Bellerin strike provides fitting finale to classic

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2: So much for the Premier League schedule killing players.

In a week when Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola warned fixture congestion was doing exactly that, Arsenal and Chelsea played out a breathless classic here at the Emirates.

It had just about everything.

A goal for the boyhood star fighting for a new contract, courtesy of Jack Wilshere, an arguably dubious penalty for Eden Hazard to equalise with in a week when Arsene Wenger had criticised the standard of referring, and a late stoppage time goal from Hector Bellerin which saved Arsenal a point.

Before then it looked as though Chelsea were going to claim the win after Marcos Alonso’s 84th minute goal.

However, Arsenal fought back to ensure they are now five points of fourth-placed Liverpool.

“It was a remarkable game,” Wenger said. “Once again we got a very bad decision against us. We have to account in our preparation for that’s what we have to face. You see good football. Unfortunately you see as well bad decisions.

“We played three games in six days and you could see the team gave absolutely everything, we have a busy schedule and bad decisions but still great quality in our games.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte also had regrets at the final whistle.

“I think it is a pity because when you have so many chances to score you must win the game,” he said. “Instead we are talking about a draw against a good team, but in this game we deserved to win as we created a lot of chances.”

Wenger had to contend without both Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal for this clash and it meant a back three of Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, and Shkodran Mustafi would have to tame Chelsea’s attacking threat.

The Blues were welcoming back Cesc Fabregas and Hazard to the starting line-up after they had been rested during last Saturday’s 5-0 win over Stoke City.

However, despite having had one day less to prepare for this match, it was Arsenal who started brightest.

Sanchez saw a free-kick deflected over the bar, while Ozil was causing problems by operating in the space behind the Chilean and Lacazette.

Ozil was proving to be a real threat as he glided across the Emirates turf, picking out his team-mates at will. He found Sanchez after 13 minutes and his back-heeled pass for Ainsley Maitland-Niles was only just dealt with by a scrambling Chelsea defence.

But for all Arsenal’s dominance, their makeshift back three still looked shaky and it was opened up moments later.

Victor Moses hoofed a long ball forward and it somehow evaded everyone to leave Alvaro Morata clean through on goal. The Spaniard inexplicably fluffed his lines, though, as he fired wide by two yards.

Chelsea’s threat then though proved to be a flash in the pan as Arsenal once again took control of proceedings. Indeed, twice they could have been ahead before the midpoint of the first-half.

First Thibaut Courtois made a stunning save to deny Sanchez, pushing his effort onto the right-hand post before it eventually went to safety after striking the left too. Then the Belgian made another brilliant stop minutes later as this time he tipped Lacazette’s effort wide.

Alonso then put a free-kick over the bar, before Fabregas squandered a golden chance seconds before the interval.

It came after a typically mazy run from Hazard, which had Arsenal defenders scrambling. The Belgian then left them for dead with a perfect back heel, but Fabregas could only fire his effort over the bar from the edge of the box.

The second half began as the first ended, but this time it was Cech’s chance to show off his goalkeeping prowess. First he denied Hazard by using his feet and then seconds later he was at full stretch to push Alonso’s header round his left post.

With half an hour to go Arsenal thought they had finally made the break through when Ozil tucked home Mustafi’s cross. However the cheers of joy turned to sighs as referee Anthony Taylor pulled it back for a foul by Chambers.

The momentum was certainly with the home side though and they pushed forward in search of a goal. Chelsea, for their part, were scrambling and the dam was creaking.

Finally, after 63 minutes, it was broken by Jack Wilshere.

There was a hint of fortune about the assist, which came after Morata deflected Holding’s pass into Wilshere’s feet. However, the finish was one of beauty as the midfielder fired the ball home off the post.

The Gunners’ lead would be short lived, however, as within minutes Chelsea were level.

In a week where Wenger had heavily criticised referees the goal came from a debatable penalty as referee Taylor judged Bellerin had brought down Hazard. The Belgian made no mistake from the pot.

Suddenly it was Arsenal on the ropes and Morata could have doubled their misery moments later, but again he shot wide.

The comeback looked complete, however, as six minutes before full time Alsono put the visitors in front as he turned home Davide Zappacosta’s cross at the near post.

That, though, was not the end of the drama as with just minutes left Bellerin fired home to rescue a point.

It was a goal that breathes life into Arsenal’s Champions League hopes, although their fans wouldn’t have had much air left in their lungs after this end-to-end encounter.

ARSENAL (3-5-2):

Cech 7; Chambers 6 (87 Walcott 5), Mustafi 7, Holding 7; Bellerin 5, Wilshere 7, Xhaka 6, Ozil 8, Maitland-Niles 6; Sanchez 7, Lacazette 7 (80 Welbeck 5).

CHELSEA (3-5-2):

Courtois 8; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6, Cahill 6; Moses 6 (55 Zappacosta 7), Bakayoko 6, Kante 6, Fabregas 7 (70 Drinkwater 6), Alonso 7; Hazard 8 (82 Willian 6), Morata 5.


Anthony Taylor.

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