Result: Chelsea 2-2 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 21 January 2019
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Saka, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Martinez, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Willock, Ceballos, Nketiah
Arsenal secured a remarkable 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, twice coming from behind after playing for more than an hour with ten men.
When Jorginho converted from the spot after David Luiz had been given his marching orders for conceding a penalty for a foul on Tammy Abraham, it looked like the Gunners were destined for defeat. However, Gabriel Martinelli scored a brilliant solo effort to tie the game on 63 minutes before Hector Bellerin cancelled out Cesar Azpilicueta’s late goal to cap a captain’s performance on his return from injury.
Mikel Arteta made one change from the team that started against Sheffield United, selecting the fit-again Bellerin at right-back; his first start since the 2-1 defeat to Brighton at the start of December. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who has impressed as his deputy in recent weeks, dropped to the bench. Mustafi continued in place of the sick Sokratis and Martinelli continued to cover for the suspended Aubameyang. Interestingly, six of the 18-man squad graduated from Arsenal’s Academy.
On a freezing night under the lights, Mikel Arteta was probably hoping his side would spring out of the traps as we did in the reverse fixture three weeks ago. We were bright enough, Saka and Martinelli working their way down the left and Pepe’s quick feet putting Emerson on the back foot. There was even a half chance, of sorts. The Ivorian whipping a ball from the right with his left foot that David Luiz tried to flick goalwards. He didn’t make contact.
After that it was all Chelsea. They had obviously discussed targeting Saka at left-back and launched attack after attack down his flank via Hudson-Odoi and Azpilicueta. Mustafi had to make a smart block when the pair teed up Kovacic for a shot from just inside the box. On a cold night, he took it where it hurt.
Abraham should have done better with a header that went straight at Leno, Hudson-Odoi clipped the cross bar with a shot that was probably a cross and Xhaka had to make a smart interception at the near post as the hosts notched eight corners in the opening 23 minutes. We were under pressure and not creating anything on the ball but at least we were competitive.
Unfortunately, when you field a centre-back combo of Luiz and Mustafi, you’re always walking a tightrope. On 26 minutes everything fell apart. The German’s attempt to sidefoot a bouncing ball back to Leno, should not have been a reason for alarm but he didn’t get nearly enough on it. Panic stations.
Suddenly, Abraham pounced, carried the ball around a tentative Leno who’d come out of his box and Luiz, desperately chasing from behind, took out the England striker. Referee Stuart Atwell pointed to the spot and produced a red card. The home fans, who’d been happy to boo their former player, couldn’t believe their luck. The Brazilian was mercilessly jeered off the pitch after VAR confirmed the decision. Up stepped Jorginho, he did his little skip and placed the ball to Leno’s right. (1-0)
Granit Xhaka dropped back into the centre of defence to make up the numbers which didn’t help our attempts to keep hold of the ball. We were very much under the cosh and were thankful for smart keeping from Leno who parried clear a fierce effort by Hudson-Odoi.
After 10 minutes, Arteta decided it was time to make a switch and Rob Holding stripped off, but then the Spaniard changed his mind. The centre-back was told to sit back down after Martinelli, seemingly lined up to be replaced, made a couple of exciting darts down the left. We held out until the break as the Blues went into their shell.
We were always going to have to make a change and given how ineffective he’d been, it was little surprise that Mesut Ozil was the man sacrificed. Matteo Guendouzi was sent into the fray on 55 minutes to add a bit of steel alongside Torreira.
Chelsea went back to targeting the gaps behind Saka and Bellerin but they struggled for end product as we packed the box in numbers for a series of desperate clearances.
Out of nothing. And it really was nothing. We grabbed an equaliser thanks to the sheer bloody-mindedness of Gabriel Martinelli. After carrying the ball 67 yards and evading Kante who’d slipped over in the centre circle, he tucked home past Kepa 13 seconds after Mustafi had cleared a Chelsea corner. What a goal. What composure from the youngster. It was our first shot of the night and in the process, he became the first teenager to reach 10 goals for Arsenal in a league season since Nicolas Anelka. (1-1)
We had something to cling to. You’d think we might try and defend the lead, but instead, we went for it. Lacazette put the ball in the back of the net but was correctly ruled offside.
Willian reminded us that it was a risky policy as he found space to test Leno at his near post. Abraham tried his luck with another header from a free-kick conceded by Guendouzi that earned the Frenchman a booking. And with 11 minutes left, our keeper had to make another decent stop to keep out Barkley’s header.
The pressure told with six minutes remaining. From a short corner, the home side curled a ball to the near post where Azpilicueta tapped home.
I don’t know how, but somehow we had the balls to equalise for a second time. Bellerin, cutting in off the right onto his left foot, curled home past Kepa from the edge of the box. The away end went mental. Amazingly, it’s not the first time the Spaniard has done this to Chelsea, he scored a similarly late equaliser at the Emirates a couple of seasons ago. (2-2)
Could we hold out for the remaining two minutes? Xhaka did just enough to put off Batshuayi who slid wide from three yards before Arteta wasted some time by bringing on Willock for Martinelli. What about the four minutes of stoppage time? Yes!
We might have come into the game desperate for three points but in the circumstances, a battling point away from home is a huge credit to the players. It doesn’t do much to help our league position, but it’s a performance that Arteta can get excited about. Kudos to captain Bellerin, plaudits to Martinelli and Saka and a pat on the back to Xhaka who when called upon, did brilliantly to marshall the defenders.