This fixture would tell us more about ourselves than any other recent one.
We arrived at the Bridge having won six of our last seven in all competitions, including some credible wins – notably away at the Velodrome in the Champions League and at home versus Stoke last weekend.
Chelsea on their patch is a different proposition entirely, an impressive performance – be it win, lose or draw – may suggest (dare I say it) that we can still mount a credible title challenge. An unimpressive performance may have suggested our good recent run is a false dawn…
Even if we had gotten off to a great start this season and were sitting in the top three, we would likely have gone into this match as underdogs, so I would not have considered a loss as decisive – I was more interested in how we played and competed.
Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson were back in the squad but had to settle for a place on the bench.
Prior to kickoff, we received confirmation that we will face unbeaten league leaders Manchester City at home in the Carling Cup quarterfinal tie. Piece of cake, eh?
We lined up Szczesny, Santos, Kos, Mert, JD, Ramsey, Song, Arteta, Theo, Robin, and Gerv.
Fab, TV, Jenks, Frim, Rosicky, Arsh and Ju rounded out our bench.
The last time we won at the Bridge (late 2008), Robin scored twice as we rallied from 1-0 down to win 2-1 over a Drogba-less Chelsea side who arguably were trying to get Big Phil sacked. We lost each subsequent home/away/cup match to them until the 3-1 home win at the end of last season.
In last season’s 2-0 league loss here, we started quickly and had spurned two great early chances to score, so when Theo laid goals on a plate only for first Gervinho and then Robin to spurn, I feared the worst.
In the first move, Theo burst past a certain Cole as though the latter stood still and put a great low cross in for Gervinho to scuff wide, Theo then repeated the move, only for Robin to shin wide.
It was almost inevitable we would pay for not converting and the bill was presented a quarter of an hour in. Mata was afforded way too much time and space on the right and he put a great cross in for Lampard to beat Mertesacker and head home. Great cross that it was, Mertesacker should have done better to cut it out or at least put Lamps off.
For the next ten minutes, we gave as good as we got but were neither side were able to fashion any clear openings.
That changed on the half hour mark, as Chelsea should have made it 2-0, Lampard put Sturridge through on goal; with time to pick his shot, the latter sent a tame left foot shot wide with the entire goal at his mercy.
That was a huge miss, and we needed to make Chelsea pay for it and we only had to wait five minutes…
Ramsey started the move with a great through ball to Gervinho, who drew Cech and squared for Robin to equalize.
Within seconds, Sturridge thought he had restored Chelsea’s lead, but he was rightly ruled offside as he fired home…
Just as it looked we would go into the break even, Chelsea did regain the lead. Ramsey conceded a corner down the left, Lampard delivered it and Terry beat Mertesacker to the ball to bundle it home. It was a good finish from Terry but once again, the German was beaten easier than he should have.
Neither Arsene nor AVB made any halftime changes.
Robin worked Cech with an early shot, as we looked to make a quick response to Chelsea’s late goal. Throughout the first half, Boswinga had given Santos fits down the left. With three minutes gone, the roles were reversed, as our left back latched on to Gervinho pass, got free down the left and slid the ball through Cech’s legs for our second equalizer.
As with our first equalizer, Chelsea responded within a minute. On this occasion, Cole got free right outside our area and Szczesny rushed out and brought him down. It was clearly a foul, and the question was whether referee Marriner would deem Szczesny the last man – resulting in a sending off – or not.
Kos was covering on the other side of goal and appeared to have gotten far enough back to make himself the proverbial last man. So Marriner opted for a yellow and a free kick, much to our relief. Szczesny then produced a fine save, diving to his left to keep Lampard’s deep free-kick out…
Chelsea came again, this time Santos ended the attack with a great tackle on the edge of our box…
We then took the lead for the first time, ten minutes into the period, there appeared to be little on when Theo drove down the right with the ball. He checked inside and then slipped over about 30 yards from goal. Despite the presence of two defenders around him, he got up, collected the loose ball, went in alone on Cech and beat the Chelsea goalkeeper at his near post for our third of the afternoon.
We have had gotten plenty of criticism for defensive howlers over the past couple of seasons but I cannot recall too many instances where we simply gave up on a play, as Chelsea appeared to and let the opponent score. That is not, by the way, to diminish Theo’s effort and overall performance in any way. He has often played well against Chelsea, and today was no exception, certainly his best performance for several weeks.
We knew Chelsea would try and respond but we made the better chances, with Ramsey – having another great game – fashioning a good chance for himself but unable to apply the finish.
AVB then made his first change, replacing Sturridge with Malouda and then bringing Lukaku on for Ramires ten minutes later.
JD was the first Arsenal starter to make way, with Jenks replacing him on 75. AVB made his final change, Meireles for Obi-Mikel a minute later.
The changes were not immediately decisive, however, as we held firm at the back and defended well throughout the side and when conceding possession,we worked hard to either win the ball back, or cut Chelsea’s routes to goal off.
