BLUES UNLUCKY AT ARSENAL
It was Chelsea old boy William Gallas that ended the Blues 16 match unbeaten run, heading home a corner towards the end of the first half to give Arsenal a lead they would never relinquish, and keep Arsene Wenger’s side on top of the English Premiership.
The fullbacks was an area of competition for Chelsea, as all four were fit, and it was Arsenal old boy Ashley Cole and Portuguese defender Paulo Ferreira who were chosen; Bridge and Belletti the unlucky duo to miss out. Makelélé, Mikel and Lampard were in midfield, whilst Shevchenko was flanked by Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips in attack, Avram Grant returning to the 4-3-3 formation after playing the 4-2-3-1 against Valencia.
No surprises that Arsene Wenger’s three injury doubts all started, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Alexandre Hleb all deemed fit prior to kickoff. Almunia was once more preferred to Lehmann in goal, whilst Adebayor was the lone striker, Hleb playing in the hole. Gallas captained the Gunners against his former side.
The early proceedings were littered with fouls, with Sagna crunching Ashley Cole as the Emirates crowd booed him vociferously from the stands. Adebayor’s effort on 12 minutes flew high and wide as Arsenal looked for an opener, but Wright-Phillips came closer for Chelsea as his shot was well saved by Almunia. In between those two efforts, Alex nearly scored an embarrassing own goal as his backpass went completely wrong, but luckily it cleared Čech and the crossbar.
Adebayor was booked on 22 minutes for a challenge on Ashley Cole that connected with the knee of the Chelsea defender, rather than the ball. After 35 minutes Andriy Shevchenko unleashed a 30 yard effort, that was once more well saved by Almunia in goal for the Gunners.
Emanuel Eboue was booked for a challenge on John Terry, the Chelsea skipper forced off moments later due to the resultant injury, his spot taken by Tal Ben-Haim. Frank Lampard took over the captain’s armband.
In stoppage time of the first half, Fabregas took a corner from the left hand side. Čech came off his line to claim it, but uncharacteristically misjudged the flight of the ball and was left flapping at this air. Ben-Haim was out jumped by Gallas, and the defender had the relatively simple task of nodding the ball into the net. Arsenal took the 1-0 lead into the break, Gallas’ celebration doing nothing to settle the hyped up home crowd.
At the start of the second half, both Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira attempted to find Shevchenko with crosses; however both were just out of the reach of the Ukrainian centre forward.
On the hour, Mikel forced another fine save from the stretching Almunia, before Claudio Pizarro replaced Claude Makelélé and playing in behind Shevchenko as the shape became 4-2-3-1.
Van Persie had two efforts at goal soon after replacing the injured Eboue, before Salomon Kalou replaced Wright-Phillips for Chelsea. After 78 minutes he went close, shooting just wide when well placed 20 yards from goal.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Almunia reached Ferreira’s cross just moments before Lampard could get there with his attempted diving header. Arsenal thought they’d wrapped the game up once van Persie had the ball in the back of the net, but his attempt was ruled out for offside with four minutes remaining.
Arsenal attacked the Chelsea goal as the minutes ebbed away, and an amazing double save from Čech denied Arsenal a second goal. Almunia saved from Shevchenko again in the last minute, as he kept a well deserved clean sheet.
In the first minute of stoppage time Gilberto fouled Mikel 35 yards out, and with Alex lining the free kick up, it was Shevchenko who belted it towards goal, catching it sweetly and forcing Almunia into another top quality save.
That was that for Chelsea, as our unbeaten record was broken in a ding dong derby battle. Avram Grant will take heart from the way Chelsea fought back without our injured skipper and the involved performance of Andriy Shevchenko in the absence of Didier Drogba. Chelsea will be further boosted by the imminent returns of Michael Ballack and Ricardo Carvalho as we take on rivals Liverpool in the Carling Cup in midweek. The blue flag is still flying high!
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Eboue (Van Persie 70), Flamini, Fabregas, Rosicky; Hleb (Gilberto 77); Adebayor (Bendtner 90+4).
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Ferreira, Alex, Terry (c) (Ben-Haim 38), A Cole; Mikel, Makelélé (Pizarro 64), Lampard; J Cole, Shevchenko, Wright-Phillips (Kalou 75).