DIDIER DROGBA finally found a way to eclipse John Terry in the headline stakes last night as he produced a powerful two-goal performance against Arsenal that not only sent Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League but re-focused attention away from off-field sexual intrigue and back to the more straightforward business of football.
It was inevitable that Terry would earn his share of the limelight at Stamford Bridge in a match that was played just 24 hours after he was stripped of the England captaincy following two weeks of unwelcome tabloid headlines about his private life.
But, thankfully, the centre-back’s extra-marital affair with the former girlfriend of fellow England defender Wayne Bridge was not the enduring story of the day as Drogba out-muscled Arsenal, just as he had done earlier in the season, to all but end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of winning the title this season.
The result, secured by two trademark goals from Drogba inside the opening 23 minutes, leaves Chelsea two points clear of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League and Arsenal looking nervously over their shoulders at revitalised Liverpool who play at the Emirates on Wednesday and can move to within two points of the Gunners should they win in north London.
It was a case of ‘same old story’ for Arsenal because they lost the match despite dominating possession for long periods and despite, in Wenger’s opinion, being the better side. But in truth it was the sheer power and presence of Drogba which highlighted what Arsenal are really missing – and had the Ivorian swapped sides you suspect the result would have been very different.
With all the fuss over Terry’s off-field proclivities and all the attention on Wayne Rooney’s more positive headlines up at Manchester United it has been all too easy to forget just what an outstanding season Drogba is having in west London.
His two goals yesterday took his tally to a quite remarkable 22 in 26 starts for Chelsea so far this season and 12 in 12 games against Arsenal, who must be sick of the sight of a player who grew up in France as a real admirer of Wenger’s side.
“He’s in a good moment,” said Ancelotti. “He has come back from the African Cup of Nations with a fantastic motivation and he continued to have a very good performance. He did very well.
“He has a fantastic record against Arsenal but not only against Arsenal this season. He’s scoring with consistency.
“I think we deserved to win. You can’t speak about a match only for possession of the ball, you have to have more. You have to control, attacking, defence, counter-attack. When we were two goals up it was very important to counter-attack and did it very well. It was an unbelievable second goal – fantastic movement, fantastic pass and a fantastic shot from Didier. This is football.”
Wenger, of course, didn’t agree, and will stick to his football principles despite the impending prospect of another season without silverware.
“I’m completely happy with our spirit and performance. Against Manchester United last week, for me we didn’t turn up. Today we had the expected performance,” he insisted. “We had 70% of possession of the ball so we were not chasing the ball for 90 minutes. We were not dominated. We were always in an attacking position and when you have to take risks going forward you are open to counter-attacks.
“But I believe our spirit was great, our performance was great. It’s just in a big game like that when you are 2-0 down, you demand too much.
“You have to give Chelsea credit, they defended well. They are very experienced at the back. They make the foul when they are caught on the counter attack in the right place in the pitch. A little foul in the middle of the pitch, not enough to get a yellow card. They have a lot of tricks of a very experienced team and they do that well.”
In truth, Wenger was being rather ungenerous with those remarks because Chelsea were always pretty comfortable despite the possession statistics and always looked likely winners.
Drogba opened the scoring after only eight minutes and, as if to keep the tabloid fires burning, it was Terry who provided the assist, rising high to nod a Florent Malouda corner to the far post where his teammate was waiting to finish from close range.
Arsenal responded with an extended spell of possession, which included an excellent chance for Andriy Arshavin who really should have scored from eight yards rather than send a shot cannoning off the legs of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
But Chelsea’s pace and power on the break proved decisive when Lampard broke away in the centre of the field after 23 minutes and found Drogba surging down the right. This time the Ivory Coast international cut inside his marker and fired an unstoppable left-foot shot into the centre of the goal for 2-0.
After that it was largely ‘game over’, almost like the old Mourinho days at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea sat back, Arsenal dominated but Drogba’s late free-kick – which cannoned back off the crossbar – was the closest either team came to finding another goal.
At the final whistle the cameras focused on Terry and Ancelotti’s emotional embrace as England’s former captain left the field to tumultuous applause. But all eyes should really have been on Drogba.
MATCH RATING *** – It didn’t quite deliver in terms of excitement, not least because Chelsea were so comfortably in control despite conceding possession for long periods. But there was plenty to admire.
REFEREE: Mike Dean 7 (Wirral) – Controlled the game well, made few mistakes and kept his cards in his pocket until late on, allowing the game to flow.
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