Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal: There's Only One Team in London

"You are very adamant that your lot are winning this week," my roommate said to me yesterday. He's right - I was (and you can look at the comments of the post before this if you need proof). I suppose part of it was the recent winning streak, the form of Robin van Persie, the excellence of our young goalkeeper. Sure, all of those things came into it. But, at the end of the day, I know a sick wildebeest when I see one, and Chelsea look like they're on the bad end of the nature documentary.

Anyway, I think this sums up how we feel right now:

More importantly, I feel like Arsenal won back a large part of its soul on this day. Call it hyperbole if you wish, but this club was peering into the heart of darkness not that long ago - 17th place, losing to Blackburn, no end in sight. This team was one or two more bad results away from the precipice. Will history remember that? Time will tell, but thankfully the Gunners have pulled themselves away, stopped the bleeding, and now have begun the recovery in earnest with a curbstomping of a side that has gotten the better of us over and over again in recent seasons.

Make no mistake - were it not for some early shocking misses, we could have done to Chelsea what Manchester United did to us...on their own patch, to boot!

The big news pre-match was that Arsene Wenger had opted to be cautious with Thomas Vermaelen, not wanting to risk a relapse of his injury. So, Laurent Koscielny played his normal center-half role partnering Per Mertesacker, flanked by Andre Santos and Johan Djourou. The midfield picked itself, with the usual combination of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song in the middle, with Gervinho, Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott as the front three. As usual, van Persie led the line up top.

One would have imagined a cagey start to the first few minutes, with both sides unwilling to give the other the first opening. Instead, we were treated (if by "treated" you mean "taking 5 years off your life") to a madcap, helter-skelter defensive shitshow from both sides. Chelsea could have taken the lead within 2 minutes, were it not the abysmal Fernando Torres at the end of the chance. Meanwhile, the Gunners steamed forward straightaway, but there was no late help to collect van Persie's cutback.

The home side saw much more of the ball in these exchanges, and how on earth they didn't take the lead when presented with a 2-on-1 opportunity, I'll never know. Torres was all alone in the middle, but the execrable Daniel Sturridge's weak pass across was easily cut out by Wojceich Szczesny.

Arsenal survived the first ten minutes though, and soon afterwards could have been 2-0 up themselves. First, Walcott eviscerated Ashley Cole down the right hand side, and teed up Gervinho in the penalty area. That has to be a goal every single time, but the Ivorian got his feet crossed up like someone at their first salsa lesson, and the chance went begging. Right after, Walcott again abused Cole, and again the target was in acres in the penalty area. This time, van Persie blazed his volley over the crossbar. That one was a more difficult chance, but at the time it was beyond frustrating.

So, of course Chelsea scored a minute later. Oh, are such a CARD.

Given how close (allegedly) Arsenal were to signing him, it's not shocking that Juan Manuel Mata was Chelsea's best player today by miles. He gave our backline a torrid afternoon, and his cross led to the first goal. Frank Lampard snuck in through the static Arsenal defense and guided an unstoppable header into the corner of the net. All credit to him - it was a good goal but why was he so open?

Not for the first time on the day, Arsenal could have pulled the all-too-common collapsing act. Not for the first time today, they didn't.

I don't want to give the wrong idea, though. Chelsea were still on top after the goal, and in particular they tormented poor old Santos down the right flank. He was hopeless in the first half, and luckily the center-halves (Koscielny in particular, who had a storming game overall) were able to cut out the crosses that came in.

Arsenal were still in it though, and had some half-chances of their own. Nothing was quite coming off, but to be honest with you, I wasn't worried. Sure enough, that man van Persie popped up once again to score a huge goal. He started the move in the middle of the park, dispossessing some mong in blue and laying off to Ramsey. The Welshman can be up-and-down with his passing, but this one was brilliant to Gervinho, leaving the Chelsea center-halves for dead. Petr Cech rushed out to block, but RVP had hustled forward to provide a late option, and was left with the easiest of tap-ins. A brilliant goal all around, and the first indication from the men in red that they would be no pushovers today.

