x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Chelsea's potent lesson as Van Persie and Arsenal breach the Bridge

On an afternoon Frank Lampard opened the scoring with Chelsea's 6,000th league goal every other landmark in the game against Arsenal was horrific.

Robin van Persie completed his hat-trick against Chelsea, after a John Terry slip left him one-on-one with Petr Cech.
Robin van Persie completed his hat-trick against Chelsea, after a John Terry slip left him one-on-one with Petr Cech.

So Roman Abramovich, are you enjoying this? The goals and drama you demanded from Chelsea fixtures are coming in abundance. Prioritising attack over defence? Done as requested. The recovery of the title? Sorry, that is not going to be part of this season's package.

Still revelling in a hat-trick that brought Arsenal within three points of London's strongest team, Robin van Persie described Stamford Bridge as "probably top three or four in the world of hardest grounds".

So invigorating was this win for Arsenal you could excuse their captain the error, but he should have been using the past tense. Chelsea no longer know how to defend.

Twice ahead, 2-1 up at the interval, the home side contrived to concede four times in a debilitating secondbhalf, losing 5-3 to their London rivals.

There could be none of the recent excuses about red-card enforced shortage of bodies, Chelsea had simple been turned over by their inability to control opponents whose own strengths were all on the front foot.

On an afternoon Frank Lampard opened the scoring with his club's 6,000th league goal every other landmark was horrific.

Never before had Chelsea conceded five Premier League goals at home. Not since 1934 has Arsenal come to Stamford Bridge and scored so many.

A ninth consecutive fixture without a clean sheet represented their worst sequence in England's top tier since Claudio Ranieri's last season as manager.

A year later, Jose Mourinho changed all that, galloping his new charges to the title with a still unequalled low of 15 Premier League goals conceded. Less than a third of the way into Andre Villas-Boas's first season as Chelsea manager, his team have already lost the same number.

Errors abounded here. Ashley Cole was outplayed by Theo Walcott as chance after chance emerged from Chelsea's left flank.

Jose Bosingwa was caught horribly out of position for Andre Santos's second-half equaliser. Branislav Ivanovic lost his bearings for Van Persie's first goal. But at the centre of the carnage lay John Terry. Quite literally.

A week in which England wondered if its national team's captain multiple character flaws included outright racism seemed set for pugnacious conclusion when Terry exploited Per Mertesacker's loose marking to make it 2-1. Emboldened by Chelsea's overzealous tactics, however, Arsenal brought the darkness back.

As per the owner's wishes, Villas-Boas had his team push forward, seeking to exploit Arsenal's obvious defensive frailties and inflict an emphatic defeat.

His method of controlling the visitors' passing and pace was to play a high defensive line, compressing the space for Arsenal's midfield.

The problem was the personnel. Never blessed with great acceleration, Terry's body has been stripped of speed and agility by injury and painkilling injections. Ask the centre-back to break the compensatory habit of dropping deep towards his goalkeeper and problems invariably emerge.

Relaxed by Walcott's slip to the ground, Terry stood static as he and Ivanovic were bisected for Arsenal's third. He was left pursuing slipstream as the visitors' sprinted up field for the fifth. And in between those came a horror show.

Yes, Florent Malouda's reverse pass was dangerously heavy, but a quicker, more nimble defender would still have got to it ahead of Van Persie.

Terry simply slipped to the Stamford Bridge turf he had been unsuccessfully urging Chelsea supporters to sell to Abramovich and watched the striker sprint away.

With it Arsenal secured their first travelling victory of this Premier League campaign.

"We achieved the target of winning a big game away from home and did it with style and class," said Arsene Wenger, the Gunners manager, on a day when his opposite number was the one forced into ideological excuses.

"The philosophy is a personal value and a club value," said Villas-Boas.

"You should never sell it cheaply. It is something that makes us all proud and we will stick to this philosophy throughout this league."

Best ask Abramovich for a new centre back then.


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