Certain media outlets billed today as being Judgement Day, to be fair, it wasn’t at all as there is still a long way to go in the season. Maybe when we play Arsenal in April 2005 at home it could be billed as that day, but by no means would anything be decided today. Chelsea went into the game three points clear of Everton who had knocked Arsenal from second spot after their 1-0 Merseyside win over Liverpool yesterday, so, depending on the outcome of today’s result it could have meant Everton staying in second or Arsenal overtaking them. Whatever happened regarding the result today Chelsea couldn’t be knocked off of top spot, Jose Mourinho had said in his pre-match conference that whatever the outcome our fans would still be able to sing that we were top of the league at the final whistle. As Chelsea fans, we all know that we’d never beaten Arsenal at Highbury since the inception of the Premiership, but we can never forget that night at Highbury last season in the Champions League when Wayne Bridge score in the 87th minute at the Clock End to put us through to the Quarter Finals. The last time we had beaten the Gunners on their own patch in the league was when we were in the old Division One. A John Bumstead goal settled the match in March 1990 as we won 0-1.
There were changes made to the team that had lost to Porto 2-1 on Tuesday, however, for the fourth game in a row in the Premiership the team lined up at the start exactly the same. Eidur Gudjohnsen kept his place up front with Didier Drogba on the bench. Arsenal went into the game with rookie ‘keeper Almunia playing, he’d made mistakes against Man Utd in the Carling Cup and Rosenborg in the Champions League, so it gave Chelsea something to work on. Patrick Vieira was also out due to his fifth yellow card at Liverpool.
The Chelsea travelling support again sung loud and proud at Highbury and were in full force letting the home fans know who was top of the Premiership. When the game kicked off it only took a matter of 75 seconds before the first goal came. Unfortunately it went to Arsenal and the very dangerous Thierry Henry. A long high ball was played into Henry who beat Carvalho in the air, the ball went out to Reyes on the left with Carvalho chasing, Reyes played the ball back to Henry in the space where Carvalho was and with a decent left-footed shot Henry beat Petr Cech to make it 1-0. It was the worst possible start for us; however, goals scored early are better than the very late goals because teams can’t get back into the match. Arsenal had witnessed this against Liverpool at Anfield when Neil Mellor had scored with the last kick of the game. After the Henry goal the game was very tight with neither side really gaining anything long enough to keep possession. However, in the 17th minute we almost got back onto level terms. A ball played by JT was passed out to Damien Duff on the left, he played the ball to Eidur Gudjohnsen who passed to Frank Lampard about 25 yards out. Lamps struck the ball with venom but Almunia was equal to it and pushed it over the top for a corner.
From the resulting Arjen Robben corner it was 1-1. The ball was met by John Terry who rose higher than Sol Campbell to direct the ball past Almunia and into the net. This was JT’s sixth goal of the season, his third in the Premiership. Two minutes later we could have gone 1-2 up. A Lampard high ball found Eidur Gudjohnsen, he shook Ashley Cole off of the ball and blasted a shot goal wards, Almunia parried it but there wasn’t anybody to follow up. Tiago also had a shot that went over from a Robben cross as Chelsea began to dominate proceedings. In the 28th minute though it was Arsenal who went 2-1 up with a controversial goal. Pires ran through and was allegedly knocked over by a combination of Makelele and Lampard. The action replays showed that neither player had really touched Pires; he’d gone to ground too easily, as quite often happens with Pires. Just as Chelsea were trying to line up their wall referee Graham Poll had asked Henry if he wanted to take the free-kick quickly, Petr Cech was unsighted and before you could say “Robert Pires is a cheat” The ball had deflected off of Tiago and had gone past Cech. It felt like a knockdown punch in a boxing match, Chelsea had been on top but it was Arsenal who’d delivered the ultimate blow.
As the Chelsea players protested to the referee Arjen Robben got booked. After their goal we became unsettled and looked ill at ease. It was tough going as Gallas tried his best down the left but his cross before half time went sailing into the crowd. Robben was also frustrated and couldn’t find space. At half time the score remained 2-1 but we were still very much in the game. Jose Mourinho made two changes at half time, he took Ricardo Carvalho off and bought Wayne Bridge on. William Gallas moved alongside JT and Bridge played at left back. Tiago also came off and was replaced by Didier Drogba. Jose had gone for a very attacking 4-2-4 formation to get back into the game it didn’t take long. If you thought Henry’s 75 second goal in the first half was quick, Eidur Gudjohnsen made it 2-2 after 33 seconds of the second half. From the kick off Arjen Robben won a free-kick on the left, Frank Lampard swung the ball into the Arsenal area, the ball found Gallas who headed the ball down, it popped up and Eidur flicked the ball off the top of his head and into the corner of the net! This put satisfaction back into the blue hearts of Chelsea fans everywhere after the second Henry goal in the first half, which in my opinion was gifted from referee Graham Poll and a diving Pires.
Five minutes later it could and possibly should have been 2-3, a corner taken by Duff found Frank Lampard in acres of space but his header went over the bar from about 12 yards out. From that point on things began to tighten up in both defences, however it didn’t stop the tackles flying in as Lamps got booked for tripping Lauren, Makelele fouled Henry as did William Gallas. In the 77th minute we escaped what possibly could have been a home victory. A Pires cross to Henry who’d robbed Bridge of the ball to start the move had a gaping goal and what looked like a certain hat-trick, however, Henry blasted the ball over the bar and we were let off.
A few moments later Jose went for consolidation. He took off Eidur and on came Scott Parker, we then reverted back to our more familiar 4-3-3 formation. Wenger countered by bringing on Van Persie and Clichy for Reyes and Bergkamp. Both defences stayed tight though as the final whistle came after three minutes of injury time. Although we didn’t win it felt like a moral victory. We matched Arsenal and at times were better than them, if it hadn’t of been for Pires and Graham Poll then we could have won the game, but we can’t be distracted by that. We have been to Highbury, it’s Arsenal who are under pressure in the Premiership now, keep the faith, keep the hope, keep the love of all things Chelsea. WE CAN DO THIS!
Next week we face Norwich at home, just to remind people who are going to the game to be in the Prospect Pub in the Fulham Road between 1.00pm and 2.30pm, as you’ll meet the famous CFCnet crew. Arsenal travel to Portsmouth, Everton travel to Blackburn and Man Utd play Crystal Palace at home. Next week we’ll be half way through the season, let’s hope that when the other half finishes we’ll be champions!
Arsenal: Almunia, Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole, Pires, Flamini, Fabregas, Reyes (Clichy 82), Bergkamp (Van Persie), Henry. Subs Not Used: Senderos, Hoyte, Lehmann.
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho (Bridge 45), Terry, Gallas, Makelele, Lampard, Tiago (Drogba 45), Duff, Robben, Gudjohnsen (Parker 77) Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Kezman.
Referee: Graham Poll