Sunday afternoon as the snow fell at Stamford Bridge; Arsenal’s hopes of finishing fourth took a huge whitewashing as the Gunners finished second-best to Chelsea by a 2-1 scoreline. First half goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard sent the Blues on their way, while a 68th minute goal from Theo Walcott gave the Gunners hope and put Chelsea’s lead under pressure for the final 20 minutes of the match.
Arsene Wenger resisted the temptation to bring back Laurent Koscielny from suspension and named an unchanged side from the side that beat Swansea on Wednesday. Rafa Benitez made two changes, restoring the Fernando Torres and his new haircut to the side and bringing in Branislav Ivanovic in for David Luiz, who was nursing an injury.
Despite the lack of changes for Arsenal, someone must have forgotten to tell them when the match started as Arsenal was barely in the match from the start. Things could have been much different if Olivier Giroud’s 5th minute chance had gone in. The Frenchman found himself through on goal from a beautiful pass from Walcott but only managed to drag the shot wide. That miss would be punished minutes later when Cesar Azpilicueta played a wonderful ball over the top for Juan Mata who left Bakary Sagna for dead, controlled the pass, and fired past a helpless Wojchiech Szczesny to give Chelsea the early lead.
Things continued to get worse for the Gunners as the pattern of the first half saw Arsenal fail to close the ball down, offer acres of space to the Chelsea players, and watch as the home side simply knocked the ball around. The second goal came via a similar move, with Ramires catching Abou Diaby in possession and starting the Blues off on a counter. Again, Sagna was caught out of position, and Mata’s pass to Ramires saw the Brazilian take a touch and be felled by Szczesny for a penalty. He may have been lucky to escape a red card, but there was nothing lucky about the penalty that Frank Lampard dispatched low to his left to give Chelsea the 2-0 lead.
Torres failed to give the side the 3-0 lead that their play deserved just before the half when a poor clearance fell to him just inside the 18-yard box, but the Spaniard could only fire his volley into the second level of the Shed.
Wenger sent his side out into the cold early after the restart, and it seemed to wake them up with Walcott beginning to find space running at the back line. He could have equalised just minutes after the break, but could only fire a shot straight at Petr Cech. Walcott would get his goal when he finally broke the offside trap and finished with consummate ease to narrow the gap to 2-1.
That late goal will have resurrected the ghosts of throwing away a 2-0 lead at home against Southampton and the Chelsea faithful can’t be faulted for feeling a few nerves as Arsenal began to continue to press the attack in the second half. Walcott continued to prove to be a handful with the ball at his feet, and a series of free kicks saw Santi Cazorla with chances to strike at goal.
Torres had the perfect chance to put the match to rest in the 75th minute when after a bit of scrappy play, he showed flashes of the Fernando of old by knocking the ball by Thomas Vermaelan and beating him for pace. However, the current Fernando then appeared with a terrible first touch that took the ball straight into the arms of Szczesny. That would be his last contribution and on came Demba Ba.
Ba had his chance to score a third when a wonderful pass from Eden Hazard sent Ba clear. With Szczesny coming out of the area to challenge, Ba took the ball wide around him, but saw his shot saved off the line by Vermaelan.
The points would finally be in the bag for the Blues with Gary Cahill making a last ditch challenge that prevented Walcott from getting another shot at goal and Cech watching as a late header from Giroud landed on the top of the net.