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Song sets the tone for Arsenal in emphatic win over Chelsea

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1

Song 44, Fàbregas 51, Walcott 53; Ivanović 57

Two weeks to the day after their tame surrender at Old Trafford, Arsenal finally laid the Ghost of Christmas Past to rest. Three goals in ten minutes either side of half-time ensured a deserved end to their run of four Premier League defeats against Chelsea and moved them back into second spot, two points behind Manchester United.

After the blunt and lacklustre performance against United, Arsène Wenger signalled his attacking intentions by starting Cesc Fàbregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, all of whom had benefitted from the intervening two weeks to regain full fitness. A fit-again Lukasz Fabiański resumed in goal.

Fabiański

Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy

Song – Wilshere

Fàbregas

Walcott – van Persie – Nasri

For Chelsea, Frank Lampard made his first league start since late August, while Didier Drogba started up front, with former Arsenal striker Nicolas Anelka unavailable with a knee injury.

Song was defensively solid, and provided a cool finish to open the scoring on 44 minutes (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

In an energetic, feisty start to the game, Arsenal looked more threatening in the first ten minutes than they had in the entire 90 at Old Trafford. Walcott and Samir Nasri looked bright down the flanks early on, but the first opening came from a central position as Alex Song chipped a delicate ball over the Chelsea defence for van Persie. However, the Dutchman failed to make contact with the ball as it dropped over his shoulder.

Chelsea, aside from a couple of speculative efforts from Drogba, were largely blunted in the opening exchanges. Indeed, on a number of occasions they were forced to resort to fouls to stem Arsenal’s quick passing game. From one such foul, Nasri’s 25-yard free kick was well held by Petr Čech, and a couple of minutes later a long ball found Walcott in a foot race with John Terry, but the winger’s first touch let him down badly.

With space at a premium in midfield, a set-piece looked like Arsenal’s best opportunity to prise open the Chelsea defence. Twice van Persie whipped in devilish crosses from dead balls which Marouane Chamakh, sat on the bench, would dearly have loved to have been on the end of.

In the final ten minutes of the half, Arsenal gradually began to apply some serious pressure on the Chelsea goal. Twice Walcott squeezed in behind Chelsea, but was unable to find a teammate. Nasri, with quick feet and perfect control, then floated a quick chip towards the top corner which Čech, at full stretch, just managed to claw away.

The goal was coming, and for once Arsenal managed to convert their threat as half-time loomed large. If the build-up was scrappy as the ball pinged about chaotically on the edge of the Chelsea area, the finish was clinical. Fàbregas burst into the box, Paulo Ferreira tripped him – it looked a certain penalty – but Song seized on to the loose ball and drilled a low shot inside the far post, removing the need for the referee’s intervention.

Fàbregas scored the second and laid on the decisive third goal for Theo Walcott (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Needing to chase the game – Chelsea had failed to get a shot on target in the entire first half – Carlo Ancelotti sent on Ramires for John Obi Mikel at the interval. The change made little difference, however. In the space of two minutes, Fàbregas and Walcott combined to deadly effect to put the game beyond the champions’ reach. Michael Essien tackled van Persie but sent the ball back towards his own goal. Walcott was faster to react than Ashley Cole, racing on to the ball and then, as Čech advanced, rolling it into his captain’s path for a simple tap-in.

His tail up, Walcott then caught Florent Malouda in possession, and after a quick exchange with Fàbregas made no mistake slotting home from the edge of the box.

But Chelsea are not Premier League champions for nothing. Within four minutes they reduced the deficit as Branislav Ivanović nodded in a Drogba free kick, and Arsenal then had to weather a five-minute storm as the visitors pressed for a second.

However, weather the storm they did. And with the game opening up, opportunities were always going to appear for Arsenal to find a fourth goal on the counter-attack. One lightning-fast break by Walcott resulted in Nasri flicking a tame effort with the outside of his boot straight at Čech. Substitute Abou Diaby also wasted a golden chance, dithering as he switched the ball from his weaker left foot to his right.

It mattered not. With Chelsea offering little threat, and with the excellent Johan Djourou handling Drogba’s pace and power superbly, the home side were able to see out the game without too many alarms, leap-frogging Manchester City to reclaim second spot in doing so.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the match, Wenger was asked what the key to victory had been:

Certainly the focus of the team and the discipline of the team. [We] looked less nervous – less adventurous at some stages, maybe – but with a stronger discipline.

He was also pleased with his side’s improved defensive solidity:

We were quite solid. They scored on a set-piece – Drogba takes them very, very well – but overall in the open game we were very solid.

And when asked what this victory would give his side, he replied:

Let’s hope it strengthens our belief that we can chase for the championship, and that it strengthens our belief as well that we are on the right way. There is still some room for improvement and I’m confident it will encourage the team to continue to practise very hard and to focus well together.

It is hard to believe that the team who dominated Chelsea here is the same one who capitulated so feebly at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. The differences were plain for all to see. There was a much greater energy throughout the side, with the entire team pressing their opponents across midfield and cutting off the supply lines to Drogba. Song in particular found exactly the right balance, sticking manfully to his defensive duties and venturing forward only occasionally with devastating effect. This was his best performance of the season. But Jack Wilshere also played his part, hassling and harrying willingly and allowing Fàbregas the freedom to stay forward.

Djourou shone at the heart of the Arsenal defence (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Defensively, despite the odd moment of confusion and slightly lax defending on the Chelsea goal, this was one of the most solid performances of the season. Djourou was the key here, displaying strength and acute positional awareness to cut out threatening balls and prevent Drogba from turning with the ball. Beside him, Laurent Koscielny had his usual handful of wobbly moments – as did Gaël Clichy – but this was an altogether more assertive performance from a back four which has too often been passive when pressed by opponents. The fact that Fabiański barely had to make a save worthy of the name throughout the match – he could not be blamed for the goal – was as much an indication of Arsenal’s improved organisation as it was of Chelsea’s lack of confidence.

Going forward, both Walcott and Fàbregas were in lethal form, with the former doing more than enough to ensure Cole was a virtual non-factor coming forward. Van Persie looked the sharpest he has done since his return, and while Nasri showed only in flashes, he worked hard and his constant threat helped pin Chelsea back down their right flank.

Arsenal will now look to exploit this confidence-building result as they travel to Wigan on Wednesday and Birmingham on Saturday, before hosting Manchester City on Wednesday week. A return of seven points from these three games is the minimum requirement if they are to maintain the pressure on United at the top of the table. The players will no doubt revel in this emphatic victory – and deservedly so – but the hard work is only just beginning.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

3 Responses to Song sets the tone for Arsenal in emphatic win over Chelsea

  1. The only bad thing from the victory was our defending on set plays especially after the third goal went in. It was also a good thing Arshavin did not start or else he’d have given away possession too easily.

  2. Pingback: High-five for Arsenal as van Persie shreds Chelsea’s defence « The armchair sports fan

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