Neither were Chelsea though, and Sturridge's offside goal was a statement of intent if nothing else (and again, Santos was torched leading up to it). That intent showed through right before halftime, as Racism's John Terry gave his side the lead. It was off a corner kick - quelle surprise - and Terry flambeed Mertesacker for pace in the center of the penalty area. He was left with the easiest of headers, and once again Arsenal trailed.

Those goals scored at the beginning or end of a half are absolute killers...even playing at my own humble level, I can tell you that they're a real gut punch to the whole team. Again, Arsenal could have folded. Again, they didn't. Whatever the boss said at halftime worked, as the Gunners looked like a much more dangerous and complete team after the interval.

Specifically, Santos atoned for his galling performance in the first 45 with a goal just three minutes after the restart. Arsenal won the ball on the right flank, and it came to Song in the middle. For some reason, Bosingwa had cut well inside from the right flank, giving Santos the run of Stamford Bridge. He hared towards goal and fired a low shot through Cech's legs and in. The Czech stopper definitely wants that one back - and it wasn't the only bad one he'd give up, either. Truth be told, he had a right old mare on the day.

How easily we could have had this one stolen from us, though. Szczesny had another rush of blood, coming way out of his area and clipping Cole along the way. There was no need for it, especially with referee Andre Marriner seemingly giving the home side the benefit of the doubt on every close decision. Marriner reached towards his shorts pocket, and my heart leapt into my throat - that's usually where the red one lives. Thankfully, the cardboard square was a different color. Even more thankfully, Lampard's vicious free kick was palmed away to safety by the young Pole.

Among other things, one of the great beauties of this game is the symmetry it often provides. The first half saw us miss two glorious chances, only for Chelsea to score right after. The second half saw Szczesny both give and take away a chance just as glorious, only for Arsenal to take the lead within minutes. What a goal it was, too.

Walcott - who played with far more purpose and vitality than he has in the recent past - once again had time and space down the right flank. He actually fell, but had time to get back up, take a step to the right (oddly, making his shooting angle even more acute) and absolutely lashing a thunderbolt past Cech and in. It was a hell of a strike, but it was at Cech's near post and frankly at a comfortable height to save. I'm not complaining, but that was the keeper's second gift to us on the day.

With that, the match settled down for a bit (by its standards, anyway) with only the odd half-chance for either side. Chelsea didn't look all that threatening though, and my halftime prediction (ask Kurtis and Brett if you don't believe me) of 3-2 Arsenal was looking like a fairly good shout. Andre Villas-Boas withdrew Sturridge for Florent Malouda and Ramires for Romelu Lukaku, but they still couldn't find any rhythm to their attacks.

That's the thing with Chelsea, you know? Look at them - I mean, really look at them. What is their identity? How do they play? You knew what the Mourinho sides would do - defend to the death, then quickly counter-attack with pace down the wings and the physicality of Drogba. This lot? You start to feel like the core - Terry, Lampard, Cech, etc) are either at their sell-by date or getting close to it. The new recruits don't look like they fit in. If Villas-Boas has 3 or 4 seasons to remake the side, they may continue to be a threat to the top positions. But, will their lunatic owner give him that much time? Hey, listen, I would be perfectly comfortable if these guys got relegated three times in a row...but as far as the balance of the league goes, it's a point of interest to me.

Anyway, more changes were afoot: Villas-Boas' last throw of the dice was putting Raul Meireles on for John Obi Mikel as they went into all-attack mode, while Carl Jenkinson came on for the floundering Djourou (who fell over badly at one point in the first half, and whose last contribution was a hideous under-hit backpass that Szczesny had to be alert to clear away). I was fine with that one, but mystified at Walcott coming off for Tomas Rosicky. Maybe he had lost a step or something, but I didn't see that from my end. I was afraid that withdrawing Walcott would cede momentum back to Chelsea.

