Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Twelve games against Jose Mourinho and still he can’t beat him; no wonder Arsene Wenger lost his temper and pushed the Chelsea manager in an angry touchline fracas — because in some ways this defeat at Stamford Bridge was as frustrating and as crushing as any of the ones that have gone before.
Arsenal fans will point out it was nowhere near as bad as last year’s 6-0 reverse in Wenger’s 1,000th match in charge, a result the Frenchman described as the worst of his career, and that it took an outstanding finish from Diego Costa to finally beat a team that dominated possession for most of the match. But look a little deeper and you’ll see Mourinho played all the clever cards and went home with all the bragging rights.
It was almost as if the Portuguese, who last year angered Wenger by describing him as “a specialist in failure”, opted this time to taunt his rival with a tactical lesson, and not just a verbal one; he decided to beat him without even having the ball.
The end result is that Chelsea — inspired by former Arsenal star, Cesc Fabregas — are now five points clear at the top of the Premier League and already nine points clear of seventh-placed Arsenal. It won’t count in the history books, then, that for large periods of the game Arsenal were allowed to control possession — up to 60% of it, at times — because Chelsea ruthlessly and expertly strangled their rivals at the crucial moment, and saved their energy for meaningful counter-attacks that won the match without ever moving into third gear.
All this orchestrated by Fabregas, the midfielder who grew up at Arsenal, captained Arsenal and who would be an Arsenal player again right now if Wenger had chosen to re-sign him from Barcelona.
The Spaniard provided the ultimate coup de gras with a wonderful 78th minute ball over the top of the Arsenal defence that was in turn chipped over goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny by Diego Costa to complete a victory set up by Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.
You can understand how much it must have hurt anyone with Arsenal in their heart; but the game — which also saw Chelsea goalkeeper Thibault Courtois substituted for Petr Cech after only 24 minutes with a head injury — may well be remembered primarily for Wenger’s confrontation with Mourinho that took their rivalry to a new level a few minutes later.
The incident came when Gary Cahill’s late challenge on Alex Sanchez left the Arsenal man writhing on the floor. Wenger, wanting to see a red card, moved out of his technical area to confront his counterpart, shoving him with both hands before the pair were separated by the fourth official. It was an astonishing sight and one that left even Mourinho looking intimidated, and although he later played down the confrontation it was yet another sign he had got one over a manager who seems to have a mental block when facing Chelsea.
“We were ready for them to have the ball: they like the ball, and we were ready for that,” said Mourinho as he outlined his tactics. “We were compact between the lines, controlled Ozil and Alexis coming inside, put pressure on Flamini and Wilshere. Defensively we played very, very well. At 1-0 up, the game was almost in the pocket. We controlled it. We were always dangerous on the counter. And I think we deserved the victory.”
Mourinho’s summary has a ring of truth about it; and it certainly leaves the two sides with very different outlooks as they head into the international break.
The outstanding performance of Fabregas, booed by the away fans, made for happy viewing for the Special One and provided yet more pain for those in red.
“He was fantastic,” said Mourinho. “But, to be fair, he didn’t have this performance because he had a special motivation against Arsenal. He’s been doing this from day one. He was very special and showed the professional he is. To play against his team, the team where he was born or made for football, I think that shows even more his commitment to us and his professionalism.”
The frustration for Arsenal is that they produced three-quarters of a good performance; but having harried well in midfield and controlled the ball — using the energy of Wilshere and Sanchez to create opportunities — they couldn’t complete it.
Instead, Chelsea opened the scoring when the outstanding Hazard slalomed into the area and was crudely brought down by Koscielny for a clear-cut penalty that the Belgian expertly converted.
In truth, it was pretty much the only effort on target in an opening half that was more entertaining in the dugout than it was on the pitch; and it was the same story after the break — Arsenal with the possession, Chelsea with the power and the concentration that eventually proved crucial.
Arsenal’s best hope came from a Wilshere shot that was blocked by Fabregas’ arm — but referee Martin Atkinson only awarded a corner. “It could have been a penalty,” said Wenger, who smiled and laughed his way through a post-match press conference despite the obvious tension of the occasion.. “We knew it would be a difficult game. It was down to little things and details, which went on their side. But it was very even.”
That analysis was a little overly optimistic; but whatever Wenger’s verdict it was man of the match Fabregas who had the more convincing smile as he left Stamford Bridge, despite being booed by his former fans.
“I know they still love me,” he insisted. ” I’ve always said it — I’m not scared — they will always be in my heart. But this is football. I’m in this fantastic football club, I’m playing with great players, with a great coach, with great fans. I want to win everything.”
The unfortunate truth for Arsenal supporters is that had Cesc been wearing red at Stamford Bridge, those words would have seemed like wishful thinking. But in blue you suspect his dreams may well come true.
CHELSEA: Courtois 6 (Cech 24), Ivanovic 7, Cahill7, Terry 6 Azpilicueta 6, Matic 7, Fabregas 8, Schurrle 5 (Mikel 69), Oscar 7 (Willian 87), Hazard 8, Costa 7.
Subs not used: Luis, Zouma, Salah, Remy.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 5, Chambers 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 5, Gibbs 7, Wilshere 7 (Rosicky 83), Flamini 7, Cazorla 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69; 6), Ozil 5, Sanchez 8 (Podolski 79), Welbeck 6.
Subs not used: Martinez, Monreal, Campbell, Coquelin.
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