Sunday 25 June 2017

Wenger toasts anniversary in style as Gunners record first league win over Chelsea since 2011

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0

Mesut Ozil fires in Arsenal’s third goal against Chelsea the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty
Mesut Ozil fires in Arsenal’s third goal against Chelsea the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty

Miguel Delaney

In the week of Arsene Wenger's 20th anniversary, he was given a present he has waited a long time for. Arsenal enjoyed their first league win over Chelsea since 2011, and Antonio Conte's side were all too willing to get into the spirit of the occasion, gifting the French manager's team the space to look as good as some of his best over those two decades.

"It worked quite well," an utterly delighted Wenger said with intentional understatement. "It's one of those moments as a manager when you think 'today is a great day'."

Diego Costa shows his frustration. Photo: Getty
Diego Costa shows his frustration. Photo: Getty

It was more than that.

This 3-0 win was enjoyable revenge for so many depressing defeats to Chelsea, and enjoyable redemption. After a summer when many of their rivals made big changes, and when Wenger was again criticised for stagnation, bright new managers like Conte were supposed to show how behind the times Arsenal were. But it was Chelsea who looked painfully pedestrian, and some of the game's defining images were of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, with troubled looks as one of Arsenal's sprightly attackers glided by them. Conte may be famous for his energy and intensity, but those qualities were only seen from Arsenal.

The only way this could have been any better for Wenger is if it had come under Chelsea's much-discussed previous manager, but their current manager has big problems. "I have to solve the situation," he said, barely containing his anger.

They just look like an old team, not in any way built for the modern pressing football Conte wants, and they couldn't keep pace with Arsenal. It is even more fitting, so, that Wenger's side settled it all with blinding pace.

Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Getty
Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides second goal. Photo: Getty

The game was won by the 14th minute, and the pattern set in the 10th. Then, Cahill gifted Arsenal the freedom of their half with a bad back pass, and Alexis Sanchez strode through to lift the ball over Thibaut Courtois. That was actually Arsenal's first goal against Chelsea in the league since January 2013, reflecting just how much they had been bullied, but they only had to wait another three minutes for the next one.

It was the same story, as a fully confident Arsenal just flowed through the Chelsea half, until Hector Bellerin was afforded the space in the box to pick out Theo Walcott. Arsenal were rampant, and the crowd became raucous when Mesut Ozil volleyed in the third just before half-time.

The German drew cheers when he executed some no-look passes, and jeers came when an ineffective Cesc Fabregas was taken off just after the break.

It was that kind of day for Arsenal. The question is will it be that kind of season, will it finally be a title challenge? "At the moment Man City look a long way in front but, if we maintain the quality of our performances and stay consistent, we might have a chance," Wenger said. Maintaining that quality has been the problem. Arsenal do look as good as anyone when on this form, but the issue is they have looked this good before. They had a very similar 3-0 win over Manchester United almost exactly a year ago, but finished the season in the same old fashion.

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides third goal. Photo: Getty
Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides third goal. Photo: Getty

Read more: Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez warned not to take penalties against Chelsea
'A great team on paper, not on the pitch' - Conte fuming at Chelsea flops
Arsene Wenger hails Arsenal's "style and steel" to overcome Chelsea hoodoo

This win doesn't make those deeper questions about Wenger's management go away, but it does at least check off one of the many issues that have counted against them over the last decade: a complex about the London rivals who have become their nemesis. Having secured just his sixth win over Chelsea since 2004, Wenger remarked that it was good "to get that out of the system".

Chelsea's slow performance was the antithesis of Conte's energetic football ideal, and his side certainly don't look like they'll be challenging for the title. He looked furious. The Italian got none of the first-choice signings he wanted in the summer - with even N'Golo Kante second choice after Radja Naingollan - and it showed. "The pitch is the truth," Conte said after. "The pitch speaks."

It told us here that Chelsea are not able to play his way, especially not in defence. Arsenal did play Wenger's way. "That's the kind of football we want," he said. "The first half was nearly perfect. We played with style." They certainly celebrated his anniversary in style.

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