Drogba shines as Blue powerhouse flattens Gunners
Published 04/10/2010 | 05:00
THAT'S why they're champions. That's why Chelsea look wedded to the title and why Arsenal seem destined to remain beautiful bridesmaids.
Chelsea continue to be the powerhouses of the Premier League, charging four points clear with unstoppable goals from Didier Drogba and Alex. Arsenal are pleasing on the eye but appear doomed to watch others disappear up the aisle ahead of them.
Arsene Wenger's attractive side now lie seven points behind Chelsea, whose plus-21 goal difference signals their defensive resilience and cutting edge. After their slip-up at Eastlands, the men from west London were back to their ruthless best yesterday.
A sense of inevitability suffused proceedings at the Bridge, particularly after Drogba flicked Chelsea in front with all the deftness of Gianfranco Zola. Alex's merciless free-kick enhanced Chelsea's lead and highlighted Arsenal's problems at the back. Wenger, bizarrely, claimed some sort of moral victory because a few of Carlo Ancelotti's players succumbed to "cramp'' late on. As Chelsea gripped the points, Arsenal clutched at straws.
Maybe this "cramp'' was simply a sign of Chelsea's supreme work rate, their willingness to keep running even when the lactic acid seeped into their bodies. Alex did indeed limp off with a tweaked thigh muscle, but it was probably caused by the extraordinary power he poured into his 30-yard free-kick.
There is a unity and energy to Chelsea that make them such formidable opponents. There is also a technical excellence applied at speed. Ashley Cole kept flying down the left, getting behind Bacary Sagna with a few runs and under the skin of the Arsenal fans with a couple of gestures. Michael Essien was a force in central midfield, disrupting Arsenal's supply lines and piling forward.
Drogba was Drogba, déjà vu on legs, striking his 13th goal in 13 games against Arsenal. He bullied Wenger's centre-halves, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, who resembled learner drivers venturing out into fast-moving traffic.
How Arsenal missed Thomas Vermaelen at the back, as well as Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott further forward.
Wenger sought to accentuate the positive and the visitors did leave with certain pluses. Lukasz Fabianski, barring one first-half spill, made some decent stops.
Again signalling his rich promise, Jack Wilshere impressed, teasing the ball elegantly around the central acres with that dextrous left foot, but there was something of the men-against-boys brutality in the way Essien nutmegged the Arsenal teenager midway through the second half.
Samir Nasri, recipient of a lengthy and loud salute from the visiting fans, maintained his recent vibrant form. But where was the finish? Marouane Chamakh, usually a threat aerially, failed to convert the most inviting of chances -- and Alex and John Terry do not allow many of those.
Arsenal floated like a butterfly. Chelsea stung like a bee. Even Ramires, who looked out of his depth in the swirling midfield currents at Manchester City last week, put in a strong shift before departing to warm applause.
Arsenal had actually begun confidently, their plan of narrowing the game, inviting Nasri to roam inside from his right-wing station, giving them bodies in the centre to combat Chelsea's power.
For a while. For 39 minutes, Arsenal looked good. Wilshere released Sagna early on, leading to a cross and a Chamakh header. Andrey Arshavin had a shot saved by Petr Cech.
Wilshere delighted the vocal Arsenal fans with one clever pass between Florent Malouda and Essien. Again there was no end product.
Again in a game with Arsenal, Chelsea always exuded this power, this ability to create space through strength or speed of movement. Drogba charged past Sagna. Malouda eluded Squillaci.
Essien threatened with a header. Fabianski was under the spotlight, dropping a Cole cross but then saving a drive from Drogba.
Arsenal's 'keeper had no chance when Chelsea hammered again on the visitors' back door, which fell off its weakened hinges.
Ramires, having first appeared to have fouled Alex Song, wanted the loose ball more than Chamakh. John Obi Mikel seized possession and Ramires took over, sliding a fine reverse pass down the inside-left channel for the overlapping Cole. The cross was drilled low and hard and Drogba met it magnificently.
When Arsenal review the video, ignoring the 'repeat' billing, they should take some heart from their reaction. They never stopped trying to pass their way through, particularly Wilshere. Over-elaboration remains a problem. Chamakh was particularly guilty of delaying the shooting opportunity.
Just on the hour, Arsenal's central-defensive frailties were highlighted again, Squillaci dithered in possession, and Anelka pounced. The former Arsenal striker sped on, rounding Fabianski, but found only the side-netting.
Flickers of frustration were seen in Arsenal movements. Wilshere briefly became wound up, lecturing Mike Dean after being hounded by Terry.
Wenger attempted to instil more attacking invention, removing Abou Diaby and sending on Tomas Rosicky with 20 minutes left. Rosicky, released by Chamakh, promptly brought a low save from Cech. Chelsea stood firm, Alex making a succession of headed clearances. When one cross from Rosicky did pierce the blue barricades, Chamakh's header whistled wide.
Largely secure, the champions looked to kill the game off on the counter-attack, Anelka racing through but his shot cannoned away off Fabianski's knee. With five minutes remaining, Koscielny fouled Anelka and this was Alex territory. Malouda lurked at one end of the wall with Song to his left and Arshavin loose to the right. As Alex ran in, Malouda dropped behind Song and Arshavin failed to shuffle across. Mind the gap. Arsenal didn't. Alex's free-kick thundered through and in.
The champions could take some catching. (© Daily Telegraph, London)