CHELSEA manager Claudio Ranieri conceded the Premiership title to Arsenal after his side could only manage a goalless draw at home to Middlesbrough.
"In my opinion it is Arsenal's title now, " said Ranieri, who fielded a team without Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge and Scott Parker.
"I have always said they can only lose it. They have always been the favourites and after Liverpool [on Friday] I have to say Arsenal will do it. I say well done, they are the champions." Chelsea appeared to be watching the chance of piling even more anguish onto London rivals Arsenal disappear over the horizon as Middlesbrough clung to the draw.
Frank Lampard, midweek European hero at Highbury, spurned a golden chance eight minutes from time when he fired wide from a low cross by Joe Cole who completed his first Premiership 90 minutes since moving from West Ham.
But nimble Boro also had a sting in the tail with Spaniard Gaizka Mendieta forcing deputy keeper Marco Ambrosio into a spectacular flying save to deny a curling free kick. There was panic at the end as Boro clung to their point but they probably deserved it. Chelsea were never quite good enough.
The first half had only neatness and industry to commend it. Juninho spurned a good early chance for Boro when Ambrosio dropped a Szilard Nemeth cross, and Eidur Gudjohnsen hit a post for Chelsea when Lampard stood offside.
But it was centre half John Terry who looked the most dangerous home raider and he showed the passion his team-mates could have used.
Boro were able to settle fairly quickly and make Chelsea play in front of them rather than through them.
Maccarone had a chance on the counter but he took too long to find a shooting position.
Chelsea did their best to exert some pressure after the break and Boro, without injured England centre half Gareth Southgate, defended well.
But by far the most interesting aspects of the game was the arrival of Argentinian midfielder Juan Veron.
Veron replaced the injured Makelele ? stretchered off after a clash with Mendieta after 56 minutes ? and was just off target with two stunning efforts from outside the area. But Lampard, equalising hero of the midweek triumph at Highbury, spurned a big chance eight minutes from time, failing to apply a routine finish to a Cole cross.
It was nice work from the former Hammers teammate but Lampard sidefooted wide when it looked easier to score.