With just over 10 minutes to, Robin reacted angrily to an inadvertent-looking elbow as he and Ivanovic contested a high ball. Our captain appeared to shove the Chelsea defender as they walked up the pitch and Ivanovic collapsed, probably to get Marriner’s attention; the referee took note, spoke to both players and issued yellows to them both.
At the 80 minute mark, Rosicky came on for Theo and within a minute, Chelsea were level.
During the move, Lukaku clearly fouled Santos, pushing him off to retain possession, and feed Mata, who beat Szczesny with a wonderful curling strike from just outside the box…
So after going 3-2, we were pegged back again and with ten-plus minutes remaining, it was anyone’s game…
Arsene certainly thought the foul should have been called, giving fourth official Webb a prolonged “what for” on the sidelines…
Just as 3-3 full-time started to look likely, we regained the lead four minutes from the end of regulation.
Malouda actually started the move with a poor back pass which sold Terry short, the Chelsea skipper awkwardly slipped – similar to Theo earlier in the half – and Robin was on the ball in a flash, going in one-on-one with Cech.
The Chelsea keeper, probably anticipating Robin to shoot with his left foot, dived to his right; Robin simply checked on to his right foot, rounded Cech and stroked the ball into the empty net for his second and our second lead.
Arsene made his final change two minutes from time, replacing Gerv with TV.
We wrapped it up in the second minute of stoppage time, clearing a Chelsea corner for a four-on-two break. Rosicky waited for Robin then sent him clear down the left and our captain beat Cech at his near post (again!) for the hat trick.
Chelsea were finished and we saw out the remainder of the 4 minutes and 45 seconds stoppage time with no further trouble.
Our biggest test of this recent run turned into what was clearly our best sustained half of football, our biggest league win and our first away league win of the season. Perhaps it is a bit ironic that such a key victory was not rewarded with a rise in the standings: we started the match in seventh place and moved up to sixth at the final whistle but Liverpool’s win at the Hawthorns in the late kickoff moved us back down to seventh.
No matter, we are on the right track and if we keep playing like we did in the second half, we should be back in the top four sooner rather than later…
That is not to say, however, everything was perfect.
We were defensively shaky in the first half – particularly Mertesacker and Santos and we didn’t take all our chances.
Everything improved dramatically in the second half and that is a performance to build upon.
Robin will obviously get the plaudits for that hat trick but everyone contributed to this win. For me, other standouts were Theo, Ramsey, and Kos, with Gervinho and Arteta also having fine games.
Over 90 minutes, every team will make its share of mistakes – this was an afternoon where the good far outweighed the bad…
I will say – yet again – that we and the players can help ourselves by not getting too far ahead. Since the disastrous collapse at Ewood, we have steadily climbed the table, are topping our CL group and are into the Carling Cup quarterfinals. We clearly have momentum, we are getting some of our injured players back and our current players look to be getting more and more comfortable with each other’s games.
So let’s quietly continue doing this.
We are on our way back, which is evident and does not need saying. In fact, there is little that needs to be said. Let our actions on the pitch do the talking, and lets refrain from proclaiming what we are going to the do to this team or that team…
That is advice my compatriot and erstwhile Chelsea suit (Chairman) Bruce M. Buck would have done well to heed. On Thursday, discussing the club’s failed attempt to re-purchase the Stamford Bridge freehold, he told supporters to “get together and beat the crap out of Arsenal.” Our only response is to smile and point to the full-time scoreboard…
A final word on referee Andre Marriner. I thought he did a fine job this afternoon. He made some decisions which upset both sets of fans – notably Szczesny’s yellow instead of red and Lukaku’s foul on Santos in the build-up to Chelsea’s third goal.
Nevertheless, I felt he gave the players the benefit of the doubt on both occasions and I thought he was consistent in this respect. He kept his cards in his pocket for the most part and when tempers started to simmer a bit in the first half, he spoke to the players and calmed things down rather than flashing cards left, right and centre.
These are never easy fixtures to handle but I thought he and his crew did a great job, using restraint, common sense, and consistency.
So we head back home with a rather large scalp in our belt and a big away win over a credible opponent. Enjoy this now but don’t forget we are back to work on Tuesday, with our home tie versus Marseille. Win that one and we are just about into the Champions League group stages. Then we have a West Brom side at home on Saturday – a side that took four points from us last season. We can ill afford to spend too much time patting ourselves on the back over today’s result.
Neither should we dismiss it as just another win, yesterday’s result is a signature win and tangible evidence that we have turned a corner and heading in the right direction. This should show us that we need not fear anyone, so long as our attitude and application are right.
If we continue to play as we have today, we will win far more than we lose, and we have a real chance of turning this into a pretty memorable season.
So let’s celebrate a great win, and then get back to work, all teams are only as good as the last result, and – for better or for worse – we are certainly no exception to that…
Written by Oliver