It’s all of a sudden quite nice to be an Arsenal supporter again after two goals from Robin van Persie saw our boys come from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
It was an incredible result given that Chelsea dominated the game in the first hour as well as taking a first-half lead through Johan Djourou’s unlucky own goal. But with the home side seemingly cruising van Persie turned the game on its head, scoring two quickfire goals to stun Chelsea and allow our team to come away with all three points.
It is undoubtedly our best result of the season – better even than the 2-1 against Manchester United – as Arsene Wenger’s side showed real grit and determination to turn an apparent lost cause into a miraculous win. The win puts us just seven points from the top (although Liverpool have a chance to widen that gap tonight), a huge disparity from the 13 points we would have been behind if the match had ended at half-time. As it is, we’re right back in the title race.
Our starting team was a strong one as Emmanuel Adebayor, Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri all returned from injury. William Gallas partnered Johan Djourou at the back (finally!) and the pair were flanked by Gael Clichy and the aforementioned Sagna. Wenger made a smart move to partner Cesc Fabregas with the defensive-minded Alex Song in the middle, pushing Denilson out to the right as a consequence. Nasri started on the left while Adebayor was paired with van Persie up front. It was a superb team selection by the manager and the exact side that I would have picked if I was in his shoes.
Chelsea bossed most of the first half, their fullbacks Ashley Cole and particularly Jose Bosingwa able to pin back Nasri and Denilson and create havoc down the flanks. The Blues could have scored as early as the third minute when Saloman Kalou was incorrectly ruled offside while Arsenal had their first decent chance shortly after when Gallas almost poked home Petr Cech’s parry from Fabregas. Bosingwa skied a decent chance after nipping past Nasri and Clichy while Almunia held a Frank Lampard header just before the half-hour mark.
Then disaster struck as Chelsea took the lead. Almunia claimed a corner from Frank Lampard and in his hurry to get a quick counter-attack going threw the ball straight back to the opposition. Nicolas Anelka and Bosingwa exchanged passes before the Portuguese man swung in a dangerous ball and the unlucky Djourou put through his own net. It may have been the Swiss man on the scoresheet but the blame lay solely with Almunia.
Chelsea upped the tempo after scoring but despite pushing hard could not extend their lead before the break. Arsenal had a half-chance to level things when van Persie’s scuffed shot was tipped away by Cech as the pace slackened before the break. 1-0 Chelsea and in all honesty it was hard to see how we were going to get back into it.
Get back into it we did though, but not before surviving a couple of hairy moments. Djourou – who aside from his own goal was having an excellent match – snuffed out a dangerous Deco pass before Chelsea fashioned their best chance of the second half through Lampard, who fired wide from the edge of the area with Almunia floundering.
Then things changed. Adebayor – who had been struggling to get into the game – won a strong header which allowed Denilson to thread the ball through to a clearly offside van Persie. The linesman somehow missed the call however and the Dutchman showed no mercy to smash home a bullet into the top corner and draw us level.
Chelsea were clearly rattled. John Terry got away with an awful two-footed lunge on Sagna (if he wasn’t England captain it would have been red) before van Persie scored again a minute later to put us ahead. Fabregas floated a hopeful free-kick into the area, Adebayor won another important header and the Dutchman pivoted to place a lovely shot into the bottom-right corner. From being nowhere near the match we were somehow in front in the space of three crazy minutes.
I expected Chelsea to fully come at us after going behind but the onslaught never really ensued and we looked the most likely to score in the final half-hour. A crazy run by Clichy was stopped short by Bratislav Ivanonic before Denilson crossed poorly with Adebayor, van Persie and Nasri ready and waiting in the penalty area.
Bendtner replace Adebayor with ten minutes to go and laid an excellent chance on a plate for Denilson but the Brazilian’s touch was poor and Cech was able to gather. It mattered not though as Chelsea’s challenge fizzled out and our boys closed out a thrilling and surprising victory.
As I mentioned earlier, this was a truly bizarre football game. Never before have I witnessed such a sharp contrast in effort and quality in such a small space of time. The Arsenal team which lumbered through the first hour was completely unrecognisable from the energetic and aggressive team which tore Chelsea apart after drawing level. There’s no denying that we relied on a huge piece of fortune to get back into it but sometimes that’s what decides games like this and it was great to see the boys kick on and win the match.
A huge amount of credit should go to the defensive ‘golden triangle’ of Gallas, Djourou and Song. Although he put into his own net Djourou was strong and assured while Gallas put in his best performance of the season. You could see from his body language that the Frenchman enjoyed himself last night and you have to imagine that being freed from the captaincy responsibilities has relaxed him.
Then there was Song. Wow. What a performance he put in. Song was neat and tidy on the ball, strong and aggressive off it and showed excellent positional sense to make a number of important interceptions and take a lot of the defensive pressure of captain Cesc. I’ve previously suggested that Song and not Denilson should be starting every game in the middle and based on tonight’s performance I think it’s spot on. He might not have the pace of Mathieu Flamini but his mind is on defending and in the first hour against Chelsea he was the most important player on the pitch.
As with the United game the superb win over Chelsea will mean nothing unless it is backed up by good results in our next few matches. However, I feel that for the first time this season some consistency can be established if the manager persists with Djourou and Song in the side. There’s no debate that our side has lacked spine this season but with those two lads playing and Adebayor in the side we are as tall and strong and Arsenal side for some time. Long may it continue.
I have to say again that I was absolutely thrilled with last night’s performance. We were as strong defensively as we’ve been all season and despite falling behind showed great heart to fight our way back into the match. I just get the feeling that Gallas’ demotion as captain will improve our defence while the team are far more positive with little Cesc as their leader. You could see that in Gallas’ smiles and the way that van Persie searched out the captain to celebrate the second goal.
So all in all a terrific night to be an Arsenal fan. Some more of those and we might really have something to crow about.
What do you reckon?
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