Friday 23 February 2018

Van Persie leads from front

As Chelsea and Arsenal went looking for a winning goal, the defences were stretched, shambolic and ragged. But enough about the opening minutes. Nearly two hours later when Robin van Persie drove Arsenal's fifth goal past Petr Cech, both sides had contributed to a staggering game, but their defenders had contributed most and least of all.

Van Persie's hat-trick gave Wenger's side a victory -- that it was their first away win of the season was one of the more mundane facts in an astonishing afternoon at Stamford Bridge -- that looked impossible at half-time when they were 2-1 down, and looked only a little more probable when they led 3-2 just 10 minutes into the second half.

Chelsea equalised through a superb Juan Mata shot to make it 3-3 and there appeared to be an inevitability to the Arsenal collapse. Mata's goal had come at a point when Chelsea looked like they had run out of ideas. Now it looked like they would expose the vulnerability in Arsenal.

Instead it was Chelsea and Terry who collapsed -- in Terry's case literally -- and left Andre Villas-Boas trying to explain Chelsea's second league defeat in a week as best he could. In the context of Arsenal's 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford and United's 6-1 loss last week, Villas-Boas may want to dismiss his side's failings as just part of this glorious season.

"The philosophy is a personal value and it is a club value and you should never sell it cheaply. We will stick to this philosophy. We are proud of the way we play and we just have to correct things."

It was never a club value under Mourinho. Yesterday, Villas-Boas may have least nailed the lie that he was in any way the heir to Mourinho. He has his own idiosyncrasies. He bizarrely suggested that two of Arsenal's goals should be discounted in any analysis of Chelsea's defending.

The two were the fourth and fifth Arsenal goals, which would mean that Chelsea had actually got a point. The fourth goal was the turning point when Terry slipped as he turned to pick up a sloppy Malouda pass. Van Persie was through on goal and as Villas-Boas says, he doesn't miss those, especially not this season.

The fifth only came because Chelsea had conceded the fourth in Villas-Boas' analysis, so that didn't need to be analysed either, which will at least stop people wondering if Cech could have saved Van Persie's shot.

It will be overlooked amid all the other craziness, but it wasn't a good afternoon for Fernando Torres. Again he seemed apart from the side, but it was a day where Chelsea looked less and less like an impressive unit the longer it went on.

They had started well, identifying the weakness at full-back in the Arsenal side with such persistence that it was almost an insult to them as professionals.

First, Chelsea worked Johan Djourou and then they turned with relish to Andre Santos. Chelsea's first goal came from that side when Mata turned inside and swung a cross in, which Lampard headed home.

Per Mertesacker was struggling too, but Chelsea's defence was open as well. Wenger felt this was down to the attacking strength of his side, but there was a casualness in midfield, too, which allowed Arsenal time on the ball.

The outstanding Aaron Ramsey used it at the end of a long spell of Arsenal possession. He found Gervinho, who allowed Cech to come out from his goal before squaring to Van Persie, who got Arsenal's first equaliser.

Terry had put Chelsea ahead at the end of the first half and the England and Chelsea captain saw this as a moment of vindication. So too did Villas-Boas, who stood with his arms outstretched and his fists clenched on the sidelines 50 yards away. There was no moment of public unity. Instead Terry celebrated in the corner and Villas-Boas relaxed his fists and soon resumed squatting on his haunches.

Later Villas-Boas would suggest that the two key passages of the game were the opening minutes when Chelsea had all the play and the time in the second half when they chased the winner.

By then, Arsenal looked more secure. They had started the second half well, then scored improbably through Santos who told his team-mates to back off so he could premier a goal celebration, suggesting he has been settling into English life by spending Saturday nights watching Strictly Come Dancing and eating pizza.

Arsenal took the lead through Theo Walcott. He had appeared to be fouled in the build-up, but as the home side stopped for a foul, Walcott played on, burst into the box and shot hard at Cech. Cech should have done better but that was another overlooked theme. Mata's equaliser guaranteed a final 10 minutes in keeping with the game's craziness. Terry slipped, Van Persie scored and on the sideline, Wenger pleaded with his side to show restraint.

"You know how it is on the bench when you're 4-3 up with two minutes to go, you don't exactly encourage your team to go crazy," Wenger said.

His team did go crazy when Van Persie clinched the hat-trick. They celebrated as if they had won the league. This season, anything seems possible.

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