Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
If you remove the football, Stamford Bridge is always an enjoyable trip nowadays. Knowing several Chelsea fans as we do, it has become incumbent in our routine to book a table at the Sporting Page behind Chelsea & Westminster hospital for some lunch and several beverages. After a decent four or five pints of Doom Bar and a hearty burger, we made our way to the ground with little optimism; the confirmation that Fabregas would be missing put the nail in the coffin for me. Our three most clinical finishers were all watching the game on the idiot box and since the injuries to van Persie, Walcott and Fabregas, Arsenal have needed six or seven clear cut chances per goal. Chelsea were never going to be that generous in my estimation. Don`t you just hate it when you`re right about the wrong things?
The Gunners immediately put the squeeze on the home side, looking to catch them cold from the off. The tactics obviously revolved around squeezing Chelsea high up the pitch, the defence played a high line and Arsenal`s midfielders played a high pressing game. Bacary Sagna got forward after as little as 50 or so seconds and swung in a good delivery- as he usually does nowadays- and Marouane Chamakh`s diving header took a serendipitous glance off of Alex and when agonisingly wide for a corner. Nasri delivered an outswinging corner which was flicked on by Squillaci, leaving Koscielny unmarked inside the six yard area, yet he inexplicably flicked his head the wrong way and headed the ball a long way over the bar when it was easier to score. Such gift horses don`t arrive often at Stamford Bridge. When they do, you don`t look them in the mouth like that. Chelsea were gradually settling into the game and might have profited from some errant Arsenal defending, not for the last time in the afternoon, Squillaci looked uncomfortable facing his own goal with a bouncing ball and he allowed Malouda to snatch in ahead of him, but fortunately he lifted the ball over the bar.
This appeared to be a much more open affair than Chelsea Arsenal games past; which suits Arsenal better. The Gunners could have taken the lead when Andrey Arshavin cut in from the left and unleashed a jackhammer of a strike which Cech did well to claw away. The game had become a curiously end to end affair, Essien headed over Drogba`s corner when we ought to have at least tested Fabianski, whilst Nasri then took the ball from the right, danced past two Chelsea challenges before screwing his left footed shot wide when he needed to hit the target. Arsenal were looking dangerous at Stamford Bridge but one always had the feeling that Chelsea could be a threat on the break. Their transition from defence to attack is always very swift and so it was when Drogba shrugged off Clichy from Cech`s long kick and bore down on goal, but Fabianski got his angles correct and was equal to Drogba`s effort at the front post. But six minutes before half time, Chelsea took a lead which edged ever so slightly against the pendulum of play. Ramires slid an inch perfect ball between Koscielny and Clichy, Nasri was caught napping and did not cover his full back, leaving Ashley Cole with time and space to send in a low cross which Drogba delicately flicked into the goal off the post with his heel. Drogba did not dominate this game, not this time. But he got a difficult chance and he took it brilliantly, therein lay the quality of the player. As is Chelsea`s wont, the chavvy stadium announcer declared with gusto, "Goalscorer, set up by Ashley Cole…." Chelsea make themselves incredibly easy to dislike with their conduct as a club.
Cole was predictably on the receiving end of some abuse, he responded by pointing at the gold champions badge on his sleeve. Fair enough, you give a little, you get a little. As the players trudged off for half time, Chelsea`s classlessness in their employees was elucidated by the same announcer, in announcing Liverpool`s home loss to Blackpool, he followed up the score line by inviting the home crowd to cheer the news that "AND Fernando Torres got injured!" He would not announce the Manchester City result because, in his own words, "who cares about them?" With John Terry as captain and Roman Abramovic as owner, it`s not hard to see why Chelsea find etiquette and dignity such alien concepts to exercise. Chelsea always introduce a half time guest of honour. Yesterday, it was 1995 Player of the Year Erland Johnsen." Which drew two distinct responses from the Arsenal fans, the first being, "He was here when you were s**t." The second, upon seeing the general air of ignorance from the home support was, "You`ve never seen him before." The lack of any sort of reaction from the home fans was instructive that, for large sections of the crowd, that was no exaggeration.
