Arsenal. Didier Drogba. Chelsea win. The three sentences which tell you everything you need to know about a modern-day Blues V Gunners battle at Stamford Bridge. Once again, the Ivorian striker proved to be more than a thorn in the side of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, who saw his team thwarted by a Chelsea eleven with a cutting edge and a resilient backline.
Alex’s late goal – a stunning, swerving free-kick –secured the points for Carlo Ancelotti’s table-toppers, but as usual, it is Drogba who will feature in all the headlines, as well as Wenger’s nightmares.
Drogba’s recent record against Arsenal was highly-publicised ahead of the meeting, and after a subdued performance in last weekend’s defeat against Manchester City, all eyes were on the striker from the off. Chelsea’s settled side was still without the sidelined Frank Lampard, but it did feature the likes of Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, this season’s hotshots helping to fill the void which the freescoring midfielder has left in his absence.
Arsenal’s men are still Wenger’s boys; still yet to deliver on their promise, but seemingly forever entrusted with his unshakeable faith. Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, et al; all undoubtedly talented but all unquestionably devoid of medals, trophies and currently destined to have their names punctuated with questions of what could have been, even what should have been. Arsenal’s eleven were backed up by the much-maligned goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, encapsulating Wenger’s refusal to turn a player with supposed potential out, no matter how said player eventually turns out.
The opening minutes were frantic and refreshing following the pragmatic nature of the Man City game a weekend ago. Arsenal were quickest to threaten, with Marouane Chamakh and Bacary Sagna wasting chances within the first minute. Andrey Arshavin also forced a sprawling one-handed save from Petr Cech after shooting from range.
But Chelsea were strong and committed, and rebuffed Arsenal’s flirtatious approach. Led by John Terry and Alex, with John Obi Mikel and Essien adding muscle to the midfield, Chelsea went ahead.
For all Arsenal’s verve, Chelsea had sheer determination, and when Ramires won the ball deep into the away side’s half, Ashley Cole made a foray into his former charges danger area. The Brazilian fed the left-back, who whipped a low ball into the box. The rampaging Drogba’s neat touch struck the near post before crossing the line, while Fabianski stood stranded in the middle of his goal. The rest of us? We were wondering how Drogba did it. The finish was slightly reminiscent of Joe Cole’s opener at Old Trafford at the end of last season; the implications of Drogba’s strike could prove to be similar.
Arsenal were hit with a sucker-punch, having spent most of the game probing and pushing for an advantage. In a matter of seconds, they were on the ropes.
After the break, Anelka could have made it two, while Chamakh could have equalised. With the score still 1-0, nerves filled Stamford Bridge. A harshly disallowed Cole effort only added to the worry.
But Anelka was at the heart of Chelsea’s eventual second, after the fleet-footed Frenchman was fouled just outside of the box.
Typically, Drogba was the focal point. He stood over the ball with intent, but just over his shoulder was the hulking figure of Alex. Having hit the post with a similar effort against Marseille in the midweek Champions League fixture, he must have been practising ever since, as he got the nod ahead of Drogba and unleashed a rocket through the Arsenal wall. Fabianski was again helpless, as the ball arced past him into the top corner of the goal.
Arsenal were left with no option but to go for broke, and gaps opened up at the back which Cole and Essien almost exploited. In the end, Chelsea settled for two, putting themselves four points clear of Man City in the title race, and seven ahead of Arsenal.
The headlines could have been written before this game: Drogba the hero; Chelsea’s substance too much for Arsenal’s style; Arsenal still not ready to challenge for major honours. History may be repeating itself, yet again, but while Chelsea are beating Arsenal and riding high at the top of the league, nobody in and around Stamford Bridge will be complaining.
Chelsea have Drogba to thank, while Arsenal may have Wenger to blame.