A poor second-half cost Chelsea dear against Arsenal in an enthralling London derby which saw eight goals during a mad ninety minutes. Goals from Frank Lampard, John Terry and Juan Mata were not enough, as the away side profited from strikes by Robin van Persie – who netted a hat-trick – Andre Santos and Theo Walcott, as well as some shocking Chelsea defending. It wasn’t quite an 8-2 or 6-1 defeat, but it felt just as bad.
Chelsea were able to call upon the services of Fernando Torres for his first Premier League outing since he scored and got himself sent-off against Swansea last month. David Luiz – responsible for a few defensive errors in the QPR defeat a week ago – dropped to the bench, with Branislav Ivanovic preferred alongside John Terry in the centre of defence.
But strong defenders seemed absent at the beginning of the match, with both sides enjoying freedom in the opposing final third. Ashley Cole was able to get in behind Johan Djourou on a couple of occasions, only to see nothing come of the final ball.
Similarly, Theo Walcott teased a couple of crosses into the box early on, finding Gervinho with an easy ball and Robin van Persie with a slightly trickier one. The former – inexcusably – slid the ball wide, while the latter volleyed over while Petr Cech appeared to bemoan a lack of protection from his wayward defenders.
Despite these lapses, the Blues continued to push on, and their attacking ambition soon paid off. Juan Mata collected the ball near the byline on the right-hand side of the pitch, cut the ball back, and whipped in a left-footed cross, aiming for the penalty spot. The onrushing Lampard, marshalled by Per Mertesacker until the German defender crucially and cruelly slipped, stooped to head home past a rooted Wojciech Szczęsny in the Arsenal goal.
The opener came with the run of play, although the away side did appear threatening when they fought back, creating some dangerous chances without really threatening the scoreline. Chelsea continued to lead in the possession stakes with some neat interplay, and half-chances from Cole and Daniel Sturridge followed.
But it was possession for the sake of it, and a cutting edge was missing. Thus, it was no surprise when Arsenal hit back for an equaliser with ten minutes of the first-half to play. A good spell of keep-ball saw Aaron Ramsey slide an insightful ball through to Gervinho, who broke the offside trap and found himself with only Cech to beat. Unselfishly, the Ivorian striker played the ball left to his team-mate van Persie, who finished into an empty net.
Chelsea looked to go ahead again immediately, but a Ramires cross was turned in by an offside Sturridge, and the goal was rightfully disallowed.
Just before half-time, however, the home side did regain the lead. A Lampard corner was swung in, and met by – who else? – John Terry, who managed to steer his effort just wide of a sprawling Szczęsny and into the corner of the net for 2-1.
Three goals seemed just enough for an opening half which, at times, seemed chaotic and wide open. Neither defence seemed on top, and it appeared to be a case of just aiming to score one more than the opposition for both sides.
There was an early chance for van Persie – who shot straight at Cech from a tight angle – before Torres saw a long-range effort saved soon after. The Spaniard was having one of his isolated spells upfront, but his sharp shot was a reminder of his talents.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t clinical enough, and Chelsea were made to pay for more profligacy. Andre Santos managed to sneak in behind the Blues’ defence, and the left-back – who had looked poor defensively in the first-half – attacked with intent, sending a shot past Cech for another Arsenal equaliser.
Then, seemingly seconds after the restart, the Blues made progress on their own left-side, with Cole rushing on to to a lofted ball, bearing down on the penalty area. Szczęsny sensed danger and came flying out of the box, clattering Cole in the process. Chelsea fans – witnesses to three red-cards inside a week – were shocked to see the goalkeeper only collect a caution for his assault upon the former Arsenal man, Cole. Lampard saw his resulting free-kick parried away.
Chelsea kept looking for openings, but again left spaces at the back. When Walcott collected the ball mid-way into the Blues’ half, and promptly fell over, it appeared as if a chance of an Arsenal attack had been wasted. Somehow, Walcott was allowed to regain his footing, collect the ball, and swivel through four blue shirts to advance into the box. A cool finish followed, and Arsenal led for the first time in the match, a feat which had previously seemed unlikely when Lampard scored the opener early on.
Frustration took over as Chelsea sought a way back into the game. Arsenal stayed stoic at the back as the Blues struggled to penetrate, with Florent Malouda, Romelu Lukaku and Raul Meireles thrown on during the remaining minutes in an attempt to unsettle the away side.
It would need something special, and with ten minutes left on the clock, something special was what the Stamford Bridge fans were given. The ball was played into Mata by Meireles just outside the Arsenal box after a suspect American Football style block-challenge by Lukaku allowed the Portuguese midfielder some ground to run into. Out of nowhere, Mata unleashed a dipping effort which beat Szczęsny all ends up. A magnificent strike befitting of a lively game.
Then the sublime turned into the ridiculous. A hopeful through-ball should have been easily cleared by Terry, but the Chelsea captain slipped, leaving van Persie with a clear run on goal. He side-stepped the challenge from Cech and bagged his second of the game – Arsenal’s fourth. Fitting, perhaps, that with all the dispute over the Stamford Bridge pitch ownership this week, van Persie was awarded with as much ground as he ever wanted for free.
A third goal for the Dutchman late on – a swerving, powerful shot after an incisive break away – rubbed it in even more. Chelsea simply fell apart, and deserved the defeat.