Arsenal 1 (Gallas 45) Chelsea 0
For a game with only one goal, it was gripping from first minute to last. Frank Lampard admitted before the game that there was a contrast of styles, and in a feisty and at times vicious game Arsenal were once again proved to have the bottle for the fight this season.
The team news was encouraging, with Flamini, Hleb and Cesc returning, and Van Persie on the bench to make an impact late on. I figured at least one of the quartet would be benched as they wouldn’t be able to last the full ninety, but as it turned out two of the three returning midfielders lasted the length of an intense game, with Hleb only coming off late.
The first ten minutes were hugely impressive, Arsenal controlling the midfield despite Chelsea packing five men in there. Alex nearly scored his second own goal for us in a year, heading a routine return over Cech’s head, the ball dropping just wide. Chances were rare in the first half, with Rosicky firing wide, and Almunia saving well from Wright-Phillips.
The real talking points of the opening 44 minutes were the ugly tackles flying in. Lampard got away with an early one on Eboue, while Adebayor was somewhat harshly carded for a late challenge on Ashley Cole that wasn’t as bad. But Lampard’s luck ran out, when, in a rare piece of decent refereeing, Alan Wiley proved he had a memory.
How often do you see a late challenge go in, advantage played, and the referee forget to go back and book the offender afterwards? That seemed even more likely to be the case as a full minute passed after Lampard’s second wild hack, and when play stopped, it was due to an appalling challenge by John Terry on a prone Fabregas on the edge of the box. I figured Terry would get booked, with Lampard getting away again. To the referee’s credit, he booked both. Unfortunately, his performance was only to get worse.
Terry’s game didn’t last much longer, Eboue catching his foot as he tried to block a clearance. Jamie ‘Chelsea fan’ Redknapp claimed it was a shocking challenge at half time, but in truth it was simply late, and deserved the yellow it got. But Terry went off injured, and suddenly with he and Carvalho missing at the heart of their defence, Arsenal smelt weakness.
But when the breakthrough came, its method was surprising. On the stroke of half time, Fabregas’ corner looked to be a routine catch for Cech but he flapped, missed, and Gallas, coming in behind him, headed into the empty net. The captain must’ve been tempted to celebrate wildly, but perhaps wisely chose to stay muted, while the Emirates went crazy around him.
With Chelsea forced to come out in the second half, it became a more open game, and after a sloppy start by both teams Wright-Phillips had the perfect chance to equalise, but smashed wide from six yards out. It was to be the best chance they’d get, as most of the gilt edged opportunities then fell to Arsenal on the break.
First Van Persie blazed over when set up by Adebayor and Hleb from a flowing counter attack, then he had a goal wrongly disallowed when Rosicky was flagged offside despite being level. Cech then made a tremendous double save from Van Persie and Fabregas, before Adebayor had another one chalked off for the softest of pushes on the turn.
With goals being scored and wiped out, there was always the worry that we would be punished with another late Chelsea goal, but Almunia made a couple of cracking saves to retain a clean sheet. Lehmann’s claim that the Spaniard has never won a big game with Arsenal has now been blown out of the water.
Elsewhere, the left side of the team was magnificent. Clichy ran up and down all day long, alternating between crunching into tackles and making tremendous bursts down the wing. Ahead of him, Rosicky worked his socks off, and tracked back more than I’ve ever seen him do before.
But in truth, there were excellent performances all over the park. One moment, with ten minutes to go, Cesc gave the ball away, and Flamini ran half the length of the pitch to win it back. Eighty minutes into his comeback match from injury. For me, that summed it all up.
All we need now is for Cole to get a suspension for lashing out at Cesc at the final whistle, an altercation which sparked the amusing scenes of Cesc celebrating while being booked, as Wiley indicated the match was over. Cesc is a true Gooner.
Enjoy your Monday.