Chelsea (2) 2 Arsenal (2) 4
Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road., London SW6 1HS
Wednesday, 20th April 2022. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Gabriel Martinelli, Miguel Azeez, Zak Swanson, Omari Hutchinson.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (12 mins, 57 mins), Emile Smith-Rowe (27 mins), Bukayo Saka (90+2 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 34%
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistant Referees: Marc Perry, James Mainwaring
Fourth Official: Andy Madley
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Adam Nunn
Mikel Arteta has made three changes from the defeat at Southampton last Saturday. Emile Smith-Rowe, Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny replace Cédric Soares, Gabriel Martinelli and Albert Sambi Lokonga, with Alexandre Lacazette named amongst the substitutes. The club also announced the sad passing of legendary former chief scout, Steve Rowley, aged just 63 after a short illness. He spent over two decades in this role before leaving Arsenal in 2017, and was instrumental in identifying and signing young talent such as Tony Adams, Ray Parlour and Cesc Fabregas. Rest in peace, Steve.
Straight from the kick-off, we were quickly on to Chelsea as the home side knocked the ball around at the back, but they successfully worked their way out under pressure as we looked to force them into an early error. Both sides showed their competitive edge as the tough tackles started to fly in, and we got caught cold with a loose ball that fell to Marcos Alonso whose shot deflected narrowly wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s post. Shortly afterwards, Aaron Ramsdale quickly tried to whack a ball through the middle of the pitch, but Eddie Nketiah was caught offside, sadly. Both managers were on the edge of their technical areas as they shouted and screamed for their respective teams to take control of this vital match. Romelu Lukaku took a shot from an angle after a quick turn, but just pulled his shot wide of the far post. Although we sat back in the early stages, after just twelve minutes, we took the lead when Andreas Christensen attempted a pass back to Edouard Mendy after we cleared the ball, but Eddie Nketiah raced onto it and slotted it past the Chelsea goalkeeper to open the scoring in our favour. Just what the doctor ordered! Unfortunately, our lead only lasted five minutes, when a messy Timo Werner right-footed shot from outside the box went past Aaron Ramsdale and ended up in the bottom left hand corner of the net. How on earth did that go in the net? The home side got the bit between their teeth, and Timo Werner was aggressively challenging our defence quickly, but we managed to work the ball clear from inside our penalty area, that found its way eventually to Eddie Nketiah, whose excellent right-footed shot from the centre of the box went narrowly wide of the mark. This match was frenetic, end-to-end stuff. We were looking for a response to the equalising goal, but Nuno Tavares was deemed to be offside as he attempted to put away Bukayo Saka’s looping cross at the back post. And then, after twenty-seven minutes, Granit Xhaka calmly dribbled his way out of the Arsenal penalty area, going past two or three Chelsea players on his way, to kick-start the counter-attack, passed the ball to Martin Ødegaard, who swept a beautiful pass into the path of Emile Smith-Rowe, whose right-footed shot from outside the box flew past Edouard Mendy and into the bottom right corner, for us to take the lead. Wow! Again our lead only lasted five minutes, when unfortunately César Azpilicueta’s right-footed shot from the centre of the box went past our goalie into the bottom left corner of the net to level the scores. What a game! Four goals in thirty-two minutes. Not deterred, we came back at them, and Eddie Nketiah took a wonderful left-footed shot from outside the box which went close, but missed the goal to the right-hand side of the post. Chelsea came back at us, with an attack that resulted in a high and wide shot by Marcos Alonso, thankfully. After an excellent Granit Xhaka shot that was blocked by a Chelsea defender, the match started to slow a bit with some poor tackling by the home side, which our chaps did well to try not to retaliate to these tactics. Just before the break, Bukayo Saka made a yard of space on the right, but there wass nobody making a run to meet his ball towards the back post, so the ball floated off into the crowd. In injury time, we nearly grabbed a third when Emile Smith-Rowe impressively wriggled his way past a couple of defenders on the edge of the penalty area, but rolled his shot wide of Edouard Mendy’s post. Honours even at the break.
The second half started at a fast pace, with both sides neither giving nor taking any quarter, and almost immediately, Aaron Ramsdale raced out of his box to beat Mason Mount to Marcos Alonso’s long ball forward, and he judged it perfectly to deny the home side a goal at the start of the second half, which was quick thinking by our goalie. Our midfielder Mohamed Elneny sensed an opening but his snap shot from long range was closed down; Chelsea attempted to break and once again it was Timo Werner who was leading the charge, but we somehow managed to get on top of things in defence, which was a relief to see. We were playing lovely, intricate football, but sadly Granit Xhaka couldn’t find a final pass after running with the ball bravely towards goal. We had a penalty denied by a VAR check when the ball was played to the feet of Eddie Nketiah and he hit the deck under pressure from Thiago Silva. It mattered not, as after fifty-seven minutes, we re-took the lead spectacularly. A well-deserved third goal for us, and a second for Eddie Nketiah! Terrible defending from Chelsea, they couldn’t clear the ball, and sheer determination from Eddie Nketiah saw him poke the ball past Edouard Mendy for our third goal of the night. Almost straight away, Reece James sent a low ball in from the right which Aaron Ramsdale pushed away. It fell into the path of Marcos Alonso, but the our rock-solid defence was alert to the second ball and his shot was blocked. Nice work. The home side were putting us under incredible pressure, and as such we were sitting deep trying to stifle their play across the pitch. With twenty minutes of the match remaining, Gabriel Martinelli replaced Eddie Nketiah in an attempt to grab more goals and just a few minutes later, he very nearly scored, when Bukayo Saka played the ball across the box towards him, but Edouard Mendy run out of his goal to pounce on it before he could get a shot away. Cédric Soares replaced a fatigued Emile Smith-Rowe after seventy-five minutes to shore things up. We were pushing forward in the final stages; Bukayo Saka’s right-footed shot from the centre of the box missed to the left and an excellent shot from Nuno Tavares from the left side of the penalty area missed to the left side of the post. With five minutes of the match remaining, Mason Mount received a well-deserved yellow card after a strong tackle on Cédric Soares which was reviewed by VAR, and after stopping a Chelsea counter-attack, Rob Holding went down with cramp. On the ninetieth minute, we were awarded a penalty when Bukayo Saka went down in the box, held by César Azpilicueta; a couple of minutes later, Bukayo Saka sent Edouard Mendy the wrong way for us to seal a great win tonight at Stamford Bridge.
Just how good was that? We showed guts, fortitude, determination and above all that, an unquenchable desire to win. We are now level on points with Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place with six games left, and even more intriguingly, we are only five points behind Chelsea and we have seen tonight that they are wobbling like a jelly on a plate. This Saturday lunchtime we entertain a tepid Manchester United at the Emirates, and West Ham United the week afterwards are our opponents at the London Stadium. What fool would possibly bet against us not getting into the Champions League positions now? Its certainly all there for the taking, all we have to do is hold our nerve. And going on tonight’s performance, we can certainly do 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: Manchester United at the Emirates on Saturday, 23rd April at 12.30pm(Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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