Result: Chelsea – Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 20 April 2022
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Gabriel, Holding, Tavares, Xhaka, Elneny, Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Nketiah
Subs: Leno, Cedric, Swanson, Azeez, Lokonga, Hutchinson, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Arsenal made a huge statement of intent in the battle to finish in the top four with a stunning 4-2 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
A roller-coaster first half saw the Gunners twice take the lead through strikes from Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe only for the home side to peg us back almost immediately on each occasion; Timo Werner’s deflected strike and Cesar Azpilicueta ensuring matters were level at the break.
Mikel Arteta’s side, in desperate need of a win after three consecutive defeats, then stepped on the gas after the break with Nketiah scoring his second before Bukayo Saka sealed the points at the death from the spot after he’d been fouled by Azipilicueta.
Cedric Soares, Sambi Lokonga and Gabriel Martinelli all dropped to the bench as Mikel Arteta made three changes from the side that started the defeat to Southampton. Speaking pre-game, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel assumed we’d line up with a three-man backline and wing-backs. The German was correct, initially. Holding started in the middle, flanked by White and Gabriel with Tavares and Saka working the flanks but we soon switched to a regulation back four. In midfield, Mo Elneny, making his first league start since December, slotted in next to Granit Xhaka with Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe charged with getting the ball to Eddie Nketiah. Alex Lacazette, free of Covid-19, returned to the bench.
Comically bad defending. Brilliant finishing. Suicidal passing. Incisive attacking. Angry coaches. Great movement. With goals flowing and the fans taunting each other relentlessly, the opening 45 minutes was the Premier League at its erratic best.
Chelsea were quick out of the traps and unlucky not to score in the opening five minutes as Xhaka blocked an Alonso effort and Gabriel bailed out Ramsdale who flapped at a corner. Arsenal, initially starting with a three-man defence, looked nervy and on the ropes but still eager to play football out of the tightest of spots.
Out of nothing, we grabbed the league thanks to the persistence of Eddie Nketiah. The striker, pressing from the front, chased down Andreas Christensen, pressuring the Dane to attempt a back pass that never had enough on it. Suddenly, Eddie was in on goal with just Mendy to beat. Could he keep his head? Absolutely. With a tidy finish he lifted the ball over the keeper for his first Premier League goal in 12 months. (1-0)
Given how frenetic the early stages played out, you never sense this was a game that was going to be settled by a solitary goal and sure enough, within four minutes, the Blues had an equaliser.
If our goal was lucky, Chelsea’s opener was even more so. Loftus-Cheek stole the ball as we looked to play out fro the back, he laid it off to Werner whose effort from the edge of the box took an almighty deflection of Xhaka to wrongfoot Ramsdale. (1-1)
Mount fired over as the Blues tried to stick the knife in but we weathered the storm and came close ourselves through Nketiah after good work by Saka.
Some of the passing around the edge of our penalty area was suicidal, but when we carried the ball on the counter we looked dangerous. On 27 minutes, Xhaka wriggled out of space, fed Odegaard who in turn found Saka. The England international returned the ball to the Norwegian who laid off to Smith Rowe to pass home first time from 18-yards out. It was a stunning goal. (2-1)
Again, we could only hold onto the lead for four minutes. Alonso and Mount pressed us in the right-back position, the England man whipped in a cross and Azpiliceuta nipped between Gabriel and Tavares to divert the ball past Ramsdale. (2-2)
The end-to-end action continued with Nketiah nearly putting us back in front with an effort from range and Tavares driving low across the six-yard box. There was still time for Saka and Smith Rowe to both curl wide before referee Jon Moss blew the whistle.
Would it be more of the same after the break? You bet. Werner sent a shot into the side netting inside 30 seconds to get things going before we worked our way back up the pitch. Our pressing continued to pose the home side issues and we again forced an error that led to us again restoring our lead.
Tavares did well pouncing on a loose ball on the left, pinged a pass to Nketiah who tried to spin in the box, lost the ball under a challenge from substitute Thiago Silva, won it again and somehow still found space to toe-poke past Mendy. Alex Lacazette, warming up on the touchline, was the first on the scene to congratulate the youngster as the travelling fans went absolutely ballistic. (3-2)
Given the pattern of the match, sitting deep and trying to soak up the pressure didn’t feel like a sound option but with a couple of substitutions, Martinelli for Nketiah, who’d run himself into the ground, and Cedric for Smith Rowe, you sensed we might try it and hope for another goal on the counter.
After a combination of Ramsdale, Gabriel and White prevented the Blues from another quick reply, we three times we had chances to do exactly only to be let down by a lack of composure at the vital moment. Mendy pounced on a ball destined for Martinelli, Saka lost his feet and Cedric, charging towards goal, made the wrong decision to pick out Tavares who shot wildly wide wide when Martinelli was free inside the six-yard box.
Finally, our pressure told. With a minute remaining, Martinelli freed Cedric down the right and the Portuguse swung a cross towards Saka who was hauled to the floor by Azipilicueta. Jon Moss had no choice but to point to the spot and despite an almighty melee, where the home players moaned and Gabriel earned a booking, his initial decision was never in doubt. Saka stepped up to bury the penalty and to take the points back to North London. (4-2)
The win means we’re level on points heading into this weekend’s match with Manchester United. Sp*rs have a better goal difference, but they also have a tricky match under the lights at Brentford on Saturday evening. Six games left. Everything to play for.