Cech. Ivanovic. Luiz. Terry. Cole. Mikel. Ramires. Mata. Oscar. Hazard. Torres.
Saturday. 12.45pm. Emirates Stadium. Drayton Park. North London.
If you’re in the habit of believing what is said and written about the Premier League by those paid to say and write it then this was to be the occasion when we would all discover if Chelsea are genuine title contenders. The litmus test. Our first real test of the season. The pre-match verdict seemed to be that we would be “found out” in some way. Well. They are the experts.
First things first. There was never a single doubt in my mind that JT would start. Captain. Leader. Legend. The chant ringing around the Library, er, the Emirates was “Fuck the FA, fuck the FA, one England captain, fuck the FA.” Say no more.
Like many others I’ve had major reservations about Lampard’s effectiveness in the pivot and believe that while it may not suit Ramires ideally either he is certainly deserving of his chance in the centre of the pitch, couple this with Frank’s recent injury and his omission from such a big game was less surprising than it may have been in years gone by.
Robbie Di Matteo chose not to deploy either of the defensive wingers that started the 0-0 draw against our bottom of the league neighbours QPR. Rather Oscar was given the nod to fulfil a similar role to the one he played against Pirlo and Juventus with Mata and Hazard joining him in support of Torres. This is starting to look a far more settled team and it would appear that RDM is starting to get a feel for his squad.
It was a something of an inauspicious start for Chelsea and Ramires, in particular, who passed the ball straight out of play with his first touch. It could’ve been an ominous start but thereafter he produced a “Man of the Match” display. Opening exchanges were cagey from both sides with Chelsea dominating possession in the way we were given to believe only our opponents were capable of. All the talk of Chelsea “trying to play the Arsenal way” was sounding ever more ridiculous. We never play to finish fourth in the league anyway.
On 22 minutes the breakthrough came. Neat interplay between Hazard and Torres saw Vermaelen fouling the diminutive Belgian and giving away a free-kick. Seconds later Steve Bould, who has been, somewhat prematurely, hailed as Arsenal’s coaching Viagra – turning their limp, flaccid defence into a fearsome rock hard unit, looked like a man who’d had his cornflakes well and truly pissed on. Which was understandable considering their marking was something of an omni-fuck-cluster-shambles. The finish from Torres however was sublime improvisation. Hooking a leg round Koscielny and side-footing a volley past Mannone he wheeled away to share a celebratory hug with his captain in front of a silenced (even more silenced?) home support.
There was no immediate response from Arsenal but they did grow into the match having most success down our left-hand side through Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was this avenue that provided their equalizer. Good work from the impressive Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain allowed the latter to cross for Gervinho who checked his run, giving JT and the otherwise imperious David Luiz the slip, before taking a touch and swivelling to fire into the roof of the net. It was excellent movement and a superb finish from the man who wears his Halloween mask all year round. Arsenal had some momentum during the closing stages of the first half without really looking like creating anything to trouble a solid looking Chelsea defence.
It was a poor start to the second half for us. It appeared we had completely lost our way. A good break from our own half however saw Torres using his strength and pace to get ahead of Vermaelen and win a free-kick in an identical position to the one that resulted in his earlier goal. Same position. Same taker. Same result. This time Mata’s delivery didn’t require a finish from his compatriot. It evaded all but the deftest of touches by Koscielny and left Mannone helpless once more.
After that all the fight seemed to go out of the home side. Like a fighter who knows his legs have gone and he’s well behind on points Arsenal had a few last swings in a slightly disjointed last half an hour but couldn’t take their chances. Chelsea were happy to contain and play on the break with Moses again looking impressive having replaced Oscar who had helped keep a stranglehold on Arsenal’s midfield along with the excellent Mikel.
Then it was over. We had defeated Arsenal away from home. Without Drogba and Lampard (as Der Kaiser/Jonny Dyer pointed out to me on Twitter for the first time in who knows how long). Taken another couple of steps towards answering our critics. And finally earned another three points and ensured that we once again end the weekend at the summit of the Premier League.
I’m not going to worry about player ratings as I feel the whole team was a solid 7.5-8 today. A good day’s work.
So are we title contenders? I think today may have told us more about Arsenal’s title credentials (don’t laugh!) than our own. Currently though you’d have to say we are right in there. United and City look more than a little frail defensively and it’d be a stretch to say that any of Newcastle, Tottenham and Arsenal have really improved from last season. Which I suppose makes us the mandatory challengers. We’ll know a lot more after Christmas, which is practically around the corner anyway. I can’t wait.
The press reports
The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “In the blue corner, Chelsea’s band of supporters needed no invitation to offer a reminder of who is London’s top dog in terms of the European Cup. On the pitch, their players made the point that they are serious about reasserting themselves in the Premier League. They are certainly well placed to make a big improvement on last season’s sixth place. In inflicting Arsenal’s first defeat of the season, Chelsea consolidated their position as Premier League pacesetters. They were helped along the way by some slack defending by the home team, for whom Laurent Koscielny started at the expense of the previously ever-present, and consistently calm, Per Mertesacker. Two set-pieces from the assured boot of Juan Mata did the damage. Fernando Torres dispatched the first with cunning. Koscielny helped the second on its way. It was enough. Chelsea looked like they had a gear in reserve.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Jason Burt: “This was a match settled by Arsenal’s lame-duck inability to deal with set-pieces. Chelsea were worthy winners as they highlighted their Premier League title credentials by showing that, post-Didier Drogba, they can triumph at Arsenal. Inevitably, the television cameras tracked the slow walk of Laurent Koscielny, who will be haunted by his torrid afternoon. At fault for both Chelsea’s goals, the defender failed utterly to vindicate Arsène Wenger’s decision to include him ahead of Per Mertesacker.”
The Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: “A fixture invariably flush with goals and incident provided both, plus a significant result: by inflicting a first defeat of the season on Arsenal, Chelsea preserved their unbeaten record and League leadership. The outcome of an exciting derby may have been determined by two set-piece goals – both following free-kicks taken by Juan Mata – but it was essentially a just one, rich reward for the way the west London side matched the north Londoners’ football and proved more solid defensively to move seven points above them in the table.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The two-year wait for an away league win in London is over as a high-quality derby is decided by strikes from our Spanish contingent. Fernando Torres netted for the second time this week to put the Blues into a lead that was levelled up before the interval by Gervinho. There had been fluidity and good open-play passing by both sides in the first half and that continued after the break – but Torres’s goal had come from a Mata set-piece and that was the source of the winner, the Chelsea Player of the Year finding the net directly with a free-kick not long after the restart.”