Arsenal 0 - 3 Chelsea
The news of Robin van Persie’s prolonged absence from the Arsenal starting lineup overshadowed the clubs recent progression into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The efforts of the now infamous Serbian doctor proved fruitless as the medical team at the Emirates concluded that the Dutch international would have to go under the knife in order to recover from his torn ankle ligaments.
Subsequently the pressure was heaped onto Arsene Wenger’s side for their evening clash with Chelsea. Many quarters of the media billed it as a season-defining match for the Gunners.
Lose and they could dismiss any chance of claiming a 14th league title this season.
The early stages of the match saw the home side dominate proceedings with some slick passing on the greasy Emirates surface. Yet despite enjoying an overwhelmingly higher percentage of possession, Arsenal lacked that incisive final pass.
Chelsea looked edgy. Their recent turbulent travels in the Premier League—losses at Villa Park and the JJB Stadium—appeared to be playing on their minds.
Ashley Cole received his traditional and very much compulsory hostile welcome from the Arsenal fans. Ironically, Arsenal were missing both first and second choice left backs, yet Armand Traore more than adequately replaced the missing Clichy and Gibbs.
Chelsea overcame their early jitters and soon established a foothold in the match and it was the visitors that had the first chance.
Frank Lampard’s deft pass trickled to the right of the pitch, finding Nicolas Anelka who bore down on the Arsenal goal. However, just as he steadied himself, he received a tug to his waist, as Bacary Sagna made a last-ditch intervention.
It seemed a strong penalty shout, but Andre Marriner waved play on. It was a warning sign that Arsenal failed to take heed off.
The game was ebbing and flowing towards half time and seemed destined to finish 0-0 at the break, affording both managers a welcome opportunity to tweak their respective sides. But three minutes before the whistle, the home side fell behind.
Cole darted down the left wing, providing a teasing cross which Gallas and Vermaelan failed to deal with, allowing Didier Drogba to waltz in unmarked and sidefoot the ball past Almunia from six yards. It was a hammer blow for Arsene Wenger’s side.
They failed to recover from the setback and see out the remaining moments of the first half and overtly allowed Chelsea to tighten their grip on the match.
Another surging Ashley Cole run saw the England international whip in a dangerous cross. Gallas opted to leave the ball which in turn ricocheted off Vermaelan’s knee and ultimately into the vacated Arsenal goal.
Arsene Wenger introduced the light-footed Theo Walcott at the start of the second half, as the French manager looked to the winger to make an impact on the resolute Chelsea rearguard.
In the 48th minute, the Gunners were unfortunate to have what appeared a valid goal scratched off by referee Andre Marriner after they had finally managed to carve open the away defence.
Eduardo challenged Cech for the ball, albeit with his foot elevated off the ground, but Cech hadn’t grasped the ball with both hands. Arshavin stroked the ball into the net only for it to be ruled out.
Cesc Fabregas performed admirably in midfield. The Spanish maestro looked to ignite his team into action as Arshavin appeared tired and ineffective.
The Russian did produce a divine ball for Eduardo on 56 minutes. But the Croatian was denied a striking opportunity by a terrific tackle by John Terry. The No. 9 was subsequently hauled off for Carlos Vela.
The remaining 20-odd minutes was played almost entirely in the Chelsea half. Yet Mikel and Essien provided the necessary insurance cover in front of their back four.
Arsenal were hardly afforded a sniff at Cech’s goal.
In fact, it was Essien who helped create Chelsea’s third goal. He brushed off the attentions of Fabregas and the frustrated Arsenal skipper hacked down the Ghanaian.
Drogba immediately placed the ball down before hammering a stunning free kick past the helpless Alumnia, sealing all three points for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
The result sees Chelsea extend their lead to five points over title rivals Manchester United. Meanwhile Arsenal remain stationary behind fellow London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore, Fabregas, Song, Denilson, Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole, Mikel, Essien, Lampard, J Cole, Anelka, Drogba.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the Match: John Terry