Premier League – Superb Arsenal add to Chelsea woes
Arsenal shrugged off their Chelsea hoodoo with a 3-1 win over the champions at the Emirates that puts the Gunners second in the Premier League.
Chelsea, meanwhile, continue their free-fall since the sacking of assistant Ray Wilkins, lying fourth, six points off the pace and without a league win in six games.
The first half was largely played with the intensity and quality one would expect of a title clash, with Arsenal seeing more of the ball as they overran Chelsea in midfield.
With Fabregas returning to the starting XI and Robin van Persie and Walcott preferred to Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin, the Gunners were able to control the tempo while showing pace out wide, Van Persie dropping deep as the midfield pushed on.
Chelsea were, as ever, useful on the counter attack but this time Arsenal had the killer instinct to compliment their possession.
Not at first though. Van Persie missed a glorious chance to open the scoring on nine minutes after he kicked air following a superb run off the ball to meet a lobbed pass into the box, while Bakary Sagna’s brilliant cross seconds later deserved a taller target than the diminutive Walcott.
Arsenal’s first decent penalty appeal was waved away when Johan Djourou appeared to be pushed by John Terry as the Swiss defender dived in to meet a Van Persie free-kick, while the Netherlands striker appeared to be tripped by Florent Malouda although replays showed initial contact to be outside the box.
For their part the best Chelsea could manage was a long-range drive wide by Didier Drogba as the hosts continued to pressurise Carlo Ancelotti’s side, Van Persie lashing over after Fabregas put him in, Petr Cech forced into a double save by the livewire Walcott and the Czech Republic keeper pulling off an excellent stop from a Samir Nasri curler.
The Gunners finally and deservedly took the lead just before half-time as, following an enthralling passing move, Song and Jack Wilshere exchanged passes, with the England midfielder’s delicate lofted pass aimed for Fabregas but – as he tumbled under Jon Obi Mikel’s trip – Song reacted before Mark Clattenburg could blow for a penalty to drill a sweet low finish past Cech.
The second half picked up in similar fashion as, while Chelsea made greater inroads with the ball thanks to Ramires’s entry for Mikel, Arsenal looked the more likely with the Nigerian midfielder’s protecting abilities sorely missed.
That was highlighted by the next two goals, which arose from slack play in front of the back four that is non-existent when the West London side are in their pomp.
Five minutes into the second half a stray backpass from Michael Essien put Walcott through on the right, the England forward dragging Cech wide before cleverly and unselfishly cutting the ball back for Fabregas to slide an easy finish in.
Chelsea barely had time to think when it was 3-0.
Malouda was this time culpable for dithering with Walcott in attendance: the former Southampton trainee nicked the ball to Fabregas, who chipped a delightful pass in for Walcott, whose pace took him clear before he steadied and drilled a smart low finish into the bottom left.
That seemed to put the tie to bed but within two minutes Chelsea had pulled one back, Drogba’s free-kick catching Fabianski in no-man’s land, Ivanovic rising to head into the net.
Chelsea sensed an unlikely comeback but, with the returning Frank Lampard clearly not match sharp after injury and Drogba well below his dominant best, they lacked a genuine goal threat as Fabianski’s only real act was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after Salomon Kalou was caught offside.
Arsenal, meanwhile, had more chances to add to the scoreline as Nasri’s radar malfunctioned when he raced one-on-one, finishing into Cech’s arms, while substitute Tomas Rosicky put against the post to cap off a breathtaking injury-time counter attack, although he had strayed fractionally offside.
That was the final act of the match as Arsenal moved on to 35 points, four ahead of Chelsea who – before Wilkins’s surprise sacking in November – looked unstoppable in their quest to retain the Premier League.