Team: Szczesny, Djourou (Jenkinson), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Santos, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Rosicky), Gervinho (Vermaelen), van Persie
The Short Report
Robin van Persie’s hat trick was the highlight of a pulsating game at Stamford Bridge. Twice we had to come from behind and then took the lead as the contest swung back and forth. Just as Chelsea looked set to seize the momentum, the skipper came up with two late goals to the put the gloss on an emotional day, which sees us climb up to seventh in the table.
The AL Report
Over the last three months, we have lost our captain; conceded eight at Old Trafford; suffered defeat at Spurs and received a kicking in the media and from some who claim to support the club. It has been a period that has tested the faith all right, so today’s spectacular victory tastes all the sweeter after all the pain that has come before it.
Robin van Persie’s sensational hat-trick will rightly grab the headlines, but it was the immense character we showed as a team that will have given Gooners the most satisfaction. Not only did we have to come from behind twice, we punished Chelsea ruthlessly just at the point they looked like going on to win the game.
In recent weeks, our recovery has been quietly gathering momentum, but few would have given us a chance of picking up our first three points away from home at Stamford Bridge. With our tormentor Didier Drogba suspended and the John Terry race row disrupting their preparations, there were some hopeful signs that we could catch the Blues at the right time.
Arsene Wenger had a couple of selection dilemmas to mull over. Thomas Vermaelen had to settle for a place on the bench, despite making his comeback in midweek. As did Andrey Arshavin whose man-of-the-match display against Bolton wasn’t enough to earn him a place in the starting line-up.
We made a tentative start and Chelsea could have taken the lead in the second minute. Ashley Cole skipped past Johan Djourou and picked out Fernando Torres in the box, only to be robbed by the in-form Laurent Koscielny. They had plenty of joy down the flanks in the opening stages with Djourou and Andre Santos looking vulnerable.
Then we began to find some space of our own on the wings. On 12 minutes, Theo Walcott tore past Cole and presented Gervinho with a tap-in, but the Ivorian could only fire wide from point blank range. Moments later, Walcott was at it again, finding van Persie with a delightful ball, but with only the keeper to beat, the skipper fired straight over the bar.
Frank Lampard’s goal on 14 minutes felt like inevitable punishment for our wastefulness. Fending off the attentions of Andre Santos, Juan Mata delivered a cross that eluded Per Mertesacker for Lampard to head home. The big German has generally impressed with his positional play so far, but he was all over the place in this instance.
Filled with confidence after opening the scoring, the hosts began to dominate possession and could have doubled their lead on the half hour mark. Daniel Sturridge latched onto Lampard’s pass, but was caught in two minds and made a complete mess of his shot.
It was a real let-off that we soon exploited. Aaron Ramsey’s defence splitting pass found Gervinho, who ensured Petr Cech was committed before laying it off for van Persie to roll into an empty net. It was the sort of beautifully worked goal that has long been our trademark under Wenger.
At this point, we would have hoped to quietly see out the remaining ten minutes of the half, but it was not that sort of game and of course, Arsenal are not that sort of team. Chelsea had the ball in the net, only for Sturridge’s effort to be ruled offside. Van Persie curled a free-kick over the bar and then disaster struck as Chelsea won a corner with less than a minute on the clock. Nobody attacked Lampard’s in-swinger and it fell straight to Terry to poke home. Mertesacker was at fault again, falling over when he should have been standing tall. Mikel Arteta abandoned his post on the goal-line and it was generally the kind of set-piece shambles that has cost us so often already this season.
Wenger made a rousing speech at the AGM on Thursday and he must have come up some more stirring oratory in the dressing room as we made a pulsating start to the second half. Barely a minute in, Cech was forced to save a van Persie shot from a tight angle and Ramsey flicked Gervinho’s pass just over the bar.
We didn’t have to wait long to get back on level terms. Some neat footwork from Alex Song allowed him to wriggle away from Ramires and spray the ball left to Santos. The Brazilian’s first touch sent him clean through and he slotted coolly past Cech to add to the collection of fine Arsenal left-back goals at Stamford Bridge. He had struggled badly in the first-half but was suddenly transformed, making an immaculate tackle on Sturridge among others and offering a dangerous outlet on the left.
