Premier League – Drogba fires Chelsea into second
The Ivorian striker pounced twice in eight second half minutes after Chelsea had fallen behind to Bacary Sagna‘s opener.
The result saw Avram Grant’s side leapfrog the Gunners into second place, five points behind leaders Manchester United, while Arsenal’s stuttering title bid took a potentially fatal turn.
United’s earlier win over Liverpool turned the clash at Stamford Bridge into a must-win game for both clubs, with neither side wanting to give up further ground on the league leaders.
The situation cried out for attacking football, but there was little to get excited about during the first period as both sides struggled to find a way through.
Michael Ballack had earlier brought Almunia into action with a curler from a free-kick but other than that – and a woeful 41st minute air shot by Salomon Kalou – Petr Cech‘s stand-in had little reason to be concerned during the opening period.
At the other end, Robin Van Persie proved he is still a couple of games away from full sharpness by firing a wild effort over the bar and seeing a snap shot from the edge of the box easily saved by Carlo Cudicini.
Former Chelsea defender William Gallas, booed for his every touch, came close for Arsenal on 40 minutes, sliding in at the far post to hit the woodwork, but his effort would not have counted as the whistle had already sounded.
The second half started in a much more entertaining vein, Mathieu Flamini bringing a smart stop out of Cudicini before the breakthrough was made.
The opener came from an unlikely source as Sagna netted his first goal in an Arsenal shirt, nipping in front of Frank Lampard to head home at the near post from a corner.
The goal was just what the game needed and Chelsea boss Avram Grant – so often criticised for not winning the big games – realised his side needed to come out and attack if their title hopes were to survive.
Grant reacted by sending on Nicolas Anelka and Juliano Belletti for Ballack and Claude Makelele. Neither of the departing players seemed too enamoured with their coach’s decision – and neither were the Stamford Bridge crowd, who sang ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’.
Those doubters were soon silenced as two Drogba goals in quick succession – the second set up by Anelka – turned the game on its head.
The first was real route-one stuff, Drogba taking down a long ball on his chest, briefing losing control before it fell kindly to him once again on the edge of the area. He needed no second invitation, and he fired an unstoppable shot past Almunia into the bottom corner.
There was a further whiff of the long ball game for the second too, as Anelka flicked on a deep cross for Drogba to hammer home an instinctive first time effort.
The mood inside Stamford Bridge changed immediately, and there was even time for Drogba to nearly grab a hat-trick. Only a super save from Almunia denied him the match ball as time wound down.
United still have to travel to Stamford Bridge – on April 26 – in what is increasingly looking like the game that could decide the destination of this year’s Premier League trophy.