It was not entirely shocking that we were hardly considered favourites as we went into the game against an in-form Arsenal at The Emirates. Despite sitting pretty atop the (very infant) Premier League tree, Chelsea have not looked in particularly convincing or menacing form.
Our early season was punctuated by a winless three-game streak that included a comprehensive hammering by Falcao-led Athletico Madrid; a goalless draw at QPR which was remembered for nothing but the handshake fiasco; and us throwing away a 2-0 lead at home in the Champions League. Then came a last-gasp 1-0 victory at Stoke and a 6-0 win against Wolves' reserves in the League Cup.
To come away from the Emirates with all three points was thus hugely satisfying, and here are some of the major takeaways which I felt were most pertinent. This is not a blow-by-blow account of what happened in the game, several versions of which one can already find on many respectable websites and blogs.
Play on we had to, and for our first serious test in the league this season, the selection of Ramires instead of Lampard in the double-pivot of our now-standard 4-2-3-1 was meant to add pace and finesse in the centre of the park.
More surprisingly, Di Matteo's selection of a truly offensive attacking triumvirate – Hazard, Oscar and Mata – was met with true glee at least by this author. This went against RDM's tendency to fall back on having at least one defensive player in the band of three against stronger teams – usually Bertrand or Ramires. Against QPR, Robbie fielded both of them alongside Hazard, to dire and yawn-inducing consequences.
Pace in Midfield; Defensive Lapses
Chelsea started off energetically and pressed high up the pitch, passing well and interchanging positions well in the middle-third of the field. In particular, Ramires offered plenty of energy and positional discipline not offered by Lampard who loves to drift forward.
Arsenal started by dropping deep into two comfortable banks of four for much of the first half, and Chelsea – as has been the case for most of this season – struggled to break the opposition down in the final third.
Nonetheless, the harrying and work-rate of all our midfielders were a pleasure to behold, and there were periods when Arsenal could hardly get out of their own half (at home too).
After both occasions where Chelsea took the lead, Arsenal were forced to come out of their shell to try and attack us more.
Going a goal down combined with Diaby's injury, which forced Wenger to bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain, gave Arsenal greater attacking impetus.
With Chelsea on the ropes, the equaliser that looked inevitable arrived as Jenkinson and AOC combined to isolate Cole (no one covering Jenkinson), who failed to stop the cross into Gervinho's feet. With Terry and Luiz dropping off him, he had the time to turn and smash a shot into the roof of Cech's net. We are still prone, it seems, to such worrying defensive lapses.
Our response to taking a 2-1 lead felt more assured, and we in general displayed greater composure. Yet there it was also after going 2-1 up where, particularly with Carzola and Giroud, we could have easily crumbled to the pressure and the result would have been much different.
Mikel and Ramires were in turn too far up the pitch, our desire to grab a third goal compromising on our solidity. A combination of Cech's usual brilliance and some wayward finishing protected our lead.
The Importance of Being Oscar
Oscar could not deliver many Youtube-worthy moments in attacking, but was instrumental in completely shutting down Arteta, the metronome of this Arsenal side, as he did to Pirlo against Juventus.
Arteta's play from deep has been influential in Arsenal's good early-season form, and it is indeed to Di Matteo's credit that he has identified a streak within our Brazilian no. 10 who is both willing and able to track back and do the dirty work besides also scoring 35-yard screamers.
For his goal, Mata's delivery to the far post was deliciously inviting, but it still took plenty of improvisation for a bear-hugged Torres to stick his foot out for a volley to make it 1-0. A moment of class here then.
Moments later, Torres got gifted a chance to double his money shortly after as a mistake by the Gunners defence put him through on goal, but he had a bit too much time to think about his shot and completely messed up the chance, with the whole affair ending in a slightly miserable claim for a penalty.
This moment aside, Torres led the line on his own brilliantly, snapping at defender's heels to win balls and gainfully moving along the frontline bringing others into play. Also, lest we forget, he did win the freekick – as well as confuse both Koscielny and Mannone as Mata's ball was floated in – that won us the game.
Make no mistake, this was a huge game and we got a huge result – one that definitely lays down a marker and announces us as, at this point at least, true title contenders. Of course there will be some who will point out that we only scored with two set-pieces and could have easily lost 2 or even all 3 points at the death.
For sure, a number of nagging issues remain, such as our inability to break down resolute defences who work hard to deny our attackers space, as well as the momentary lapses in defence. Nonetheless, we should still remember that Chelsea is still a team in transition, with our attempts to adapt to a new style of play utilising a wealth and type of attacking talent not available at the Bridge for many years. My blue-tinted glasses, therefore, can only see the potential of this side to surprise pundits and our own fans alike when we finally iron out these kinks and our mercurial attackers get used to playing with one another.