I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that last night was Arsenal’s best performance of the season. Forget the six goal wins over Blackpool (10 men) and Braga (rubbish). This was an outstanding team performance which made the champions look very ordinary indeed.
I know some people might say that’s because they are ordinary but they were double winners last season and despite the slump in form they’re going through nobody was casting too many aspersions on them pre-game. The team selection was brave. Arshavin consigned to the bench, Nasri shifted from the right and Walcott brought in, van Persie up front with Chamakh rested. At the back Djourou played at the expense of Squillaci. I thought it would be in place of Koscielny but there you go.
And from the very start it was obvious Arsenal were up for this. There was no sign of the Old Trafford lethargy. We snapped into tackles, competed, harrassed and chased Chelsea, allowing them no time to settle. We dominated possession without really creating too much in the first half. A lovely ball over the top by Song should have seen van Persie at least trouble Cech but he missed the ball completely. I suppose we can put that down to a bit of rustiness.
I thought we were unlucky not to be given a penalty when Malouda fouled Robin in the edge of the area but Twattenburg waved play on. The one time we were careless with the ball (I think it was Koscielny who was caught) Chelsea threatened through Drogba but his shot fizzed wide. Nasri fired in a free kick which Cech dealt with comfortably enough and he then tipped over a Nasri chip which looked like it was heading into the top corner.
Just before half-time we took the lead. Some nice play around the box between Song and Wilshere saw the ball come through to Cesc. He was fouled, the ref allowed play to continue and Song fired home with his left foot. In recent games Arsenal have conceded to Chelsea in the 15 minutes before half-time and never recovered. It was crucial that we made something of the possession and dominance of the game. The timing of the goal was perfect.
What I worried about at the time was whether or not we’d be able to keep it up for the second half. Within seconds of it starting we had our answer. Chelsea kicked off and Arsenal nicked the ball back straight away. It summed up both teams really. Arsenal fully focussed, Chelsea way too sloppy. And we took full advantage of that by scoring twice inside three minutes. In the 50th minute Essien prodded the ball towards his own goal in a tackle with van Persie. Theo reacted quickest and laid it off for the oncoming Cesc who slid it home to make it 2-0.
Then just a couple of minutes later Cesc returned the favour. Walcott pressured Malouda, Cesc took it on and played a beautfiul pass behind the defence for Theo to run on to and fire home. The quality of the pass was exceptional, a little dinked effort, and the finish was first class too. 3-0 Arsenal and we deserved every bit of it. Arsenal, being Arsenal, meant we had to make things a little more nervous than we would have liked by conceding a few minutes later. Koscielny’s defending was poor and Ivanovic headed past Fabianski but that really was the extent of Chelsea’s threat. When Drogba stepped up to take another free kick Mrs Blogs said ‘Over the bar, watch’, and Drogba listened. It’s always best to listen to Mrs Blogs, I find.
We might have added more. Nasri was clean through but his effort was a bit tame while if Diaby had realised it was legal to smack the ball with his left foot he might have had a go with just the keeper to beat. Instead he allowed John Terry to get back and make the block. In the end it made little difference though. There was only going to be one winner last night. Afterwards Arsene said:
We were questioned about our capability of winning big games. I’m happy with the desire in the team. We kept good discipline in the team for 90 minutes and put in a real team performance. It can be a very pivotal moment, but we have to respond away at Wigan on Wednesday night in a game where we want to turn up and take points. We know to beat the big teams at home will have an important impact on this league.
I spoke before the game about how the impact of a win would be far greater than just three points. And while I’m delighted at finally beating Chelsea I think there’s an important lesson to be learned. If we played every game with the same desire, spirit and energy then we’d be very, very tough to beat. Theo Walcott said afterwards that the team had pressed Chelsea all over the pitch. They did and it worked brilliantly. So here’s the thing – do it to every team. It doesn’t matter if it’s Chelsea, United, Barcelona or anyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘must win’ game or a derby or a game which will banish hoodoos. That performance last night should be the blueprint for this Arsenal team. It should be the standard. If they can play like that against Chelsea why can’t they do it against West Brom or Newcastle at home?
I’m not being critical here, not for a second, but I suppose that’s what the manager sees this team as being capable of. That’s why he has such faith in them. It’s hard work, it’s tiring, but it doesn’t half bring some rewards with it. The increased defensive discipline, particularly in midfield, paid dividends. As a team last night we were exceptional. There were stand-out performances certainly. Song had his best game of the season by a country mile, Johan Djourou was brilliant at the back, a not fully fit Cesc showed just why he’s so important with a goal and an assist, and Theo’s selection may have raised some eyebrows before the game but he took his chance with aplomb.
Yet how can you ignore the fact that Sagna, Clichy, Koscielny, Wilshere, Nasri, van Persie, Chamakh and Diaby (when they came on) all worked their tits off for the team? Fabianski hardly had a thing to do. It’s lazy to write off Chelsea as rubbish, lazy to suggest the champions aren’t all that because they miss Ray fucking Wilkins. I won’t hear any of that because it takes away from what was an tremendously good Arsenal performance.
And that’s how we’ve got to play every game between now and the end of the season. With that desire, with that work-rate, because it made such a difference last night. Chelsea, let’s face it, haven’t even had to work that hard for their victories in recent games. Perhaps they thought it would be the same again, a slightly timid, apprehensive Arsenal. Looking at the United performance you wouldn’t necessarily blame them. Yet the captain and the manager called for the team to throw off the shackles in these games, to focus on our own game rather than the opposition and we did that last night.
Chelsea might not have been expecting it but they couldn’t respond. A team of vast experience and quality couldn’t live with what we threw at them and that’s such a positive from our point of view. The bottom line now is that we have to repeat it. We can’t undo the good work by going to Wigan and thinking it will be easier. Every game has to approached the same way. Anyway, there’s plenty of time to worry about that game (which is tomorrow!), and plenty of reasons to just enjoy today.
It might only have been three points but it feels like quite a bit more than that this morning. Let’s hope so.
Don’t forget the Arsenal Video page for goals/highlights.