Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: England Belongs to Us

At least for today, at least right now at 6:47 PM on the Monday after Christmas, England belongs to us. As frustrating as United 1-0 Arsenal was, there is a home appointment with them on April 30...hopefully after a League Cup win and definitely off of the back of one hex-ending victory over a major rival.

I'm not normally one to embed a million videos, but I can't resist this one either:

I don't have the capacity for deep analysis at the moment, but I'll do my best. Arsene Wenger rung in the changes, with the highest profile being Andrei Arshavin demoted to the bench in favor of Theo Walcott and Marouane Chamakh rested in favor of Robin van Persie. Johan Djourou was rightfully installed at center-half in place of the out-of-form Sebastian Squillaci, while Lukasz Fabianski passed a fitness test and reclaimed his place in goal. The Chavs fielded a full-strength side, though in fairness some of the usual suspects (Lampard, Essien) are working their way back to full fitness. That said, the same could be said of our captain, who did start today as well.

Unexpectedly, Arsenal tore into their opponents from the opening whistle. I honestly don't know if Chelsea were ready for that kind of's obvious they intended to sit back and then attack on the counter, but the Gunners played with far more desperation and attacking intent than anyone could have anticipated. Within the first 5 minutes, a fabulous cross from Samir Nasri was left with no one attacking it on the far post...then the rusty Van Persie spurned a glorious chance from Alex Song's high ball over the static Chelsea back line.

Think about that for a second - when was the last time you saw the words "static Chelsea back line" in a sentence?

The bombardment from Arsenal continued, as the wide players were finding joy on both flanks. Van Persie is not much of a target striker though, and perhaps Chamakh or Nicklas Bendtner may have gotten something onto one or two of them. Anyway, it wasn't all going our way, though. Didier Drogba - the boogeyman that is told in horror stories to Arsenal academy defenders - was shown too much of the ball by Djourou and fizzed a rasping shot inches wide of the far post. How different this game may have been if that one went in, eh?

Still, that's football. The match at their place earlier this season was a fine team performance from the men in red, but they snatched their chances and Arsenal didn't. Well, today was the other way around. We finally, FINALLY got some rub of the green ourselves. It wasn't just luck, though. The Arsenal defense were largely magnificent today, dealing with all of the long balls to Drogba and set pieces that Chelsea could throw at them. Djourou in particular was a rock back there, although Song and Koscielny contributed much to the cause as well.

The first half looked like it would end with a creditable 0-0 scoreline (I'd have bitten your hand off for that score at 45 minutes if you offered it to me before the game...shit, I'd have done it for 0-0 at 90 minutes), but Arsenal had other ideas. The first warning shot came off the boot of Nasri, whose chipped effort from just outside the area would have beaten most goalkeepers in the league. Sadly, Cech read it expertly and was able to backpedal in time to tip it to safety. That didn't stop the Gunners, though. They came right back, and took the lead from an unlikely source. Song's pass to Wilshere got tangled up in the legs of Fabregas, but Wilshere had the presence of mind to get it back to Song on the side of the penalty area. It was an acute angle, but Cech was off-balance and could only fall towards the near post, allowing Song to go against the grain and tuck it low into the opposite corner to send Gooners everywhere into nirvana.

Holy fuck, we're actually beating Chelsea at halftime!

Now, I won't lie. We've bottled games like this before, and I was afraid we'd do it again. However, the Gunners did not rest on their laurels - if anything, they recognized that Chelsea were in the mire a bit and went directly for the jugular. Within 10 minutes of the restart, the home side had tripled their lead.

John Terry lost the ball in midfield, as he had been doing with many of his marauding runs up the center of the pitch. Michael Essien tried to backpass it to Cech, but Walcott was alert and ran onto the end of it. Cech was stranded, and could only try to dive at Theo's feet. To his credit, he got a piece of Walcott's slide-rule pass across the penalty area to the onrushing Fabregas, but could only knock it right into Cesc's path. The captain was left with the easiest of finishes into the empty net, giving Arsenal some much needed room to maneuver.

If the second gave Arsenal some more room, the third was like being upgraded free to first-class. Walcott again was the man in the middle of everything, nicking the ball off of the hideously-poor Florent Malouda in midfield. He took it the whole way himself, turning on the afterburners to leave his markers in his tiny, tiny wake. Again, Cech came out...and again, Cech could only watch helplessly was it was fired into the corner of his net. A peach of a goal, that one...and Gunners and Gooners alike were in dreamland.

Of course, that is never entirely a good thing when Chelsea are the opposition. The defense switched off mentally a bit, and allowed the Blues back into the game by conceding just minutes after going up by three. A grudgingly-have-to-admit-gorgeous free kick from Drogba was met by Branislav Ivonovic, who torched Koscielny to head into the empty net. Fabianski was caught in two minds and came a step or two off his line, but in fairness to him the ball was put right into the middle of the corridor of uncertainty - that's a bloody tough one for the keeper. Kos should have dealt with it, end of.

That said, this would be the time in previous games where Arsenal would go completely to pieces at the first sign of resistance. However, the steel came back into the spine of the team immediately, and Chelsea never got another serious attempt at the Arsenal goal. Sure, there were some individual mistakes that led to half-chances (Gael Clichy woefully falling over while in possession of the ball being one glaring example), but the defense held firm. Koscielny made up for his error with some thunderous sliding tackles, Djourou was the very picture of solidity behind him, and Song was all over the place breaking up attacks and blocking shots. I personally though Djourou was MOTM, but I wouldn't argue if you said it was Song (or Jack, or Theo, or Cesc, or Sagna...who was a holy terror down his wing all game, and was brilliant defensively as well).

Another change from previous games is that the team was much smarter about killing off the last 30 minutes than they have been previously. They didn't overstretch themselves going for a 4th goal - and Wenger's substitutions were a critical part of this as well. Abou Diaby made his return to the first team in place of the tiring Walcott, and Chamakh came on for Van Persie. Diaby was understandably off the pace a bit and gave the ball away a few times, but just his height and presence alone took away some of the longball-to-Drogba options. Chamakh, for his part, continued his excellent hold-up play and allowed us to keep possession after the Chelsea goal...which took much of the sting out of their comeback. Later, Tomas Rosicky came on for the captain, who took a bit of a knock (but nothing serious).

For their part, Chelsea looked like a dying empire. Drogba was a threat, but one that was fairly easily contained. Also, he took a fair few of their corners, which is odd given that he is normally the one that should be on the end of them. I was kind of crapping myself a bit when he had a close-in free kick towards the end, but he skied his effort over. Lampard was nowhere to be seen, Salomon Kalou was pulled off after 55 minutes or so, Cashley Cole was in Sagna's pocket (and pinned back by Nasri's threat), and Essien was at fault for our second. I don't want to say that they are entirely a spent force, but they are not what they were. They're beatable, and I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that they'll continue to drop points along the way.

As for us, this can go one of two ways. Either we kick on from here and start murdering people playing this kind of football, or they'll assume the job is done and then go out and lose to Wigan. It's up to these guys. How bad do they want it? How bad do they want to fight for a title that only Manchester United seems to want to win besides us? How bad do they want to stick it to the detractors, myself included at times?

Come on, you Gunners. It's there for you if you want it. I know I do.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 6, Clichy 6, Koscielny 7, Djourou 9 (MOTM), Sagna 8, Fabregas 9 (Rosicky N/A), Song 9, Wilshere 8, Walcott 8 (Diaby 6), Nasri 7, Van Persie 6 (Chamakh 6)