Andre Villas-Boas endured a frustrating introduction to the Premier League as Chelsea failed to secure an opening day victory for the first time in 12 seasons after being held to a 0-0 draw at Stoke.
Villas-Boas was taking charge of his first competitive match following his close-season move from Porto and the new Chelsea boss was denied victory by Stoke goal-keeper Asmir Begovic, who produced a string of excellent second half saves to keep the Blues at bay.
Ahead of the game at a press conference, the 33-year-old Portuguese tactician made it patently clear that only a title triumph would be acceptable this season and a visit to this unforgiving venue would prove a good indication of what he could expect.
Early on Fernando Torres looked determined to repay the faith of his new manager, buzzing about with intent in the opening quarter of an hour before a crunching challenge from Ryan Shawcross - which earned a booking - knocked him out of his stride.
Chelsea were convinced they should have had a 55th-minute penalty after Frank Lampard appeared to fall in the area after a challenge from Marc Wilson but a draw was a fair result in what was a predictably bruising battle at the Britannia Stadium.
Chelsea had won their last nine opening games of the season and arrived in the Potteries with confidence high after a 100 per cent record in pre-season.
Arsenal held at St James
Arsenal newcomer Gervinho was sent off on his debut after an ugly spat with Joey Barton, as the Gunners launched their Premier League campaign with an uninspiring 0-0 draw at Newcastle.
The Ivorian saw red in the lacklustre stalemate at Newcastle, a bad-tempered affair which did little to dispel the gloom hanging over the London club after a troubled pre-season.
Arsenal enjoyed most of the possession without being able to carve out any clear chances, and the club’s 3,300 travelling fans showed their frustration by urging the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is notoriously reticent to jump into the transfer market, to “spend some money” in order to ensure their side can mount a serious challenge for honours this season.
After seeing his 10-men hold out for the last 14 minutes to earn a measly point, Wenger insisted he may open the chequebook after all.
“I’m not against spending money if the players we buy improve our squad.
“We request top quality,” said a frustrated Wenger. “We must find them and we’re looking very hard, believe me.”
The Gunners have already endured a woeful pre-season, with widespread doubts about their ability to mount a serious title challenge given the imminent departure of skipper Cesc Fabregas and midfielder Samir Nasri. The £60 million duo are set to seal high-profile moves to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
“We’re not scared to spend money, don’t worry, but we want to know what we’re getting for it. If you look at the quality of the players I’ve brought to the club you’ll see I’ve not done too badly.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.