high-scoring Premier League matches in recent weeks.
With Liverpool, Manchester City, Everton and improving champions Manchester United ratcheting up the pressure on long-timer league leaders Arsenal, it was a chance for Wenger's side to shrug off recent disappointments and reassert themselves before a busy holiday programme.
Chelsea were in Scrooge-like mood, though.
The visitors, with the creative talents of Brazilian Oscar and Spaniard Juan Mata left to get a soaking on the bench, worked tirelessly to stifle Arsenal's attacking verve.
Chelsea had the better chances in a tepid first half, the best of which saw Lampard crash a volley against the bar after being beautifully teed up by Hazard's chipped pass.
Arsenal then screamed for a penalty when Willian left Walcott in a heap, seconds after Chelsea midfierlder John Obi Mikel clattered into Arteta with what initially looked like a dangerous tackle but video replays showed was hard but fair.
Chelsea's Fernando Torres ploughed a lone furrow up front, forcing Wojciech Szczesny into a comfortable save, while Arsenal counterpart Olivier Giroud was also scavenging for scraps.
If anything the second half was more tedious than the first as the match descended into a tetchy midfield battle that briefly boiled over when Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic caught Ozil in the face with his studs.
It took Arsenal nearly 80 minutes to engineer their best chance of the game but Frenchman Giroud sliced a left-foot shot horribly wide from inside the penalty area, the cue for many fans to head for the exits on a cold and night.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)