When Arsenal took to the snowy Stamford Bridge pitch at 2:30 on Jan. 20 they showed they were fully prepared to take on third-place Chelsea. The only problem was the kick off was at 1:30. This was truly a tale of two halves. Chelsea dominated in the first stanza and took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 45 minutes while Arsenal turned the tables on their London neighbours in the second half, but it was too little too late as they fell 2-1.
Arsenal were behind the eight ball early on as Spaniard Juan Mata put Chelsea ahead after just six minutes and English international midfielder Frank Lampard scored on a 16th-minute penalty, his 195th goal for the Blues, to double the lead. Arsenal game out a totally different team in the second half and a superb 15th goal of the season by Theo Walcott in the 58th minute cut the lead to 2-1. At this point Chelsea supporters were perhaps expecting a case of déjà vu. It looked like their team was going to throw the lead away again as they did against Southampton on Wednesday when they had to settle for a 2-2 home draw with Southampton.
Arsenal poured on the pressure, but couldn’t solve Chelsea’s defensive puzzle and the referee’s final whistle officially ended their valiant effort of a comeback. There’s no doubt the Gunners lost this game with their feeble first half performance. The loss leaves them in sixth place in the Premier League with 34 points from nine wins, seven draws, and six losses and are 22 points behind league-leading Manchester United, who have 56 points.
Manchester City sits in second spot with 51 points followed by Chelsea with 45 and then Tottenham at 41 and Everton with 37. Chelsea has handed Arsenal a pair of losses this season and that basically accounts for their 11 point lead over the Gunners. Arsenal also has to worry about Liverpool and West Brom as they’re level with them at 34 points and Swansea sits in ninth place with 33.
If there was ever a time to win at Stamford Bridge this was surely it as Chelsea had won just two of their previous seven home contests and new striker Demba Ba was sitting on the bench at kickoff. Ba had scored twice against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago in a 7-3 loss while he was still with Newcastle.
Chelsea took the lead though when Cesar Azpilicueta found Mata and he hammered a left-footer in the top half of the net. Just a minute earlier Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud missed the low corner of the net by about a foot after being sent in by Walcott. Both teams had a good chance to add to the scoreboard before Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny pulled Ramires down with his feet in the 18-year box, which he received a yellow card for, and Lampard struck home the penalty kick.
The rest of the half saw Chelsea in complete control of the ball, but they didn’t really create any decent goal scoring chances with their possession and Arsenal finally showed some fight just before the first half came to an end. An energized Arsenal team strode on the pitch to start the second half with Walcott and Per Mertesacker both being denied by keeper Petr Cech in the first few minutes.
Most fans saw a goal coming and Walcott delivered it with a beauty in the 58th minute. Santi Cazorla released him with a perfect pass and Walcott finished superbly against Cech. Chelsea were on their heels for most of the remainder of the game as Arsenal played desperate football, but just couldn’t beat Cech for a second time for the equalizer.
Lukas Podolski missed the match due to illness as did Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the sub’s bench looked thin. Russian Andrei Arshavin came on for Francis Coquelin in the minute and one wonders why Marouane Chamakh wasn’t kept around for instances such as this. The Gunners take on West Ham at home in another London derby on Wed. Jan. 23 and they’ll need to make sure they’re ready to play football right from the start, not just half a game. If they can play the same way they did in the second half against Chelsea for a full 90 minutes they’ll be a tough team to beat.
Arsenal Player Ratings vs Chelsea on Jan. 20
Wojciech Szczesny 5.5
The Polish keeper didn’t look to hot on Mata’s goal and then caused the penalty by pulling down Ramires. He was also cleanly beaten by Demba Ba in the second half, but Vermaelen cleared Ba’s shot off the line for him.
Bacary Sagna 5
Was nowhere to be seen on Mata’s goal and the penalty incident. He’s too inconsistent to be called a reliable player. Bad today in both ends of the pitch.
Per Mertesacker 5.5
Mertesacker wasn’t quite as bad as Sagna, but he wasn’t much better. He needs to be in synch with his fellow defenders when it comes to offsides.
Thomas Vermaelen 6
His shining moment was clearing Ba’s effort off the line to make up for playing him onside. Was the best of the back four though.
Kieran Gibbs 6
Like his teammates, he had a brutal first half, but Gibbs also redeemed himself in the second 45 minutes.
Abou Diaby 5.5
Diaby has struggled since coming back from injury after starting the season off with a bang. He needs to improve quickly. Was taken off after 75 minutes.
Francis Coquelin 6.5
He played a decent game, especially in the second half and was okay on and off the ball. Was injured and came off after 59 minutes.
Jack Wilshere 5.5
Not one of Wilshere’s best performances, but not his worst either.
Santi Cazorla 6
Played a good second half and set up Walcott for the goal.
Theo Walcott 7.5
Was the best of the bunch in the first half even if he was caught offside time and time again. Once he got his timing down he scored Arsenal’s goal with a perfect finish.
Olivier Giroud 5.5
Missed a good chance to give Arsenal the lead after five minutes and missed a header in injury time as it landed on top of the net. Always gives an effort, but often without results.
Aaron Ramsey 6
Came on in the 59th minute for Coquelin and performed admirably. Seems to be gaining in confidence.
Andrei Arshavin 5
Came on in the 75th minute for Diaby and played about as good as Diaby did.