x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Premier League: Arsenal took too long to warm up against Chelsea

In a game of two halves the visitors left it too late to get going and complete a comeback against the Stamford Bridge side.

Chelsea's players celebrate Juan Mata's goal against Arsenal. Sang Tan / AP Photo
Chelsea's players celebrate Juan Mata's goal against Arsenal. Sang Tan / AP Photo

It may have been freezing cold in west London but Chelsea were in red hot form as they brought to an end their dismal home record under Rafael Benitez to dispatch Arsenal 2-1 at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

First-half goals by Juan Mata and Frank Lampard gave the majority of the 41,784 fans a warm glow as the snow fell continuously throughout the afternoon before Theo Walcott set up a frenzied finish with his 15th goal of the season in the second half.

Benitez had said in the build-up that Chelsea's title hopes were all but extinguished.

This was only his team's second home win under his stewardship since he took charge in November, but it forced Manchester United to front up against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane later in the day.

Chelsea's away record is such that upcoming trips in the league to Reading and Newcastle United should hold few fears and with a home fixture against Wigan Athletic next month the Blues have plenty to look forward to.

Chelsea fans have had a rough week and they put on a brave front by shuttling a huge flag across the Shed End emblazoned with the slogan: "One Life, One Love, One Club, Carefree since 1905."

Carefree the Chelsea faithful were not ahead of the match after Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach, spurned their club to coach Bayern Munich. With their team there for the taking at home against Arsenal, the most successful visiting team at Stamford Bridge, the nerves were jangling.

Chelsea, however, almost immediately showed why they are now 11 points ahead of their London rivals in the league standings.

It is one of the first rules of any sport to play to the whistle, and Arsenal failed in this regard when Ramiries took out Francis Coquelin with what was clearly a foul.

Several of the Arsenal players missed a beat, checking whether Martin Atkinson, the referee, would intervene and the ball found its way to Cesar Azpilicueta.

In acres of space on the left-hand side he spotted a silky run from Mata and delivered a cross that landed perfectly for the Spanish midfielder.

Mata allowed himself the luxury of a controlling touch and then fired the ball into the top corner of Wojciech Szczesny's goal.

Chelsea kept up the pressure when Eden Hazard forced a desperate save from Szczesny, as did Frank Lampard but the home team were adjudged to be offside.

Mata was at it again in the 16th minute when he found Ramires in the penalty box.

The Brazilian dawdled and with six Arsenal players in his box Szczesny lost patience and felled Ramires with a clumsy challenge that the Chelsea player did little to resist.

Atkinson rightly defied the Shed End's calls to have the goalkeeper sent off and the official barely sated their appetite with a yellow card and a penalty.

Lampard, who is surplus to requirements at the end of the season and is reportedly considering offers from LA Galaxy and Milan, thumped the ball to the right, flummoxing the flailing Szczesny, who went left.

With Chelsea leading 2-0 at half-time you could have forgiven Arsenal fans had they started the short journey home.

Arsenal, however, bristled with intent after the break.

Per Mertesacker offered up their first thrust with a shot on target from inside the box. Walcott forced another save from Petr Cech moments later and the away end took to full song.

Arsenal did not take their foot off the pedal and it was left to Walcott to galvanise his side into action.

He latched on to a fine pass from Santi Cazorla and, buoyed with the confidence of a new contract, the England player slipped Branislav Ivanovic and pulled back the deficit with his ninth league goal of the season.

With three minutes to go Arsenal had their final serious chance to draw level when Ashley Cole made an almost laughable challenge on Bacary Sagna outside box.

Thomas Vermeulen and Walcott lined up to take the free kick but the captain stepped up and blew his shot across the bows.

West London may have been engulfed in freezing temperatures, but with Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, wearing a full length coat that resembled a sleeping bag and Benitez sporting only a suit on the touchline it was clear which manager went home with a warm feeling inside.

*****

Arsene Wenger vented his frustration at Martin Atkinson, the referee who arbitrated in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

The Arsenal manager felt that neither Juan Mata’s opening goal, nor Frank Lampard’s penalty in the 16th minute should have stood before Theo Walcott rubber-stamped his new long-term contract with the Gunners with a goal in the second half.

Ramires blatantly fouled Francis Coquelin before Mata scored and Ramires appeared to go down easily when challenged by Wojciech  Szczesny in the penalty area to hand Lampard his shot on goal.

“The referee gave a lot of free-kicks today, and some much less than the Coquelin one. It’s frustrating,” Wenger said.

“It doesn’t mean we should have conceded the goal but, in the big games, these decisions have big implications.”

Wenger went on to say he was “surprised” Atkinson did not send off Szczesny, after penalising him and handing him a yellow card, and added: “He could have given Ramires a yellow card as well.”

Chelsea, who have won 13 of their 17 matches officiated by Atkinson, naturally glossed over the incident, with Rafael Benitez, their interim coach, preferring to concentrate on the character his side showed.

“We could be talking about the foul of [Per] Mertesacker. We could be talking about the penalty, or we could be talking about incidents all the same,” the Spaniard said.

“We just had to win and we could analyse every single incident.

“The team was very good in the first half and we defended in the second half with character.”

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