Result: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea
Competition: Premier League
Date: 26 December 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Tierney, Holding, Pablo Mari, Elneny, Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Saka, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Ceballos, Aubameyang, Maitland-Niles, Soares, Pepe, Mustafi, Willock, Nketiah
Arsenal turned the form book on its head to secure a 3-1 victory against Chelsea that eases the pressure on manager Mikel Arteta.
Alex Lacazette’s penalty and Granit Xhaka’s free-kick put the home side in charge at the break before Bukayo Saka chipped a third.
The Gunners squandered several chances to extend the lead before enduring a nervy climax after Tammy Abraham reduced the deficit and Jorginho had a penalty saved by Leno.
Gabriel Martinelli recovered from Tuesday’s kick on the shin to lead the line for the second game in a row. It wasn’t such good news for his Brazilian compatriots. Before kick-off it was confirmed that Willian and David Luiz were struggling with illness and that Gabriel was self-isolating having come into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. In their place, Emile Smith Rowe and Pablo Mari were handed first Premier League starts of the season and Granit Xhaka, back from suspension, was recalled to the starting lineup. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, struggling with a calf problem, was included on the bench. Hector Bellerin captained the side.
Arsenal made a very positive start and controlled the opening minutes targeting both flanks with wilful running by the full-backs. It nearly paid dividends immediately. Inside 40 seconds, Bellerin played in a dangerous cross from the right that Martinelli scuffed wide. Not long after a ricochet in the box saw the box pop off Lacazette’s head into Mendy’s hands.
Having looked a bit nervy, Chelsea came back into things and started to knock the ball around confidently. As was the case in the opening stages of the FA Cup final, Pulisic’s running was a problem. On 12 minutes, Xhaka ‘dealt’ with him by taking his legs out from behind. Mount took the resulting free-kick and clipped the outside of the post as Leno scrambled across his line.
It was tit-for-tat for 15 minutes or so. Holding did well to block an attempt by Wener after Elneny’s carelessness had accidentally sprung a Chelsea counter. Pablo Mari, already in the book for a late challenge on Kovacic, also did well on a couple of occasions to stop Abraham. At the other end, Smith Rowe couldn’t get on the end of a Bellerin cutback.
While we lacked confidence on the ball, you couldn’t deny the energy the players were putting into things. Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe all looked to snap into challenge and that became contagious as Lacazette and Xhaka also pushed up high. We were rewarded for the effort.
On 33 minutes, Xhaka sprayed a lovely pass out to Tierney who darted inside James and then went down as the Chelsea full-back clumsily tried to rescue the situation. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. The contact wasn’t as clearcut as it looked originally but the decision, even after a review by VAR, stood. Lacazette stepped up and sent Mendy the wrong way. (1-0)
Aside from a Werner shot that went wide without troubling Leno, we were relatively comfortable. The aim was to get to the break with our lead intact. We went one better.
On 43 minutes Kante’s late challenge on Saka saw us win a free-kick on the edge of the box and after referee Oliver denied us the chance to take it quickly, Xhaka and Lacazette had a conversation about who should get the honours. The Swiss stepped up and curled an absolute beauty over the wall and out of the reach of Mendy. He was mobbed on the spot by his teammates. (2-0)
Chelsea made a double change at the break bringing on Hudson-Odoi and Jorginho. The former was quick to whip in a brilliant ball that Bellerin had to head clear from under his own bar.
Just as you sensed we might have to mount a rearguard action for 40 minutes, we went and extended our lead out of the blue.
Saka, given the ball by Smith Rowe on the right edge of the box, seemed to be trying to cross for Martinelli at the back post but, possibly having spotted Mendy off his line, clipped a delicious chip over the keeper which went in off the post. It was hard to tell if he meant it, he certainly didn’t give anything away with his celebration. (3-0)
Martinelli had two chances to further extend our lead. First, he tried an overhead kick that Mendy gathered, then the French keeper did well to get down to his right after the Brazilian had started and ended a quick counter connecting with a Tierney pullback.
We kept pushing forward. Willock, on for Smith Rowe, skied from a tight angle when a pass to Lacazette might have been the better option. Martinelli made it to the 70 minutes mark before he was given a breather. Pepe came on in his place.
Thiago Silva had a header over the bar from a corner but heading into the final 15 minutes, Lampard’s men hadn’t had a shot on target. An injury to Pablo Mari, who went knee-to-knee with Abraham, wasted valuable minutes. While the Spaniard received treatment off the field, Abraham headed another effort over.
Lacazette really should have put things beyond doubt with seven minutes remaining but couldn’t curl his effort over Mendy after pressuring the keeper into a loose pass. From the resulting corner, Elneny crashed a shot against the bar and Holding forced another saved as the ball bounced around. Surely that wouldn’t prove costly? Erm…
Almost immediately, Chelsea went up the other end and did put the ball in the back of the net. The linesman flagged Abraham offside after he chested home Hudson-Odoi’s cross but the decision was reviewed and the goal stood. Surely not. (3-1)
Thiago Silva really should have reduced the deficit further with 90 seconds to go but his header flew wide. To ratchet up the nerves the Blues then went and won a penalty when Pablo Mari fouled Mason Mount.
Jorginho did his usual hop, skip and jump but Leno outwitted him, diving to his left and making the save. He even dived on the loose ball before getting the biggest of hugs from handsome Pablo who knew the German had dug him out of a hole. (missed penalty)
The Blues kept pushing but last-ditch defending and some more solid keeping from Leno saw us over the line.
After a torrid run of form, this was a very welcome three points against a side who would have gone second had they won. It’s too early to say if it’s a turning point, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.