We all know what the recent history has been whenever Chelsea were the other mob staring out from the other half of the center line against our guys. Whether it be Didier Drogba bulling us over, or the whole team going to pieces as goals flew in everywhere, or referees (cough cough Mike Dean cough cough) pulling off their shirt nWo style to reveal a blue top underneath, nothing has gone right for a long time against this lot.
Well, swings and bloody roundabouts.
It was basically an unchanged team for us, Alex Iwobi on the left being about the only name on the team sheet that didn't pick itself (yes, yes, Granit Xhaka...he'll get his time, calm down). As for them, David Luiz brought his comedy stylings into the center of their defense, with Kurt Zouma a long-term injury casualty.
The first ten minutes were a fairly sedate, as Chelsea sat back to defend. Arsenal hadn't created much on their own, but out of nowhere a horrid mistake from Gary Cahill gifted us the lead. It's funny - we've always associated a fearsome defense with their lot, but they're something of a paper tiger now, aren't they? John Terry is ancient. Gary Cahill has caught a terminal case of Englanditis, Luiz is Luiz, Branislav Ivonivic shambles around like the walking dead while poor old Cesar Azpilecueta wonders what he's done to deserve this. Anyway, Cahill dallied on the ball and had his pocket picked by Alexis Sanchez, who strolled in and chipped Thibaut Courtois as casually as you or I might make a lunch order on Seamless.
That's another thing, by the way. Courtois was bought to be their guy of the future, but he hasn't made that leap that they must have been expecting. His head is clearly not all there, either. I mean, not in Joe Hart territory or anything, but even here he may have had a shot at that if he decisively came off his line at the right time. The best part, of course, is that the end result was Petr Cech coming over to us to drastically strengthen our own goalkeeping situation. Can't say I'm complaining.
As the half went on, the one thing that struck me was how different our mental approach was. Guys flew into tackles, and oftentimes muscled their man off the ball. Diego Costa was reduced to a peripheral figure, a disembodied banshee voice screaming at Michael Oliver to call fouls that weren't there. I don't know if it's a case of Jose Mourinho having been the real boogeyman or not, but it was refreshing to see our guys not over-respecting their western neighbors.
Before all that, though, a brilliant team goal saw us take a 2-0 lead before Chelsea had time to mentally process the first one. The move started like so many of ours have before, with us holding the ball 40-50 yards out and a wall of defenders between us and the goal. While so many of those have gone to die, this one saw a lightning-fast interplay of passes that actually reminded me just a tad of the kind of goals the Invincibles used to score. Iwobi and Mesut Ozil pinged the ball around several times before getting it out wide to Hector Bellerin. Eden Hazard lagged in his man-marking duties, allowing the Spaniard to flash a brilliant square ball across the penalty area. Theo Walcott was there to smash home, leaving Courtois no chance.
Fourteen minutes in, 2-0 up against Chelsea? Was I dreaming?
The best part is that when they made their inevitable push to get back into the game, we didn't wilt. We didn't fold. Willian did go just wide once, but other than that the back five had this completely under control. Sometimes it was Laurent Koscielny coming over to smoothly intercept a pass. Sometimes it was Shkrodan Mustafi fighting for a header. Sometimes Cech came off his line to smartly claim a cross. It was excellent to watch.
However, it wasn't as excellent as seeing us get a third before halftime. Ozil started and finished the move, and pantsed the otherwise-anonymous N'Golo Kante to do it too. Ozil spun around the former Leicester man, and away we went. The German played it out wide to Sanchez, who crossed it back in for him. I couldn't tell if Ozil mishit it or if he intended to bounce it off the ground, but the end result was that it looped up over Courtois, off the post and in.
Bliss. Well, other than Francis Coquelin's injury, that is.
But, that's the thing. We have the sort of squad now where if a key player goes down, we have a top-class player like Xhaka ready to slot right into the team. Central defense may still be a bit of a worry, but honestly I'd trust Rob Holding against all but the biggest clubs.
The second half might have been a chance to stick another two or three past these guys and REALLY put the ghosts of the past to bed, but I think it was half us keeping our powder dry for future games, and half us getting overly cute at times. There were a few instances where we went back to trying to walk the ball into the net when a shot against a beleaguered goalkeeper may have been the better option.
It may have still happened had Walcott been able to execute one of his trademark across-the-keeper finishes, but Courtois stuck out a boot to deny him brilliantly. Oh, well.
Honestly, at that point, it was a matter of us playing out the string. Kieran Gibbs got a run-out at left forward, replacing Iwobi. Later, Olivier Giroud came on for Alexis. Giroud, who I insist is class, did look a bit off the pace though and could probably use minutes where we can get them to him.
Though, come to think about it, maybe this might have been more interesting than we'd have liked on another day. A giveaway in the center of the park gave Pedro a breakaway, but Bellerin turned on the afterburners to catch up and tackle it away brilliantly. Later, the substitute Michy Batshuayi was played clean through on goal, but Cech showed the decisiveness that his counterpart had not earlier to block with his legs.
Had those two gone in, you have to wonder if 3-0 would turn to 3-4. Instead, well, this is what happens when you have excellent players on form. Bellerin made the tackle he had to. Cech made the save he had to. Plays like that decide games, and now we're starting to make them.
And that, right there, is why I'm starting to feel very positive about what this season has in store for us. There are formidable opponents and other boogeymen ahead, but I don't think we've been as equipped to take them on as we are now in a long, long, looooong time.
And oh yeah, have some of THAT, Chelsea.
Man of the Match: Mesut Ozil