If Arsenal looked brow beaten and downtrodden as they trudged off for half time, they looked revitalised in the second half. Pushing Chelsea even higher up the pitch and pressing their opponents into surrendering possession. Chamakh gave Arsenal a different dimension in that tossing in the occasional cross. Past the banks of well drilled Chelsea field marshalls denying us space on the edge of the area. One such cross from Sagna saw Chamakh head just wide. Arshavin looked a different player in the second half. Determined to run at Ivanovic, when Arshavin gets his head down and his shoulder into a defender, there are few better in the league at beating a full back. That Ivanovic was taken off midway through the half tells a story. Arshavin again powered his way past Ivanovic and scrapped to the by line, he pulled the ball back but Wilshere could not steady himself to strike, so he prodded the ball back to Chamakh but Ramires denied him with a risky, yet brilliant tackle as the Moroccan perched his finger on the trigger. But that`s not to say Arsenal were having it all their own way, once again Squillaci hesitated with a bouncing ball and Nicolas Anelka robbed him off possession, leaving him clean through on goal. Anelka rounded Fabianski put inexplicably put the best chance of the game into the side netting.
Ashley Cole also had the ball in the net after Ramires` cross reached him at the back post, but a marginal offside spared Arsenal. Once again, Chamakh provided a threat in the air when he connected with Nasri`s corner, but headed the ball wide off of his cheekbone. Arsenal were making most of the running, but in truth, were not threatening Cech enough. Though this did not have the usual feeling about it of Chelsea looking comfortable with our bouts of possession, Chelsea did not look entirely to ease to me, but they are still incredibly solid, even when under siege and when precious chances come, you have to take them. Arsenal did not do that. One could make a case that if Drogba had swapped sides yesterday that Arsenal would have won. But with Walcott, van Persie and Fabregas unavailable, we just didn`t have enough players to make the difference in the final third. Chelsea maximise what they do in the final third. So when Nasri hit an awful square pass across his defence straight to Anelka, Koscielny was left with little choice but to cynically take Anelka down lest he skip through on goal again. At the time I nodded sagely, "far enough, take the booking there." But hindsight made a fool of my own cynicism. Drogba teed up a free kick as Fabianski lined up his wall. But with the whole ground expecting the Ivorian to attempt to stretch his tiresome record against us (when is he going to retire already?), Alex stepped up and absolutely lamped the ball into the top corner. Not a great deal you can do but admire the strike. It is incredibly difficult to hit a ball that hard and keep it down. Alex seems to have the skill down to a tee. Game over.
The Gunners knew the game was up and it was only the goalkeeper that prevented a very unequal, but embarrassing score line. First of all Anelka slipped Essien through, but once again, Fabianski got his angles correct and smothered the Ghanaian, whose impact on the game had been surprisingly minimal. Fabianski was also equal to a Cole effort in injury time. But ultimately, the final whistle was greeted with joy from the home fans who had seen their side beat Arsenal again. I felt Arsenal`s efforts deserved better on this occasion, Arsenal squeezed their opponents high up the pitch and forced Chelsea to surrender possession time and again. With the players we had missing; we went to Stamford Bridge and gave a good account of ourselves against a very good team. Chelsea have won their last eight encounters against fellow members of "the Big Four" and their consistency is worthy of commendation. Whilst it is true that Roman`s money built their empire, you have to admire the fact that they gave retained their hunger and humility as a team. The Chelsea way is that they find a way and they do it time and again. From our point of view, I would be surprised if a team gives Chelsea that much of a game at home again this season, but the simple truth is, Chelsea scored two very good goals and Arsenal wasted their decent chances. That Cech wasn`t over worked isn`t an indication of our poverty of opportunities, but more the waywardness of our shooting. But there was plenty to be enthused about; Wilshere was, in my opinion, the outstanding midfielder on the pitch which is no mean feat for an 18 year old in the company of the likes of Essien. Fabianski was blameless for the goals but produced several good saves himself. But the truth is, we missed Fabregas` penetrative passing, van Persie`s incisiveness in the area, Walcott`s ability to push defences back. We even lacked a decent attacking option on the bench when we were controlling the game. We gave it a very good shot, but we came up a little short against a team that will probably win the league again. The uncomfortable truth is that we might have to sit tight; Chelsea`s team is at their peak whilst ours is still a couple of years away. There`s an old saying that you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA. 18.SQUILLACI (capt), 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE (41.E.Thomas `81), 2.DIABY (7.Rosicky `70), 8.NASRI, 23.ARSHAVIN (11.Vela `86), 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 15.Denilson, 20.Djourou, 27.Eboue, 53.Szczesny.