There are two reasons for the “day late” nature of my match report for Arsenal v Chelsea: the first being the need for a day to ponder of the importance of the result in the grand scheme of things. The second? A personal desire to be outside throwing Swedish-produced snowballs as often as possible.
Going back to the first reason I have reached a conclusion: this win was absolutely massive for our boys. Achieved in the style that we always attempt to produce, it was a performance and result that well and truly confirms that we have what is required to win the Premier League this season.
Unlike the timid performance against Manchester United two weeks ago, our boys were as bold as brass on Monday night. It started with Arsene Wenger and his brave team selection — Johan Djourou in for Sebastien Squillaci, Theo Walcott in for Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie in for Marouane Chamakh — and continued throughout the 90 minutes.
My biggest gripes against United a fortnight ago were twofold: our midfield seemed unwilling to push forward and help the attack and Gael Clichy was left horribly exposed for Nani to run at. Against Chelsea Wenger completely rectified this problem.
Walcott’s presence on the right not only pushed Ashley Cole right back, nullifying his potential attacking threat and leaving a small brown stain in his pants every time Theo got the ball in the process, but it allowed Samir Nasri to play a more protective role on the left. Clichy prospered with the extra protection, snapping into tackles and getting forward more often than he has anytime this season.
Meanwhile Alex Song was clearly instructed to play more conservatively by Wenger, working in front of the Laurent Koscielny and Djourou and restricting his forward runs. When he did push forward late in the first half the result was devastating: a brilliantly-taken goal that was precisely what we deserved for a stellar opening 45 minutes.
And what of Johan Djourou’s performance to shut Didier Drogba out of the game? Absolutely magnificent. I have been harping on and on about this guy for three years now and was immensely disappointed when he injured his knee at the start of last season, but this was a performance that confirmed his quality to the world. He’s had a lovely season thus far after a few games to get rid of the rust and credit also has to be given to Wenger for the way that he has managed Djourou’s injury. He looks sharp, focused and ready to make a huge impact in the second half of the season.
Aside from his immense aerial presence the attribute that Djourou adds to our team most is a calmness at the back. That and wonderful, understated pace. If this sounds like a love-in it’s because it is: I think the world of this guy and am so happy he was able to produce such a brilliant performance against our chief tormentor in these fixtures.
At half-time at 1-0 up I thought Chelsea would come out all guns blazing. The last thing I predicted was for us to be two goals further ahead within ten minutes.
Cesc Fabregas and his FIFA buddy Walcott were responsible for both goals as the captain took advantage of Theo’s pace to score the second and Walcott smashed home the third after a delightful through-ball by Fabregas. There was a tempered reaction in the crowd to Fabregas’ goal but when Walcott’s went in all hell broke loose. We couldn’t possibly throw away three points from this position and everybody knew it!
Chelsea pulled one back through a decent free-kick but we produced a solid defensive performance to close out the game in the final half hour. There were some stressful moments — there always is when you’re on the brink of a fantastic result — but any neutral watching the game would have put their house on an Arsenal win.
When the final whistle finally went with the score at 3-1 my satisfaction and pride at the Arsenal boys was beyond anything I felt this season. We had finally done it, we had finally beaten Chelsea and the monkey was off our backs.
I’ve covered the brilliant performances of Song and Djourou but credit also has to go to the rest of the team. Every single player played their role superbly — think about Nasri’s less spectactular defensive role that allowed Walcott to get at Cole or Jack Wilshere’s tireless midfield role that freed up space for Fabregas and allowed Song to sit deeper without any impact on our dynamism — and we absolutely deserved the three points.
Credit to to Arsene Wenger for a terrific managerial performance. I have been highly critical of his decisions in big games but he got absolutely everything right tonight. As I mentioned earlier dropping Arshavin for Walcott and Squillaci for Djourou were bold moves, while van Persie’s presence up front gave us a more dynamic feel than in recent weeks. The extra protection Clichy was given galvanised his performance while a clear word to Song to play a little more conservatively was just what the doctor ordered.
So where to from here?
Manchester United delightfully dropped points last night against Birmingham which means that if we beat Wigan, the team with the worst scoring record in the league, we will go equal top. Will we do it? I think so. I can’t see the boys dropping points after a result like the Chelsea one and with two weeks of rest preceding the Chelsea game and our squad looking fresher and deeper than ever, we have the resources at our disposal to register another win.
As for the rest of the season you have to think that things are looking pretty good. When you compare the three substitutes that Chelsea used on Monday — Ramires, Kakuta and Bosingwa — with our own — Rosicky, Diaby and Chamakh — the contrast is remarkable. When most of our pieces are there we have, in my humble opinion, the best squad in the Premier League. And now we have the confidence of beating one of our major title rivals.
It’s been a great couple of days to be a Gunner. A win tonight and it will get even better.
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