Most Arsenal fans went into Sunday’s game against Chelsea with little hope of returning victorious from a stadium which has provided annual nightmares for Arsene Wenger and his side.
The Gunners have failed to win at Stamford Bridge since Robin van Persie scored a stunning hattrick in a 5-3 win five years ago. And while recent history at Wembley - which included FA Cup final and Community Shield victories - gave Arsenal more optimism than usual, playing at Chelsea’s hostile home ground is always a daunting prospect for any team.
Mesut Ozil wasn’t involved in the game due to a minor injury while Alexis Sanchez started on the substitutes bench despite his wonder goal on Thursday against Koln - a decision which drew immediate criticism from the Arsenal contingent on social media. Wenger was lambasted on Twitter and other platforms as critics sharpened their knives for the French manager.
However, it proved to be an excellent technical decision with the hard-working Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi linking up well with each other and Aaron Ramsey running things in the midfield engine room.
Chances were few and far between in the first half although Pedro missed a gilt-edged opportunity when one on one with Petr Cech. The best Arsenal opening fell to Danny Welbeck who skimmed a header wide of Thibaut Courtois’ goal. Lacazette missed an even better chance after Aaron Ramsey hit the post and presented the Frenchman with a rebound opportunity.
Wenger’s tactical decisions have long been questioned when it comes to the big games but – despite fielding a team that was cohesive and organised throughout - Arsenal still had their most shots in the first half of an away Premier League game for a year. They also shut down a Chelsea juggernaut that had scored for 27 straight home matches under Antonio Conte.
There can be optimism for the future considering one of Arsenal’s key players didn’t play the game and the other only made a brief second half cameo without having any real influence. Wenger’s side will also be boosted by the fact that they are going to play a second string XI in the Europa League until the knockouts, giving them the chance to focus on the Premier League.
These games are usually tempestuous affairs and a late challenge from David Luiz on Sead Kolasinac saw the Brazilian handed a straight red by referee Michael Oliver. It had little influence on the match due to its timing but Arsenal will be delighted that they put in a performance worthy of a title challenger without conceding against a major rival. Arsene Wenger will also be delighted having silenced some of his many critics.