Blues' nightmare run continues as Gunners reignite title tilt
The Blues have been in such freefall recently, the Gunners sensed they could defy previous encounters and claim all three points. From the opening exchanges, Arsenal's intent could not have been clearer.
On six minutes, a beautifully flighted ball over the top from Alex Song went straight onto Robin Van Persie’s foot, but the Dutchman’s control let him down and the ball went behind for a goal kick. While it was not the most aesthetic of football moments, it set the rhythm for the half.
Soon after, Chelsea ensured the game was not a one-sided affair. Laurent Koscielny lost possession in the middle of the pitch and Frank Lampard ran purposefully at the Arsenal defence. The home team sat back as the ball found its way to Didier Drogba, but the big Ivorian fired his effort wide.
Both sides were playing assuredly and the possession was even, but Chelsea very nearly took the lead unexpectedly. A superb ball in from Salomon Kalou was met by Drogba, who had got ahead of his marker, Johan Djourou. The Swiss international recovered enough to distract Drogba, and his header looped off the defender for a corner.
Arsenal were shading the encounter as the half moved into its final third, and Samir Nasri, was next to test the goal. The Frenchman arrowed a powerfully-hit free-kick from around 25 yards and Petr Cech somehow managed to make the stinging shot look comfortable.
The Gunners were looking increasingly confident, and although famed for intricate close-control and one-touch passing, they were finding Chelsea’s square back four an attractive proposition. Another pass over the top caught John Terry flat-footed and Walcott was quickly on to the loose ball. The young winger, who was looking keen and lively, couldn’t keep the ball under control and Cech smothered.
Chelsea’s fragile confidence had not been shattered thus far, but as Arsenal looked more threatening, so the Blues became more tentative. After a few half chances from Walcott and Van Persie, Ashley Cole betrayed Chelsea’s current frame of mind. Heckled all evening by home fans, the left back lunged in on Walcott and conceded the foul. In a moment of needless petulance, the England international kicked the ball away earning himself a booking. The Emirates sang with approval.
As the half entered its last five minutes, the Gunners’ efforts grew more urgent. On 41 minutes the game’s first moment of genius arrived. Samir Nasri, who had been quiet for most of the evening tried a chip from 20 yards, when boxed in by defenders. Although the situation seemed harmless, his effort was sublime and Cech, backpedalling, had to emulate his brilliance to tip the ball over the bar.
Moments later, Arsenal took the lead. Beautiful one-touch play confused the Chelsea defenders who failed to make a challenge and Alex Song, who had started the move, found some space to fire an excellent left-foot shot into the back of the net.
Arsene Wenger’s men might not have wanted to hear the whistle blow a minute later, but the enforced break did little to break their concentration as they took a 2-0 lead six minutes into the second period.
Chelsea’s fragile confidence was exposed horribly as four defenders failed to clear a ball intended for Van Persie, even though the striker had slipped. The ball broke to Walcott who steamed in on goal. The winger did not lose his head, and as Cech advanced he squared the ball to Cesc Fabregas who passed the ball into the empty net.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team were rocking like a heavyweight after a haymaker, and Arsenal took advantage of their opponents’ brittle belief. Two minutes after their second goal, Florent Malouda relinquished possession feebly in the centre circle. As Fabregas advanced, he found himself in a two-on-two situation as Walcott made a good run to his right.
Fabregas drew in the Chelsea defenders and bisected them with a perfectly weighted through-ball for Walcott to run on to. In an almost identical position to where he created the second goal, he again looked completely zen-like as he ran at Cech. As the Czech keeper advanced Walcott took his chance and hit a fantastic shot across the Chelsea stopper, which flew into the goal.
It was beginning to look like a case of damage limitation for the Blues, but within five minutes they had pulled one back. A free-kick from Drogba caused mayhem for Arsenal’s defence, and Branislav Ivanovic stole in and headed powerfully over Lukasz Fabianski as the keeper looked to clear.
Chelsea had suddenly found a motivation; a motivation born from panicked desperation. A Drogba shot was deflected wide and the midfield was starting to show the composure that characterised their dominance last season.
For their part, Arsenal did not go into their shell and hang onto their two-goal cushion. The game stretched and both sides began to pile the bodies forward when in possession. They could have made it 4-1 as Chelsea started to camp in their half. A quick break out by Walcott had Chelsea completely exposed. His cross-field ball deceived Gael Kakuta who slipped allowing Nasri in. The Frenchman angled in towards Cech but his shot was not powerful enough to beat the keeper and Chelsea breathed again.
Both teams’ efforts were turning the game into a thriller, and Ancelotti’s men were straining to get back into the game. As the minutes started to slide away though, their play grew more and more ragged, and despite of a last-gasp effort by Drogba – who saw his fierce shot blocked – Arsenal always looked comfortable and thoroughly deserved the win as Mark Clattenburg blew for full-time.