There is a tendency these days to over-hype every little thing as something special but what we saw yesterday … well, that was extraordinary. At the end the Arsenal players celebrated as if they’d won a trophy. Normally I’d be cynical about that, it being only one game after all, but not yesterday. More on that anon.
In terms of what we saw on the pitch the first half was an illustration of the weaknesses of both teams. Arsenal’s defensive frailties were exposed a number of times in the first five minutes. It also exposed the fact that this Chelsea side is a long way from the one that has caused us so much pain over the seasons. It’s hard to imagine the team from a few years ago spurning the kind of chances we gave them.
Yet up the other end, two fantastic passes from Theo Walcott cut Chelsea’s defence open as easily as they had bypassed ours – and the obvious difference was we made actual chances. The misses by Gervinho first, and then Robin van Persie, were shocking. Firstly because there’s no excuse for a player to skew it wide from 6 yards and secondly because Robin van Persie just doesn’t do missing at the moment.
Having failed to score it was no surprise that Chelsea went ahead. Mata turned Santos and when he floated in a cross Mertesacker was caught in two minds, which filled his boots with lead, and Lampard headed home to make it 1-0. And before we scored Chelsea should have been 2-0 up. Daniel Sturridge was clean through and shanked his shot wide with just Szczesny to beat. Again, it’s hard to imagine the Chelsea of old missing that.
We equalised in the 36th minute. Ramsey picked up a pass from Santos, spotted Gervinho’s run and sliced open the centre of the Chelsea defence with a great pass. Gervinho squared it to van Persie as Cech advanced and rolled it home to make it 1-1. It was lovely football and the Ivorian’s quick-thinking unselfishness was great to see.
That it was 2-1 at half-time was down to poor defending again. Mertesacker failed to track Terry properly at a corner, and when Arteta inexplicably left his position on the post to stand behind the goalline, Terry’s effort dribbled over the line. It was typical he’d score yesterday after the controversy surrounding him but it was to prove something of a false dawn for Chelsea captain.
At half-time I was hoping Arsene would replace Andre Santos with Thomas Vermaelen. The Brazilian had a torrid first half, he looked unfit, off the pace and unaware of what was going on around him. Arsene’s reluctance to make half-time changes proved to be a good thing though as if was very much a case of Dos Santos. The one we saw in the first half bore no relation to the one who played the second. After great work by Song in midfield (set up by Djourou robbing Cashley!), the turn and pass was as good as anything you’ll see this season, Santos exploited the space left by Boswinga and fired home the equaliser.
And it wasn’t just Santos who improved, the whole team did. Yes, we looked at sixes and sevens defensively in that first period but whatever was said at half-time worked and we were far more solid and reassured. Not only that, we came out flying, creating two decent chances before Santos scored, putting the pressure on Chelsea from the off.
Theo Walcott’s goal put us ahead. It’s one that will endure repeated viewing not just because of the fantastic finish which fizzed past Cech, but the comedy value of him kicking the ground, falling over, Chelsea players stopping as if the ref was going to give a free kick, then Theo’s super-quick feet to bundle his way through them, before applying the finish. Quite deliberate I’m sure.
Arsene sent on Rosicky for Walcott to help see the game out. As so often happens when Arsene makes that kind of change we conceded. It was a fine finish by Mata but I was unaware that it was now legal to block players off like in the NFL. The Refrigerator on Santos should have been a free kick to Arsenal but the ref waved play on. Arsene went mental, and rightly so, but thankfully it wasn’t as damaging as it might have been.
Then came a moment that I think I will be able to look at forever and ever and ever. Florent Malouda played a pretty poor pass back to John Terry who turned and just fell over. Was it the spirit of the Arseblog basset hound? I like to think so. Had it been winter I’m sure Terry would have blamed black ice, but whatever it was, Terry was on the ground, his face in the dirt where it belongs, and Robin van Persie was clean through on goal. He took it around Cech with ease and rolled it home with his right foot to make it 4-3.
Scoring four at Stamford Bridge is one thing, scoring the fourth to go 4-3 up another, but scoring it while one of the most despicable men to ever play football is on his knees chewing grass like some kind of not racist at all cow is something else entirely. These are the moments that make you believe that perhaps there is such a thing as karma. [Watch and enjoy].
Chelsea pressed for an equaliser, van Persie and Koscielny made great blocks, but when Arsenal defended a Mata cross and broke up field there was only going to be one outcome when van Persie took the pass from Arteta. Pundits might suggest that Cech should have done better with the shot but that’s irrelevant. He didn’t. He couldn’t. And it flew in for Robin’s second hat-trick of the season to seal the game for Arsenal. You could see what it meant to players as they engaged in an erotic celebration on the pitch.
The final whistle went, Arsenal had beaten Chelsea, scored 5 into the process, and while much of the focus has been on how the defences weren’t good enough, I’m happy to look at it from a much more positive point of view. We scored five goals, away from home, against a team like Chelsea. Yes, we had our moments at the back but the way we sorted ourselves out for the second half was encouraging.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
We always looked dangerous through the whole game and I hope the team strengthens its belief with a performance like that to focus on getting stronger and stronger.
There’s not much more I can say about Robin van Persie that hasn’t already been said. His goalscoring record is remarkable and long may it continue. He deserves a mention because of the hat-trick but I’d prefer to look at what this might mean for the team in general.
I go back to the celebrations at the end. Robin called his teammates to enjoy the moment with the traveling Arsenal fans and as much as we as fans needed a game like that and a result like that, so did the team. You can talk about our confidence being brittle, and it has been at times, but we went behind yesterday twice and equalised twice. We conceded a goal with 10 minutes to go to level the game and who out there didn’t fear that it might be the kind of kick in the bollocks that we might not recover from?
Instead we went on and scored two more. Dare I mention those two words that Arsene loves to use, ‘Mental Strength’? It certainly showed some real character and there is so much for the team to take from this game. If there are lessons to be learned from the first half in what not to do, the second could be the blueprint for this team from now on.
If they celebrated the way they did at the end it’s because they felt it was more than just a win, more than just 3 points, more than just victory over a rival who has been a large thorn in our side for some time now. The occasional good result against them has been sandwiched by a series of painful defeats. As I said though, it was clear they felt more than that. That they’d just created a platform for this team to go on and really start to take confidence and self-belief from.
Seven wins from eight previous to this game had instilled a certain amount of confidence but the team knew Chelsea was the big test. It was one they passed, perhaps not with flying colours if you take the first half into account, but they knew it was a fixture in which we simply could not slip up.
They left that to the Chelsea captain instead.