Match Report: Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
Dutch hitman Robin van Persie proved to be the hero as he scored two goals to give Arsenal’s fading Premier League title hopes a boost with a 2-1 win at Chelsea.
Having lost two league games in a row, and with their character, quality and spirit questioned in recent weeks, Arsene Wenger’s side orchestrated a dramatic turnaround to keep their title hopes alive and move to within seven points of Chelsea and Liverpool.
But for Chelsea the result further shattered the veneer of invincibility that once surrounded Stamford Bridge with The Blues now winning only three of eight Premier League games at their former fortress.
Chelsea Starting XI
Bosingwa – Ivanovic – Terry – Cole
Mikel – Deco – Ballack
Anelka – Kalou
Arsenal Starting XI
Sagna – Djourou – Gallas – Clichy
Denilson – Fabregas – Song – Nasri – van Persie
It started promisingly though as Chelsea opened the scoring with an absolute gift from the visitors when Johan Djourou turned the ball past Manuel Almunia. But the goalkeeper, who has more than a passing interest in military history, will know he shot himself in the foot spectacularly when handing Chelsea possession with a wayward throw.
But a team that can beat Manchester United and Chelsea while losing to Hull and Stoke will never be predictable, and after looking distinctly unimpressive in the first half, a three-minute spell of excellence saw Arsenal sneak in front.
Van Persie’s first strike was clearly offside on 59 minutes but, just three minutes later, his second was emphatic as he sent Arsenal back into the top four.
Having welcomed Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Adebayor back into his team, Wenger’s biggest tactical decision was to drop the experienced Mikael Silvestre in order to utilise the pace of fringe defender Djourou.
It was a change that was to have a real impact on the course of the game, but not in the way that Wenger intended.
On the half hour mark Djourou turned a dangerous cross from Jose Bosingwa past his own goalkeeper to give Chelsea the lead and make it seven Premier League goals that Arsenal had conceded without reply. Almunia must take a large portion of the blame though after a poor throw that gifted Chelsea possession.
Goal: Johan Djourou (O.G) (30) – Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal
Djourou’s defensive partner William Gallas had been talking about own goals prior to the match – specifically the one that Chelsea accused him of threatening to score if they did not let him leave the club in 2006 – and prior to the opener the Frenchman could have stuck the ball in his former employers’ net.
Petr Cech parried an effort from Nasri and Gallas only narrowly failed to turn the ball into an empty net as he stretched but failed to make contact. The Chelsea keeper also denied Van Persie from a similar angle before Denilson attempted a truly embarrassing dive in a futile attempt to win a penalty.
But Chelsea deserved their lead as Frank Lampard also tested Almunia with a firm header from another Bosingwa cross, leaving Arsenal staring down the barrel of a third consecutive defeat at half-time at Stamford Bridge.
The omens did not look good after the restart as Lampard fired narrowly wide after Djourou poked the ball away from Anelka, but on 58 minutes The Gunners were level thanks to a controversial equaliser.
Van Persie was blatantly in an offside position when collecting a pass from Denilson but rifled a right-footed effort past Cech as the assistant kept his flag down. There was nothing suspect about his second though.
Goal: Robin van Persie (58) – Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal
Adebayor nodded down a high ball into the box and Van Persie utilised his brilliant left foot to spin and fire the ball low past Cech to complete a remarkable three-minute turnaround.
Goal: Robin van Persie (61) – Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
In between the two goals John Terry lunged in with two feet and was perhaps lucky to escape with only a booking, and Chelsea’s frustration was clear as the game wore on and chances continued to be scarce.
Scolari even handed a debut to youngster Miroslav Stoch – perhaps to make a point to Roman Abramovich about the need for January investment – but he could not turn the tide of the tie as another disappointing home result loomed.
Arsenal could have made the game safe when Nicklas Bendtner squared for Denilson on the break, but the Brazilian’s touch went missing and Cech was able to save. It was not to matter. The Gunners held on for a second win over a member of the big four this season and maybe, just maybe, keep that title challenge alive.