Chelsea 1 (Djourou og 31) Arsenal 2 (Van Persie 59, 62)
“The most depressing thing is that at no point do we actually look like scoring. Admittedly, Chelsea don’t look that threatening either, but now they’re ahead I can’t see how we can get back in it.”
– me, at half time.
“Er, what the hell is going on?”
– me, twenty minutes later.
What a day. A match that could’ve seen us end thirteen points behind our opponents, a result that most expected rather than feared, ended in a reinvigoration of our season, belief clearing coursing through the veins of every player in the last twenty minutes. With it, fond memories of the undefeated season returned, where we came back from conceding an early goal at Stamford Bridge to win, the last time Chelsea lost at home until Liverpool beat them a few weeks ago.
Back to today, and this was different to the United win – it felt different. Going into that match we had real hopes of victory, and although we were sublime going forward, at no point did we look steady at the back, a problem that remains and was exploited by Villa and Man City in turn. Today, however, a point would’ve been snatched before kick off, but Chelsea never looked like getting back into the match after Van Persie’s brace around the hour mark. And as much as Jamie Redknapp refused to give Arsenal any credit for that, choosing instead to criticise Chelsea despite Richard Keys’ desperate attempts to get him to talk about the winners, our defence does deserve high praise for the way they contained a collective of extremely potent forwards. Remember that Anelka is the league’s top scorer and loves cashing in against us.
Van Persie will get the headlines, of course, along with Mike Dean (or rather his assistant), who allowed the Dutchman’s first goal to stand despite him being offside. But as I’ve said a million times before on this blog, they are supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the striker, which is why I never complain when the reverse happens. And as much as Sky like to make out it was a clear offside, watch the replay again. A split second after the final ball is played, Bosingwa is level with Van Persie again, which is why the officials mistakenly thought he was playing him on. You can’t freeze frame live matches, so I don’t give Scolari any credit for blaming the officials for the defeat as a whole, just as I refused to blame the officials in the Champions League final three seasons ago for a similar turnaround.
What should be noted was Van Persie’s excellent finish, lashing the ball into the top corner with his weaker right foot. Sometimes he tries too hard to get the ball on to his left, but he has two able feet and made the right choice this time. Minutes later, his left got in on the act, turning and firing into the corner after one of the most unpredictable goals we could have scored.
It all came from a free kick, that was lofted into the area, the sort of ball Chelsea deal with all day long (not to mention the sort of ball we don’t threaten from, ever). But Adebayor jumped well, the defence was static, and Van Persie finished expertly. I was glad for Adebayor, because up to that point he hadn’t had a great game, getting frustrated on occasions, but he kept going and played a huge part in the winner.
Earlier, Chelsea had taken the lead, and had it finished 1-0, Almunia would’ve taken a fair bit of stick. Under pressure, he caught a corner, but instead of recognising when to slow the game down, he rolled an ambitious ball out to the wing, gifting possession back to Chelsea and inviting more pressure. Moments later, Bosingwa was crossing into a dangerous area, and Djourou, trying to cut the cross out, only managed to slide it past his keeper.
And that was the cause of the frustration that caused my half time comment. Chelsea weren’t looking like scoring at all (they would in fact have just one shot on target all match), but they are the last team you want to go 1-0 down against, and we never got going in the first half, a couple of long rangers each from Cesc and Denilson causing little alarm.
But it all changed in the second half, and while the spark was an offside goal, the final half an hour shouldn’t be discounted. So often fragile defensively, we didn’t give Chelsea a sniff, Gallas and Djourou solid at the back, with Clichy and Sagna alternating between making fantastic tackles and surging forward runs.
And for all Scolari’s complaints about the referee playing for one side, he should bear in mind that John Terry should’ve walked for a two footed lunge in the first half, while Ivanovic somehow escaped a red for three cynical blocks, that were all almost identical, only the second one earning him the yellow card they all deserved.
Chelsea lost because they had no cutting edge, while Van Persie looked sharper than he has in a long time. And when they looked for a chink in our armour, they didn’t find one.
And that last point is probably the most satisfying one of all.