Chelsea (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 1
Stamford Bridge Grounds, Fulham Road, London SW6 1HS
Wednesday, 12th May 2021. Kick-off time: 8.15pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Emile Smith-Rowe (16 mins)
Yellow Cards: Thomas Partey
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 32%
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant Referees: Scott Ledger, Simon Long
Fourth Official: Lee Mason
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Kevin Friend; AVAR Darren Cann
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
And so, we are down to the three remaining matches of the season, two of whom are London derbies, the first of which is tonight at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. It goes without saying that this is a game that we could well do without, to be frank. Both clubs desperately need the points for totally different reasons; in our case, a win would take us into eighth place in the Premiership, our superior goal difference meaning that we would leapfrog Everton for at least twenty-four hours. As we have learned to our cost this season, anything can happen over the course of ninety minutes, so let’s hope and pray that Chelsea have their “cup final heads” on and we take all three points in this SW6 encounter. Let’s go!
Both teams started cautiously tonight, and athough the home side had the first serious chance of the night via the right foot of Mason Mount, our ’keeper easily gathered the ball and distributed it superbly to an advacing Kieran Tierney, who ran deep into the Chelsea half before being dispossessed. After just ten minutes, our hearts were in our mouths when Kai Havertz took the ball of a far too casual Pablo Marí in the centre circle and advanced rapidly towards the Arsenal goal. Thankfully he lifted the ball over the bar as Bernd Leno came out of his goal to challenge him, which was a massive let-off for us, so early in this contest. However, just after the quarter of an hour mark, Jorginho did not bother to look to see whether Kepa Arrizabalaga was in his goal as he passed it back; the Chelsea goalkeper raced desperately across his six-yard box and clawed the ball out of the way, but unfortunately for him, Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang picked up the loose ball and slotted it back across the six-yard boxfor Emile Smith-Rowe to easily score into an empty net. Arsenal certainly woke up after the goal, as we started to play with purpose and desire. A few minutes later, Christian Pulisic cut the ball back from the byeline for Mason Mount, but thankfully his shot was blocked by Rob Holding at close range to keep the score in the affirmative for us. The home side started to put us under a fair amout of pressure, and Bernd Leno certainly was in the right place at the right time constantly as he saved shot after shot from the hungry Chelsea forwards. But still the Arsenal defence held firm. Although we did break out into the Chelsea half with some superb passing play, the home side composed themselves and started to bring the match to us again just before the break, but somehow we managed to clear our lines very well, and went into half-time in the lead. Somehow.
No changes for us at half-time, and in essence, the second half started in the same spirit as the first one finished, with Chelsea pressurising us and our defenders holding the line. It was thought that the home side was going to be awarded a penalty when Kai Havertz was brushed off the ball by Gabriel, but mercifully the VAR team saw that there was no grounds for one. In this half, more than the first, our game became one of containment rather than movement and attack, and that can be an extremely dangerous tactic to play at this level of professional football. Kieran Tierney went down after being caught by Callum Hudson-Odoi’s boot, but after some attention by the medical staff, he continued to play on. Just after the hour, Christian Pulisic got the ball into the net, but VAR disallowed the Chelsea goal for offside, which was a blessing. Hector Bellerin replaced a lacklustre Bukayo Saka after sixty-four minutes, and shortly afterwards received a ball just inside the Chelsea penalty area from Martin Ødegaard, but his subsequent shot was easily recovered by Kepa Arrizabalaga. A few minutes later, a superb cross by Kieran Tierney found Martin Ødegaard on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, but his left-footed shot went way over the bar. Then, we had a free-kick awarded to us and Martin Ødegaard whipped in a perfect cross, which bounced off a Chelsea defender to the feet of Kieran Tierney, whose twenty-yard volley was blocked, looped into the air and easily saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette with eleven minutes of the game remaining, and by now, the match was starting to level out. Calum Chambers replaced Hector Bellerin, who was on the pitch for a grand total of twenty-seven minutes! We lived dangerously when Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi both hit the Arsenal crossbar in less than a minute, and in the six minutes injury time, the match started to get more and more frenetic with the pressure on our defenders getting more and more intense. Unfairly, it has to be said, in our very last attack of the game, Thomas Partey was booked for simulation, and as the match ebbed away, a last attempt by the home side came to nothing, and we ended the match victorious. And with thirty-two percent possession too.
A good night for us, after all, we won at a ground which is notoriously difficult to get a result in. It was not pretty, it was dogged and at times downright frustrating. Just how good was Emile Smith-Rowe tonight? The boy played a complete blinder, he was literally everywhere, all over the pitch, and so comfortable on the ball as well. Let us not analyse this match too deeply now, or we may just ruin what is an unblievable result. Let us just be thankful that we grabbed three valuable points and leave it at that.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park Stadium on Wednesday, 19th May at 7.00pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.