Alright…thats a bit harsh on Chelsea as a club, but the connection with Abromovich’s dubiously obtained fortune accelerating the corruption of English football, inflating wage levels and proving the template for cash rich/ morality poor owners is hard to ignore. Plus John Terry is their captain and club symbol, which counts highly against them. That and the fact that I have had the dubious pleasure of meeting a few old ‘Chelsea Headhunters’, and they used to boo their own black players in the 80’s.
Anyway…after feeling left out from last weekend’s crazy results, Arsenal decided it was time to rejoin the madness, just in time for all the other games to return to predictability. Early kick-offs are seldom the Gunners’ strength, and Stamford Bridge has been a source of disappointment for most of the last decade, so the away fans were hoping for a draw at best. What unfolded was shock to all concerned, I am sure.
The allegedly racist John Terry received the full-backing of his manager, and had his best ‘Captain Fantastic’ face on in the build up and after his first half goal. So it was a terrible shame to see him looking flat-footed in the second half and vitally stumbling embarrassingly (although the fault was more with Malouda’s lax pass) for the decisive goal.
The Drogba effect was absent following his terrible tackle and red card at QPR, and this lifted the away side. Torres, back from suspension was largely anonymous, and although Arsenal’s defence was very shakey in the first half, this was primarily from wide positions, with Djourou struggling positionally out of position, and Andre Santos totally unable to cope with the pace of Sturridge, Mata, Ramires or Boswinga. Not for the first time in recent weeks, Koscielny was the one putting out fires and generally looking authoritative, and Mertesacker was struggling to cope with the pace and intensity at times.
Both teams missed good chances , including a sitter from Gervinho following a great move that started with head tennis between Arteta and Ramsey in midfield, and progressed with a fantastic run and cross from Walcott, who was very good yesterday.
Immediately after this Chelsea scored with a good run and header from Lampard to meet a Mata inswinging cross from the right after he brushed aside Andre Santos. Mertesacker possibly could have done better but it was a well worked and incisive goal. Not long afterwards after another good chance was missed by Sturridge following a great Lampard first time pass, Arsenal equalised. An eye of the needle through ball from Ramsey was collected by the offside trap beating Gervinho who drew Cech before squaring it to give Van Persie a tap into an empty net. A great team goal and a perfect fusion of the passing styles of the Arsenal sides led by Henry and then by Fabregas.
In the point between Chelsea taking the lead and Arsenal equalising, the visitors took control of the ball and looked the more progressive side, with Chelsea’s back four creaking. That they immediately sat back and took the foot off the gas after equalising is indicative of the team’s tentative quality in the light of recent struggles. This handed the hosts the initiative, which they took despite not looking incisive. Chelsea’s second goal, just before half-time was a wonderful pieced of collectively inept defending, with Arteta wandering away from the post where the ball went in, and no-one clearing at the near post. It was poor corner, the type that Arsenal routinely fail to beat the first man at, but there was no-one clearing at the near post. Mind-blowingly inept, and the kind of thing that even Sunday league players don’t get wrong. Typical of this current Arsenal side. JT couldn’t believe his luck, but controlled his finish well at the end of a strong run.
In the second half right out of the blocks, Arsenal’s pressing of the ball improved immeasurably, and the full-back’s sorted out their positioning, and suddenly Chelsea looked blunt. Andre Santos gave an almost opposite performance by shutting down the left flank, using the ball very well and crucially finishing well when found breaking free on the left by Song, when Gervinho drew Boswinga infield to create the overlap.
Szczesny did his best to hand them a lifeline, racing out to clobber Ashley Cole, and was a touch fortunate that there were two covering defenders to ensure he saw yellow rather than red. This was quickly forgotten when Walcott receiving the ball on the touchline ran straight at the Chelsea defence, beat two men by falling over, got back up again and used his quick feet to beat two more before smashing in at the near post.
Arsenal were cock-a-hoop, controlling the tempo of the game, looking solid in defence and dangerous going forward. Chelsea looked deflated and devoid of ideas. Despite this they still scored, a left foot wonder-goal with added deflection off a last ditch challenge (how many goals like this to Arsenal concede?!) from Mata, who was far and away the best player in a Chelsea shirt (more Gazzumping of Arsenal..sigh!), which directly followed a clear obstruction on Andre Santos by the hulking Lukaku. The referee had been excellent throughout started to feel pressure from the home crowd in the last ten minutes and starting giving Chelsea all the 50:50 decisions. But given that a worse ref (and there are plenty) would have sent Szczesny off, I shouldn’t complain.
At three-all, my football fan negativity was banging on the door of consciousness, but I felt we could still nick another, and thankfully so did the players, pressing and hounding in midfield. On good piece of midfield pressing led to a wayward backpass from Malouda, isolating the one-paced Terry, who in attempting to make the extra effort to get to the ball, slipped and fell, leaving Van Persie one-on-one with Cech. He made no mistake. The fifth was an icing on the cake break-away wonderfully finished by the Arsenal captain with a vicious shot from an unfavourable angle…which shut me up screaming to square it!
The final whistle brought joy and relief to Wenger’s men, who had a celebration in front of their fans, led by the hat-trick hero, who despite his contract issues seems to be growing into a really good leader and captain. Terry to his credit, with one or two others , stayed to applaud his fans and shake hands with the victors, while most of his team scuttled off at speed. Something isn’t quite right with team moral at Stamford Bridge.
Before this becomes too euphoric, its worth pointing out that Chelsea were poor defensively, with two centre-backs slow on the turn, and full-backs who struggled positionally. Much like Arsenal, they have a squad that has been carried by their best players over the last two years (though their best players seem to get injured a lot less than Arsenal’s!).
The primary thing from an Arsenal perspective is that despite the team’s defensive vulnerability, they are playing themselves into some kind of consistent form, and are increasingly looking like a functioning team rather than a confused collection of individuals. Small steps, but in the right direction.
Ramsey continues his much improved form with incisive passing, intelligent rotation of possession and strong runs into the box, leading to two good attempts on goal. His pass for the first goal was a thing of beauty, and his work-rate in defence was exceptional in the second half. Walcott also continued his good recent run against Chelsea, with two brilliant crosses that should have been converted early on, and a fine finish after his fall-down get-back-up-again mazy run. Also helped out his full-back in the second half. Koscielny was again excellent when surrounded by chaos, and Song and Arteta’s closing down in the second half was good to see. The Spaniard brings a calmness to proceedings that is a positive influence in this team. Gervinho continues to be erratic, wasteful, frustrating but always threatening and exciting, and although less controlled, gives this team more of what it needs than Nasri did.
As for the main man, the manager said afterwards:
“[Robin van Persie] is of course on fire and he takes advantage through his class. We attack a lot and we create chances overall of course.
The intelligence of his movement around the box and the accuracy of his finishing is exceptional.”
Which is very hard to argue with. Thats now 28 goals in 27 games in 2011. Only behind Messi and Ronaldo…not bad. That said, Messi got ANOTHER hat-trick yesterday…19 goals and counting for the little genius. Oh and speaking of Barca, I’m sure all Arsenal fans appreciated this tweet at 3-2…
Oh and an extra little treat….