Arsenal destroy Chelsea at the Emirates 3-0

If there was a better way to celebrate the imminent 20th anniversary of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, then it’s hard to imagine what it would have entailed for it to be better than what was seen last night. Maybe a result such as this against a Chelsea team managed by Jose Mourinho would have topped Saturday evening. Not much else.

The analysis of Wenger’s 20 years has essentially been condensed down to a Sven-Goran Eriksson team talk: ‘First half good; second half, not so good.’ Arsene’s first 10 years were glorious, but the latter 10? Not at all.

But on Saturday at The Emirates it was like a throwback to happier days at Highbury, as though this team wanted to remind him of that glorious past. Maybe they even dared dream of something similar emerging in the future, before Wenger retires.

Nothing has illustrated the difference in Wenger’s first 10 years and the last 10 years more clearly than the club’s performances against Chelsea. For a decade west London’s arriviste team couldn’t get close to them in Premier League clashes; but having finally overcome them decisively in the 2005-06 season, and of course no thanks to a certain Jose Mourinho emergence, it had seemed as though they would never loosen their dominance over Arsenal.

Chelsea’s treatment of Arsenal in the last 10 years has been close to systematic bullying at times. A 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge and the odd victory here and there notwithstanding, Arsenal have generally collapsed and disintegrated at the sight of Chelsea.

As such, this was a bizarre role reversal. There was the slow, disjointed side conceding space aplenty at the back and unable to defend counter attacks. And there was a team of predators hunting down a weary, weakened opponent. In short, all the ingredients of an Arsenal-Chelsea match, just with the identities switched.

The significance was acknowledged by Wenger.

‘I would be tempted to say it was one of the best performances in recent years,’ he said. ‘It was one of those moments in your life where you think: “Ok, today is a great day.” In the first half I think it was nearly perfect. We have shown great quality, we played with style, with pace, with movement, and that’s the kind of football we want to play.

‘I said before the game we have to deal with some inconvenient facts and I’m aware we couldn’t beat Chelsea for years and getting that out of the system was at stake. What was important for me was that the psychological hurdle doesn’t stand in your way.’

As for the future, though it is obvious one fine half does not a title challenge make, Wenger must at least feel as optimistic as he has done for years.

‘I’m hungrier because I know I don’t have 20 years in front of me,’ he said, reflecting on his milestone. ‘And because I feel the responsibility more. The weight of keeping people happy is heavier than when I arrived.’

Arsenal were impressive in all areas, pressing the ball with a ferocity rarely seen here, and unsettling Chelsea from the off. Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi and Shkodran Mustafi were all superb as was Mesut Ozil, though that was to be expected. That said, it was Alexis Sanchez who led the way, not just with his finishing and assists, but with his intensity and sheer bloody mindedness. He was outstanding.

By contrast, for Gary Cahill it was a miserable afternoon. Even if we can agree he was fouled by Leroy Fer at Swansea last week, Sanchez sniffed a vulnerability. So when Branislav Ivanovic rolled the ball back to Cahill on 10 minutes, the Chilean was hassling and harrying, robbing the ball and advancing on goal before delivering the exquisite chip over Thibaut Courtois to make it 1-0.

Arsenal looked in the mood to exploit Chelsea’s disarray.
They moved the ball crisply and aggressively, Iwobi at the heart of the move in the 14th minute which pulled Chelsea one way, then the other to release Bellerin, who pulled the ball back for Walcott to convert from close range. Usually it is Arsenal who capitulate within 15 minutes of this fixture. It all felt decidedly surreal.

It wasn’t just the old guard, such as Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic who looked utterly unfit for purpose for Chelsea.

N’Golo Kante was awfully ponderous when Ozil robbed him on 40 minutes. The man who defied running stats last season was last seen jogging back as the German sprinted clean away, exchanged passes with Sanchez, and shot it into the ground to see the ball loop over Courtois, hit the post and rebound into the net.

Chelsea had been out-run, out-battled and out-classed. And it is hard to see this side improving soon; the malaise of last season seems to cut too deeply into their psyche, as Conte conceded.

‘We must work a lot to improve because I think we are a great team only on paper, not on the pitch,’ he said.

‘I prefer to be a great team on the pitch because that is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing; not words. I think there are many difficulties but if we understand this, I think we are in a great position to recover.’

It took just one break from Walcott in the second half and a cross with which Sanchez so nearly connected, to prompt substitutions. Cesc Fabregas, on a miserable return home, was the man withdrawn. Marcos Alonso came on as Chelsea reverted to a back three.
It stemmed the tide of attacks for a while but didn’t threaten Arsenal. Eden Hazard and Willian were sacrificed for Pedro and Michy Batshuayi on 70 minutes. But when Pedro did appear to get a chance on goal on 73 minutes, the extraordinary pace of Bellerin and an exquisite tackle saved Arsenal. Then it was Petr Cech off his line on 84 minutes to deny Batshuayi.

In truth it was all a little late by then anyway. Arsenal had assumed a dominance more akin to the double winning side of 1998 or the Invicibles by then.

And it’s a long time since they’ve been able to say that; almost 10 years, in fact.

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