Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

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A chance of Victory?

As Big Dave Taylor and I sat in the pub on Thursday afternoon after that mornings AGM the bar staff were busy giving the place a Halloween themed makeover, the TV screen directly in front of us, muted and set to Sky Sports news, was seemingly showing images relating to the same three stories over and over again…

Firstly there was the female hockey player who looked like Zara Phillips, then came footage of Arsene Wenger & Stan Kroenke at the event we had earlier attended, then came something to do with this lunchtime’s opponents and their lack of success in convincing a fans group to sell the Stamford Bridge pitch to Roman Abramovich. In truth we paid little attention to the on-screen footage or the stories they were attempting to tell, we were far too busy discussing how tall Georgie Thompson is and occasionally breaking into song as Motown classics flooded out of the bars speakers.

But then the Barclays Premier League table appeared and showed Arsenal sitting in seventh place six points behind Chelsea up in third and immediately my brain began to calculate how much higher we would be able to climb after defeating the west London club and collecting three points this weekend. Yes that’s right, I was working on the assumption that Arsenal would win the game because that is what I always do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to think we can’t be beaten and then surprised when we are. To be honest I can’t really explain to you why I do it? Whoever it is we’re set to face in the league, I always add three points to our current tally when having a pre match look at the current league standings. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done, in the same way I always back one of our strikers to finish as the country’s top goal scorer at the start of every season, always predict we’ll win at least one trophy every season and whilst I don’t always share it (partly so as not to jinx it) in my mind I’m always sure that this is the season Spurs will be relegated. Reality always kicks in and on those occasions when I know we might struggle for the win or gladly take a point I readily accept it.

But since that brief league table maths work out, and it’s almost instant dismissal, I’ve started to hear the voices of the cast of Escape to Victory in my head, you know the bit…

*Spoiler Alert*

At half time in their exhibition match against Ze Germans, John Colby and his team of Allied footballer POW’s, aided by the French Resistance, are escaping into the Paris sewers via the Columbes Stadium baths when suddenly despite freedom being only moments away and trailing the match 4-1 a shout of “But we can win this” comes up from midfielder Doug Clure (Russell Osman)

But we can win this” those five words keep popping into my head and the more I think about it the more possible it seems…

Let’s remember we’re in a rich vein of form, perhaps not in the sense of the football we’ve been playing but certainly in the sense of our recent results and Chelsea are without the suspended Didier Drogba. Since the Ivorian has been at Stamford Bridge we’ve never lost a game against the blues when he hasn’t played.

Ok, we haven’t won away in the league in eight matches and our hosts are unbeaten in their last ten London derbies on home soil but encouragingly Andre Villas-Boas’ side haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games and we’ve got goal scoring sensation Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has bagged 25 goals in 26 Premier League matches in 2011.

When was the last time we won at Stamford Bridge? 2008. Who scored the Gunners goals in that 1-2 victory? Robin Van Persie. Is that a sign? Most likely not, it just me plucking positives from anywhere I can find them.

Would I settle for a point if it were offered to us right now? Perhaps, but then I drift back to 1943, to Paris and the Columbes Stadium. I can hear the cries of the oppressed Parisian crowd as they break through the barriers, storm the German troopers with the sheer size of their number and cover the allied players in coats and hats, moving them towards the gates and streets of the French capital “Victoire” they cheer “Victoire, Victoire, Victoire“…

After his rousing speech at the AGM perhaps our French manager can continue to lead and inspire our own resistance and escape from the early season form that has seen any chance we have of achieving something of merit this season dismissed by many. Perhaps at Stamford Bridge this afternoon Wenger can lead his men to Victoire and those three points…

Thanks for reading – enjoy the game wherever you are watching it.

Paul.

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