Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
Ordinarily, Chelsea away constitutes a whole day out, with plenty of pre and post match beverages. But a mixture of the weather, the lunchtime kickoff and my feeling a tad under the weather, we forewent pre match festivities to trudge through the snow to the game. Whilst Southwest London was blanketed in continuing snowfall, public transport actually seemed to be working (if only the Northern Line had shown such fortitude this past week) and it was very much a case of game on! Gloves, hats and jackets the size of wardrobes were very much the order of the day.
Once we had seen the Arsenal away contingent lay waste to the condiments tray in the Shed End upper during a very raucous rendition of "ten Tottenham points in the gap" we made our way to our £59 seats hoping the team were as enthused as we were. They weren`t really. Not at first anyway. This Arsenal team just doesn`t know how to play a first half and so it proved on this occasion. The Chelsea fans early chorus of "Champions of Europe we know what we are" was cheekily countered with the riposte "Champions of Europe, on ITV4" by the away contingent.
The home side might have had a penalty in the opening minutes when Abou Diaby performed his usual Scarecrow impression (#If I only had a braaaaain#) by bear hugging Oscar in the area. Thankfully Martin Atkinson was n forgiving mood and didn`t penalise. The Gunners had a beautiful chance to take an early lead as Walcott slipped Giroud through on goal with just Cech to beat. But Giroud lamentably flashed the ball wide when it was easier to score. I like Giroud; I think he adds a lot to the team with his endeavour and his hold up play, which is exceptional. But he`s just not clinical enough in front of goal. Thierry Henry is training with us for another fortnight, I`d suggest Olivier stays behind for a few sessions over that time and works with a master.
That piece of profligacy was punished within seconds. Azpilicueta swung a diagonal ball into Arsenal`s area and Juan Mata pulled the ball out of the sky and showed the difference of having a clinical player in such a position. He controlled and lashed past Szczesny with the minimum of fuss. There were some complaints from the Arsenal bench that Coquelin had been fouled in the build up to the goal, in truth, I don`t remember the incident that caused him to go down, so I can`t really comment. But to concede such a soft goal was rather criminal in any case. Missing easy chances and defending so poorly against this level of opposition will always invite punishment.
Santi Cazorla briefly caused Chelsea hearts to flutter with a long range drive which Cech did well to parry, but the home side were well on top. Arsenal appeared to stand a good yard off of any Chelsea player with the ball. In his many injury spells, Abou Diaby is talked up as some kind of cross between Vieira, Keane and Scholes "when fit." But he still has a capacity for brainlessness that would leave the common street pigeon chortling into its monocle. He mindlessly dithered on the ball in central midfield and allowed Ramires to dispossess him, leaving Arsenal exposed on the counter attack. Oscar played a through ball to Ramires. From the Shed End he looked offside (I accept the Shed End is hardly the best angle to judge and that he probably wasn`t). The Brazilian looked to skip past Szczesny before hitting the floor. From where I was, it looked like there had been no contact on Ramires but that Szczesny hadn`t got the ball. All that matters is that Martin Atkinson gave the penalty. Frank Lampard stepped up and rolled it into the bottom corner for 2-0.
At this stage, I turned to Lord Lowe and opined "I think this could be 4-0 by half time." Arsenal stood off Chelsea, Cazorla and Walcott offered no protection or offensive support to Sagna and Gibbs, Diaby looked like he needed an A-Z and Chelsea were being allowed all the time on the ball they wanted. Fortunately, Benitez opted to put the hilariously useless Fernando Torres upfront. With a proper striker, Chelsea might have been out of sight by the break. So for all their possession, it was only when Ramires skipped past Gibbs but wildly hacked his shot over the bar that Chelsea threatened a clear cut opportunity.
Arsenal`s complete inability to turn in any kind of first half performance had left me thankful that we were only 2-0 down. But there was a different attitude and performance in the second half. On 48 minutes, Arsenal fired a warning shot as a corner fell to Per Mertesacker, who dug out a shot with his left foot, but could only fire straight at Cech. The Diaby set Walcott away in the channel, but his shot across goal was well saved by Cech. Kieran Gibbs, more ably supported by Cazorla, became increasingly involved in the second half and his flighted cross seemed to have found Giroud in the area, but Ivanovic did just enough to put him off mid air and make his header a tame one.
The screw was slowly turning. Walcott and Giroud had had a number of close offside calls go against them as they attempted to play on the shoulder of the Chelsea defence. (Again, from my vantage point behind the goal, I`m in no position to question the validity of the calls). But the Gunners finally got one right as Cazorla slipped a pass into Theo Walcott, who held off the challenge of Ivanovic to sweep past Cech. Game on. Arsenal pushed and pushed and Chelsea looked rattled, having let a two goal lead slip on Wednesday night. Ashley Cole had to cynically take down Theo Walcott on the edge of the area after Wilshere had tackled Lampard and the ball squirmed back into the Chelsea area.
The Gunners forced a succession of free kicks and corners but couldn`t make good enough use of them. With Arsenal pressing, Chelsea did have chances on the break. Fortunately the best of them fell to Fernando Torres, who bore down on Arsenal`s goal but stayed true to form by tripping over his own feet and allowing Szczesny to collect. What a relief that Chelsea did not start with Demba Ba. Arsene threw the dice by throwing Arshavin on for Diaby. I say he threw him on. He`d have had better luck rolling him on. I haven`t seen Arshavin for a while and now I think we all know why he`s not getting a look in. He looks like he`s about to give birth. What appalling shape for a £60k a week professional athlete to be in. What a poor indictment on the attacking options in our squad that this tubster was allowed anywhere near the pitch. He looks like a weeble. He should be ashamed of himself.
Chelsea ought to have wrapped the game up when Demba Ba sprung the offside trap and rounded Szczesny. As the Senegalese moved towards the goal, Thomas Vermaelen stood strong on the line and made an excellent last ditch block. Arsenal tried to break through and a last ditch equaliser briefly looked on the cards when Giroud`s flick on nearly reached Walcott, but Cole hooked away at the last minute. Giroud had a header that just drifted over too with virtually the last touch of the game. It had been a spirited second half display, but Arsenal`s season long habit of pretending the first half exists only as a concept in an alternate universe hit them hard. You can very rarely start a game 45 minutes too late and get away with it. Doing so away at Chelsea is never, ever going to see you rewarded. LD.
CHELSEA: 1.CECH, 28.AZPILICUETA, 24.CAHILL, 2.IVANOVIC, 3.A.COLE, 7.RAMIRES, 8.LAMPARD (c), 17.HAZARD (21.Marin `88), 10.MATA, 11.OSCAR (34.Bertrand `71), 9.TORRES (29.Ba `81). Unused: 19.Ferriera, 22.Turnbull, 26.Terry, 57.Eke.
ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 22.COQUELIN (16.Ramsey `58), 2.DIABY (23.Arshavin `75), 14.WALCOTT, 19.S.CAZORLA, 10.WILSHERE, 12.GIROUD. Unused: 6.Koscielny, 11.A.Santos, 24.Mannone, 25.Jenkinson, 26.Frimpong.