After a fashion, it did...Chelsea were level two minutes later. But, the assist really has to go to Marriner on that one. He was abysmal all day, but how he didn't call Lukaku for a blocking foul in the run-up to the goal, I'll never know. Look at it again, it looks like a moving pick in basketball. It took Santos out of the play, leaving Mata all the time and space he needed to hammer a ridiculous 30-yard effort into the far corner, past the despairing dive of Szczesny. Fuck's sake, Marriner.

The funny thing, though? I STILL wasn't worried. I still honestly believed we'd win the, Mr. Pessimism!

Santos at least got his back a minute later, blocking away Lukaku from a ball and getting away with it. Swings and roundabouts, you fucker.

Then, the magic happened.

There will be those who say that Arsenal's fourth goal was just one of those things...a crazy, fluky mistake from the defender that could happen to anyone. Indeed, it was a harmless backpass towards Terry, where the racist twat inexplicably and under no pressure whatsoever fell over and let RVP in alone. Cech came way too far out, taking away the dive at the shooter's foot from himself. The Dutchman, cool as you like, simply went around him and slotted the ball into the vacated net. It was pandemonium in the Blind Pig - a jumpy, beery, huggy, cathartic celebration.

So yeah, many will say it was just bad luck for Terry. Personally, I think Karma swept the leg like Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Smartly, Wenger shored up the defense after the goal by taking off Gervinho for Vermaelen. Chelsea had a few attacking waves, but they were fairly easily repelled by the men in red. More and more Chelsea players had to commit to the attack, and soon enough the opportunity for a counter arose. It came out to van Persie on the left, in alone on Cech. His shot wickedly swerved past the flat-footed keeper (I won't go so far as to blame him for the goal, but he wasn't great on it either) and into the net.


After about 17 minutes of injury time, Marriner blew the final whistle. Would you believe it...Chelsea 3, Arsenal 5. Say it does roll off the tongue so nicely - Chelsea 3, Arsenal 5.

There are so many heroes today, but let's start with Koscielny. The defense as a whole didn't cover itself with glory on the day (though the second half was much better and we did preserve a lead this time), but he was immense. He made quite a few saving tackles and blocks, and in general would have had a great shout for Man of the Match on any other day.

Walcott is another who is unlucky not to be MotM. His pace and directness were exactly what we needed today. He rarely has had a problem getting up for these big games, and it showed again in this one. If only he could come up with some consistency to go along with his potential, he'd be quite the handful for opposing sides.

Santos rebounded from an appropriate-for-the-holiday first half to give us a serious threat down the left-hand side in the second. Oddly, I don't think we could have done it without him.

Ramsey wasn't flashy today, but his passing was sharp and incisive, and he did his bit off the ball as well.

As for the captain, what can you say? A hat trick in Stamford Bridge, accomplished after his miss in the first half. The best part about it is that we didn't entirely depend on him - Walcott and Gervinho had fantastic assists to set him up, and hey, so did Terry. He is such a deadly finisher that if you give him these opportunities, he's going to bury it 9 times out of 10. What a player.

Enjoy this, friends. Tonight, we feast in Valhalla.

LATE EDIT: One thing I forgot. You know who I'm really chuffed for, most of all? The Arsenal traveling support. If anyone truly deserved this, after spending ridiculous sums on the United game and the Blackburn game and so on, for the wonderful support they've given in some awful recent times, it's them. They, along with those of us who turn up at the pub no matter the opponent or place in the standings are the true heart and soul of this club, and they (we) are the ones who I feel happiest for in all of this. Oh, and Arsene, too. I've had my disagreements with the decisions he's made (and still do, I won't lie), but he has to have had such an awful few months personally, seeing his smile after the fifth went in genuinely warmed my heart. Good for you, Boss.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Santos 7, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 8, Djourou 6 (Jenkinson 7), Gervinho 6 (Vermaelen N/A), Song 7, Ramsey 7, Arteta 6, Walcott 9 (Rosicky 7), van Persie 10

Man of the Match: Robin van Persie