Regardless of the score line, coverage in the aftermath of Chelsea’s second away London derby of the season was always going to be focussed on John Terry, after he was found “guilty” by the FA earlier in the week for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, but testimony and plaudits should only be directed to Saturday’s performance at the Emirates stadium.
Without the theme of John Terry’s hate brigade being present, Saturday’s early kick off was an otherwise ordinary atmosphere usually expected by the Arsenal faithful, as after the initial boos and jeers to welcome John Terry’s opening touches rang through the stadium, the tedium practice was washed away by their affable silence with interspersed rounding’s of “come on Arsenal”, before returning to quietness as Chelsea took a stranglehold of possession during the latter periods of the second half.
The result of Saturday’s match is significant in two ways. Firstly, this was seen as the biggest test to date this season. Entering the game Arsenal were in rich form, having taken a point away against Manchester City at the Etihad and brimming with confidence following their mid-week thumping of Coventry in the Capital One Cup, sound bites were made, perhaps too prematurely, about potentially winning the Premiership. The Gunners, who had only lost twice in their last 20 home league games were to provide stiff competition in the face of a new look Chelsea side, and winning at the Emirates was never going to be easy, especially after only taking a single point from our rivals last season.
With that in mind, the second reason why Saturday’s victory was significant is more to do with the way Chelsea won. Chelsea fans would probably expect to beat Arsenal every time the two sides meet, and the fact Saturday’s win made Chelsea the first team to win three times at Emirates stadium justifies that notion. What could not have been expected prior to the match, was for Chelsea to quite frankly, outplay Arsenal.
No Chelsea did not completely dominate the game as the three shots on target confirmed, but Chelsea passed the ball slickly, moved the ball quicker, held possession longer and made more effective use of the possession whilst interchanging the play, a template archetypal of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Nobody is under illusions that brand of football is the reason why Roman Abramovich bought so heavily on creative flair in the summer, but slowly and surely the team is coming to fruition, blossoming with neat one-twos, creative thinking and methodical movement to grow into a different machine.
Saturday’s result saw the return of Juan Mata after being rested, which in turn saw the goal scoring reprise of Fernando Torres. The front four looked vibrant from the first peep of the whistle and encouraged to move aggressively forward by the defensive duo nestling behind them. Ramires and Mikel starting in their holding midfield berths for the second consecutive league game were adept in containing the advances of Arsenal. Both showed to have struck a good understanding on Saturday, with Mikel’s strength, anticipation and passing seemed to accompany Ramires’ speed, manoeuvrability and stamina, to keep a close eye on the main threat of Santi Cazorla.
The securities allowed Chelsea to get on the front foot and were rewarded in twenty minutes when Fernando Torres opened the scoring, side-footing a volley clinically inside the goalkeeper’s near post from Mata’s lofted free kick. Chelsea remained comfortable up until Arsenal’s equaliser, needing to weather a slight storm just before the pause for half time.
Arsenal continued to thrust after the restart, but the Blues managed to prevent any real opportunities, before retaking the lead through Mata’s curling free kick, evading everyone except Koscielny’s shin which the ball brushed past on its goal bound journey.
Chelsea conceded one real opportunity after that, with Cech gratefully clawing out a Lukas Podolski looping header after Ivanovic and David Luiz failed to cancel out a cross between them. After that Chelsea began their reign of good quality possession and a great tenacity to retrieve the ball back, sucking the life out of the Arsenal side before they yielded hopes of finding an equaliser.
The game was a close encounter that could have ended in a draw, but it was a confident ebbing performance by the team that game by game shows improvements in every department. Next up, Norwich.