Chelsea regained position at the summit of the Premier League this evening after beating fellow Londoners Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. For the second time in the space of a week, Arsenal looked far outclassed by other big four opposition and never looked like coming out on top in the fixture.
A lot has been made of Arsenal’s poor record against top Premier League opposition over the last week and Arsene Wenger will have sent his team out with clear instructions that it was imperative to avoid conceding an early goal if they were to have any hope of taking three points from the game. If this was the plan, Chelsea certainly had no intentions to allow them stick to it. Carlo Ancelotti’s team took the lead in the game after just 8 minutes when a Florent Malouda corner was won by John Terry who nodded the ball toward the back post for an unmarked Didier Drogba, so often the scourge of Arsenal, to volley home from three yards.
Arsenal responded well to going behind and held the lion’s share of the possession over the following period. The gunners won a series of corners, all of which were well dealt with by the Chelsea defense and in particular, Petr Cech ,who gave an excellent display in the Chelsea goal.
Arguably Arsenal’s best chance of the game came ten minutes after falling behind when Cesc Fabregas floated a beautiful pass over the head of Ricardo Carvalho into the path of Andrei Arshavin. The Russian connected well with a first time volley but his shot was well saved by Cech. Arshavin looked lively and followed this effort with a jinking run into space on the left-side of the Chelsea box and had his effort on goal well blocked by Terry.
Terry, who was applauded throughout by the Chelsea faithful, gave a very solid performance and showed no signs of the recent controversies surronding his private life and the stripping of his England captaincy. This would have been encouraging for both Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, who must surely have had some niggling doubts regarding how the player would react to losing what he described as the “ultimate honour”. For all Terry’s faults however, he has frequently demonstrated his abilty to overcome off-field problems and this latest saga seems to be no different.
Just three minutes after Arshavins effort, Arsenal were made suffer horrific flashbacks to last Sunday’s game against Manchester United, when Chelsea broke down an attack well within their own half and quickly moved up field with the ball.
Just like Nani and Rooney tore Arsenal apart with a counter attack last week, this time around it was the turn of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to inflict the damage. Lampard brought the ball out of his own half and passed to Drogba who was roughly thrity yards from goal. The Ivorian powered into the Arsenal box, ghosting past poor challenges before unleashing a vicious left foot shot past Manuel Almunia, who upon further inspection, may have been able to deal with the shot a little better. The goal was Drogba’s twelfth goal in his last ten games against Arsenal and served as a hammer blow to any of Arsenal’s hopes of getting something from this game.
Much like Manchester United last week, Chelsea sat back a little following their hard work, but Arsenal still struggled to break them down in any meaningful regard. Their shortcomings were shown-up repeatedly as they continously failed to trouble Petr Cech despite having a lot of possession in key areas. It is a common criticsm of Arsenal that they try pass the ball into the net and on this evidence, this judgement of their play seems fair. They did play well at times, often demonstrating their trademark neat passing but overall they lacked the cutting edge required. Realistically Arsenal had too many players who offered too little. Theo Walcott was once again anonymous, Samir Nasri not much better.
Chelsea almost increased their lead further with thirteen minutes remaining, when Didier Drogba, looking for his hat-trick, unleashed a powerful free kick which rattled the Arsenal crossbar with Almunia stuck to his spot.
Chelsea looked very impressive and will be delighted to have come away with the three points with such ease. Arsenal now lie nine points off top spot and the league increasingly appears to be heading towards a two-horse race between Chelsea and Manchester United. Even at this relatively early stage, all eyes will turn to the April 3rd showdown between the two sides and what may be the deciding game in terms of the destination of this years’s title.
Arsenal face Liverpool next week and a defeat to the resurgent reds will see them sit just two points above them with their third place in real jeopardy. If there are any positives for Arsene Wenger’s side it may come in the fact that their upcoming encounter with Liverpool will be the last of their battles with the other Big 4 opposition for the season. Maybe then they can go back to doing what they do best: outclassing poor premiership sides with champagne football. Whether their fans will be happy with this this remains to seen. Fortunes must take a quick and dramatic upturn at the Emirates or another trophyless season seems a distinct possibilty. The Champions League remains their last realistic hope of silverware and at the moment few will claim confidence in their ability of winning it.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, A. Cole, Carvalho, Terry, Lampard, Mikel, Ballack (Zhirkov 81), Malouda, Drogba (Kalou 90 +1), Anelka (J. Cole 87)
Unused Subs: Hilario, Ferreira, Alex, Deco
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna (Eboue 74), Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Diaby (Rosicky 74), Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott (Bendtner 64), Song, Arshavin
Unused Subs: Fabianski, Campbell, Denilson, Ramsey