A minute after the goal, we had a moment of fortune that could well have handed the initiative straight back to Chelsea. Not for the first time in recent weeks, Wojciech Szczesny had a rush of blood to the head. He came bursting out of his area and left himself completely stranded before hacking down Cole. Miraculously, he escaped with a booking and saved the free kick that followed. It could easily have been a different story on another day, but maybe it’s about time we had a bit of luck.
We took the lead for the first time in bizarre circumstances. Walcott’s run was checked as he tripped over his own feet and sprawled to the ground. In the same movement, he somehow managed to get up, slip past two defenders and blast it past Cech. It was a blur of movement that completely bamboozled the Chelsea defence and crowned an excellent display from Theo whose form has been indifferent of late.
The utterly breathless contest finally settled down for a period, but it was just the calm before the storm. Cole and Ramsey went close as van Persie was booked for getting involved in a shoving match with Branislav Ivanovic. The boss replaced Djourou with Carl Jenkinson and attempted to add some solidity by replacing Walcott with Tomas Rosicky.
With ten minutes on the clock, the home side were labouring and offering little up front, but suddenly came up with an equaliser out of nothing. Substitute Raul Meireles intercepted Santos’s clearance and fed Juan Mata, who drove forward, eluding Song and unleashing a thunderous strike past Szczesny. In the build-up, referee Andre Marriner failed to spot Romelu Lukaku illegally blocking Santos, which prompted a furious protest from Wenger. The referee had clearly evened things up after his earlier generosity with Szczesny.
From then on, it looked to be a case of holding out for what still would have still been a very good away point, but van Persie had other ideas. On 84 minutes, he pounced on Florent Malouda's casual backpass to Terry, who hilariously fell over, leaving RVP clean through on goal. In what seemed to take an age, the skipper calmly rounded Cech and side-footed home for a goal that sparked mayhem among the away fans.
Incredibly, the action didn’t end there. Chelsea desperately tried to respond and Mata could have had a second after Szczesny flapped at a Meireles free-kick. Then came the icing on the cake a minute into stoppage time. Rosicky launched a counter-attack, finding Arteta in the centre circle. As Chelsea struggled to get numbers back, the Spaniard spotted Robin's run on the left. He took one touch and thumped a shot with a wicked swerve past Cech for his hat trick. It was an ecstastic finale to a quite astonishing afternoon.
Next up: We are back in European action Tuesday as Marseille come to visit – a win would all but seal qualification from the group.
Man of the Match
We are rapidly running out of superlatives to describe Robin van Persie, who is proving himself as one of the greatest players in Europe and is clearly relishing his role as captain. On a day in which both sides defended erratically, he could have easily finished with six. The first goal was simply a case of finishing off the excellent work started by Ramsey and Gervinho. The second was made all the more delicious by Terry’s tumble, whilst the third epitomised everything he is about – elegance, power and precision.
Andre Santos had a torrid first half and appeared to be a yard or two off the pace. After the break, his contribution was immense, as he broke up play, tackled cleanly and he worked tirelessly going forward. The finish for his goal was as composed as a seasoned striker. In just two months, he has already surpassed the tally his predecessor, Gael Clichy, managed in seven years.
Moan of the Match
Our defending has been steadily improving, but the way Terry was allowed to score from Lampard’s corner was eerily reminiscent of the bad days of August and September. Arteta and Mertesacker were the main culprits, but Szczesny could also have done better. It was an unforgiveable goal to concede on the stroke of half time. Clearly there is still much work to be done on the training ground, but the return of Vermaelen should make a difference.
The Final Word
At the AGM on Thursday, Arsene Wenger made an emotional speech in which he called for everyone associated at the club to unite behind the team. Both the players and fans responded to that today and deserved to enjoy every minute of their wild celebrations after the final whistle.
As much as the boss deserves criticism for mistakes that were made in the summer, he also should be given a huge amount of credit for the way he has turned things around. There are still plenty of flaws to be ironed out, but he has managed to get this group to gel quickly and look like contenders again. A couple of weeks ago, we were hovering just above the drop zone and now we find ourselves three points off a Champions League spot.
There is no room for complacency, but those creative types who designed a banner calling for the manager to resign might want to keep it mothballed for now.
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