Chelsea struck an early blow in the Premier League title race with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates. The Gunners were again undone by set-pieces as first Fernando Torres and then Juan Mata found the target either side of an equalizer by Gervinho.
The result extends Chelsea’s lead, at least temporarily, at the top of the Premier League table, while Arsenal will know there is still much work to be done to become genuine title contenders after a flat performance in the early afternoon sun in North London.
Despite Chelsea heading into the match with an impressive four wins and a draw from their five matches, it was Arsenal that had arguably earned more plaudits for their beginning to the season. That impressive start wasn’t in evidence in the early stages at the Emirates, however, as Chelsea got on top early.
Arsenal were also dealt a cruel blow after 15 minutes when Abou Diaby—such an important dynamic presence in the midfield—suffered another in a long line of injuries and was forced off. While the loss affected Arsenal’s ability to control the center of the pitch, it also appeared to have a direct impact on Chelsea’s opening goal after 20 minutes.
As Mata lined up a free kick from a position to the right, Laurent Koscielny appeared pre-occupied by the fact that Diaby’s replacement, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, wasn’t picking up David Luiz and in doing so failed to effectively mark Torres allowing the Spaniard to hook in an impressive volley at the far post.
Just moments later, Koscielny was almost responsible for Arsenal falling two goals behind. The French defender allowed Torres to break clear and into the box but after an almost interminable delay by the Chelsea striker, just as he was about to pull the trigger he went to ground claiming a penalty from a challenge from behind by the recovering Koscielny. While there was seemingly no intention from Koscielny, there certainly appeared to be contact to deny Torres a goal-scoring opportunity.
After falling behind, Arsenal began to steady and set about finding a way back into the game. Gervinho, trying to do his bit in the central striking role, was found at the back post but elected to try and head back across goal, rather than going for the target himself, and the danger was averted.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was also making an impact, trying to expose Chelsea’s narrow midfield. His pull back resulted in a blocked shot by Santi Cazorla.
It was that right side that produced Arsenal’s equalizer just minutes later. Oxlade-Chamberlain was found in space out wide and produced a quick low cross that was just slightly behind Gervinho, but the Ivorian took a touch before swiveling and hitting a superb shot past Cech and into the roof of the net.
The goal gave both the Emirates crowd and the Arsenal players an immediate lift as they put Chelsea under pressure in the remaining minutes of the opening half.
Arsenal continued to push for a second goal after the break. Cazorla might have done better than firing high over the bar off a poor clearance from Ashley Cole following a good run and pull back from the left by Lukas Podolski.
But just as they were beginning to look good, Arsenal were undone by another free-kick, meaning that all four goals the Gunners had conceded in the Premier League this season had come from set-pieces.
Mata again was the architect, but this time his delivery travelled over everyone and took the merest of touches off the outstretched leg of Koscielny before drifting into the far post past of beleaguered keeper Vito Mannone.
Arsenal tried to recover once more, but were twice denied in quick succession by Petr Cech. First Podolski’s deft header to the far post saw Chelsea’s keeper dive—perhaps over spectacularly—to his left to turn the ball away. Minutes later, substitute Olivier Giroud’s left-footed strike took a wicked deflection and almost caught out Cech, but, with his weight going the other way, he did superbly to just get enough of a hand to the ball to divert it past the post.
Giroud continued to be heavily involved after making his arrival. He thought he had come close to an equalizer as he headed against the post from a free-kick, but the assistant referee’s flag had been raised for an offside against Gervinho.
The best and final chance came in the first minute of injury time. Played through by a clever through ball by Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giorud elected not to shoot first time and instead took the ball past Cech, but, from a trickier angle and with men back on the line, the French striker could only find the side netting at the near post.
Arsenal had not been at their best but still created the better openings from open play and were ultimately left to rue two sloppy goals. As for Chelsea, they again showed that despite a creative overhaul in the playing staff in the summer, they remain a resilient side that will be hard to beat this season.