Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis
Subs: Ospina, Holding, Gibbs, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lucas, Giroud
In a rare and delightful turn up for the books, Arsenal romped to a 3-0 win against Chelsea at the Emirates. The Gunners’ last Premier League win against the Blues came in October 2011, though this was a rather more routine affair than that dramatic 5-3 triumph at Stamford Bridge.
Arsene Wenger went with the same team that beat Hull last weekend, with Granit Xhaka left on the bench despite his long-range rockets against Mike Phelan’s side and Nottingham Forest in the midweek. Despite widespread calls for his inclusion, Arsenal certainly didn’t miss him in the opening period of the match.
The game started predictably enough, Chelsea sitting back and allowing Arsenal to have plenty of the ball. There was a good chance in the third minute when, having stroked a pass to Hector Bellerin on the right and received a return ball, Santi Cazorla curled a shot on target, only to see it palmed away by Thibaut Courtois. Things settled down a little after that, before Alexis Sanchez sent a half chance sailing over the bar from the edge of the box. Then, in the 11th minute, there was a breakthrough. Sanchez caught Gary Cahill in possession, bore down on goal and, at the perfect moment, lofted the ball over Courtois. 1-0.
Chelsea began to sit off even further, and it cost them once again almost immediately. After a fluid passing move, Alex Iwobi set Bellerin away on the right, and he crossed for Theo Walcott to slot home from close range. Conte’s defensive gameplan was in tatters and, with only 15 minutes on the clock, Arsenal were in an ideal position. If Chelsea had been intending to control the game from deep, they had made pretty much the worst start imaginable.
Five minutes later, Chelsea had their first real chance of the match. Eden Hazard pulled the strings on the counter attack, setting up Willian in a good position on the right. He fired low, and watched as his shot zipped past the far post. It was something of a wakeup call for the home team, and a reminder that Conte’s side still had a quivering sting in the tail.
Arsenal were forced into a spell of defending after that, but almost caught Chelsea on the counter around the 30-minute mark. Sanchez was instrumental in a quick breakaway, before Branislav Ivanovic brought Iwobi down with a clever tug just outside the box. He received a caution, and it could have been worse for Chelsea. Sanchez saw his sweet free kick deflect off the Chelsea wall, but not before Courtois had dived frantically towards the top right.
Having picked up a knock in an earlier challenge with N’Golo Kante, Coquelin was replaced by Granit Xhaka a couple of minutes later. Arsenal took a little while to get back into the swing of things, though they continued to edge Chelsea in possession, and press them high up the pitch without the ball. It was impressive play from the home side, who seemed generally confident in both attack and defence, and more balanced than in any other game so far this season. That confidence showed once more when, on 40 minutes, Mesut Ozil pivoted beautifully in the middle of the park, charged up the pitch, exchanged passes with Sanchez and then scuffed the ball past Courtois and in off the post. Christ, this was Arsenal against Chelsea, and it was 3-0 before half time.
With a half chance for Eden Hazard, the first half came to a close. Chelsea regrouped somewhat in the interim and initially put Arsenal under pressure. The home side could have scored on the counter attack once again, however, with Walcott breaking on the right before clipping a cross just over the head of an onrushing Sanchez. Cesc Fabregas departed to a mixed reception in the 53rd minute, Conte bringing on Marcus Alonso in an attempt to reshape the back four into a back three.
That didn’t seem to help the visitors much, with Arsenal rampant for the next 10 minutes or so. Despite tearing through the Chelsea defence time and time again, Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott and co. were lacking a killer final ball. Chelsea regained a bit of composure after that, but the home side continued to defend well when called upon. Theo Walcott had another good chance in the 68th minute but, having got behind the Chelsea defence, his low shot was saved at the feet of Courtois.
The fantastic Alex Iwobi came off immediately afterwards, replaced by Kieran ‘all the full-backs’ Gibbs. While Arsenal could have been forgiven for going fully defensive at this point, they continued to look for opportunities on the counter and make problems for the shambolic Chelsea defence. The visitors tested Petr Cech a few times in the last 10 minutes, which was more than they had managed up until then.
Olivier Giroud had a half chance in added time, but his effort was blocked at close range. That brought an end to the game, with Arsenal receiving a standing ovation for their efforts. With the win heralding Arsene Wenger’s 20th anniversary at the club, we think it’s safe to say this match will be more fondly remembered than the last milestone he marked against Chelsea. After all, beating the West Londoners is always really, really nice.