Those that read my pre-match review must have thought I’d been at the Sherry after I claimed that Arsenal could get a much-needed win against Chelsea. Rather than a claim, I had some form of insight, the result seemed almost inevitable after a poor run of results and dire performances. Weeks of bad luck and shocking form including a goal drought from open play were due to end and Chelsea just seemed to provide the right opportunity.
The stage was set for a reversal of fortunes and the pre-match exclusions certainly influenced the change in personnel. Willian, Aubameyang, Luiz, Gabriel, and Nelson were all missing which facilitated the inclusion of Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Saka, and Mari.
The truth is that this was a relatable Arsenal performance for their long-suffering fans. A dynamic, energised, and purposeful Arsenal that seized the initiative from a Chelsea team that was expected to fight it out for the Premier League title.
The Gunners’ movement was excellent, the ambition and desire were unrecognisable from the imposters that have been draped in an Arsenal kit since the opening day win at Fulham. Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli provided the much-missed impetus and assertive influence but Bukayo Saka just edged ahead in terms of his performance. Not just for this contest, but for a succession of others that ended defeats.
Kieran Tierney was a constant source of irritation to the Chelsea defence but to a man, this Arsenal team were cohesive and as a result, they achieved the win that they were so desperate for. The young Scot made compulsive viewing on the left flank with Martinelli and the pairing of Saka and Bellerin on the right also caused its fair share of problems.
Holding loves playing Chelsea because he appears to reserve his very best performances for them. I’ve been super critical of the defender recently but he looked assured, solid, and dare I say it, reliable, but he has to translate this isolated effort into a more regular event. Xhaka made a solid contribution but he tends to have these types of games on occasion, just not often enough but this was the Xhaka Arsenal need, switched on, focused, and committed.
So on to the Arsenal vs Chelsea match, which saw the Gunners dominate their London neighbours for the first 45 minutes and it became clear early on that the hosts were fluent and operating at a new level. Closing down, pressing high, fighting for every ball, and getting forward at every opportunity, we’re all things that Arsenal were strangers to in this campaign but they tore into a flatfooted and static Chelsea, who at times seemed to lack any or all motivation.
Penalty for Arsenal and Lacazette scores from the spot
— Premier League Videos (@EPL_videos) December 26, 2020
With 33 minutes on the clock, the impressive Tierney attacked down the left with James in pursuit. The Scot took it to the byline and then cut back to his right mugging the Chelsea man. He propelled himself forward and was caught on the heel, I don’t care if it was minimal, he caught him. Penalty! Lacazette took a polished penalty from a staggering run and Arsenal were extremely good value for their lead.
The second goal came from Xhaka’s peach of a free-kick (44), which wickedly swerved past the motionless Mendy. Arsenal were in hog heaven and with the goals flying in, but still no goals from open play.
That was remedied in the second half (56) when Arsenal played out from the back and down the right with some crisp passing that began with Rob Holding. The ball eventually reached Bellerin who pushed it to Emile Smith Rowe, he popped it into acres of space for Saka to finish the move with a shot come cross, but who cares.
It was exquisite and well deserved for a game in which Arsenal were expected to roll over or wilt under pressure. Chelsea grabbed a goal in reply (85) through Tammy Abraham’s, although he was initially thought to be offside. VAR got the deciding vote and it was game on, but there was more drama to come when Mari chopped Mount in the box. Chelsea’s Jorginho telegraphed the penalty and Leno made an expected save.
Frank Lampard, who adopts the persona of an undertaker was visibly upset and critical of his side, but his failure to enlist Giroud into the game was his error. Arsenal have achieved one memorable result but they will need more if they are to get back on track and climb up the Premier League table.