A bizarre goal from Didier Drogba was enough to ensure Arsène Wenger's 500th game as Arsenal manager ended in defeat this afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
The new Premiership season is only eight days old but the battle of last term's top two was being built-up as a pivotal moment in the coming campaign. As in the Community Shield a fortnight ago, Arsenal played well but Chelsea took the spoils. And again Drogba decided the game.
It was the oddest of winning goals. In the 73rd minute, Frank Lampard pumped a free-kick into the area and Drogba, under pressure from Senderos, attempted to control the ball. It hit his knee and that was enough to send the ball past the off-balance Lehmann and into the net. It was an incredible way to decide a game of this magnitude and sicknening way for Wenger to lose his first Premiership game to Chelsea.
The result will surely be painted as signifying a final changing of the Premiership guard and a definite indicator that the title will stay at Stamford Bridge this season.
Nobody, not even Wenger or Jose Mourinho, knows for sure.
Fortunately there is enough time to put this result right.
Wenger made only one change from the team that had squeezed past Newcastle on the opening weekend of the season. Dennis Bergkamp dropped the bench and Alexander Hleb stepped up to make his first competitive start for the Club. The Belarus international slotted in on the left side of midfield and Pires stepped into the "hole" the Dutchman usually occupies.
This fixture has seen plenty of early goals in recent years and this one nearly followed suit. After barely 90 seconds Frank Lampard swung over a corner from the right and Asier Del Horno rose above the Arsenal defence to power a header goalwards. It seemed destined for the corner but Freddie Ljungberg chested the ball down on the goalline and booted it clear of danger.
The early pressure had belonged to Chelsea but Arsenal responded. Del Horno dithered over Thierry Henry's cross and could only touch the ball into the path of Ljungberg who slashed his shot wildly over the bar from an acute angle.
Midway though the Swedish midfielder received a knock and was stretched off. Robin van Persie came off the bench and joined Henry in attack. Pires dropped back to right to accommodate the change.
It was becoming a high-quality, fast-paced game but there was precious little being manufactured in front of goal. Arsenal were lively on the break but Chelsea enjoyed territorial advantage, throwing cross after the cross into the box. Toure, who had impressively outmuscled Hernan Crespo when the
Argentine went clear in the opening stages, dealt with most of the danger.
Three minutes from the break, Chelsea nearly broke the deadlock. Lampard's bobbling cross from the left found its way to Arjen Robben at the far post. The Dutchman's shot bounced up and hit the head of Lehmann before being cleared.
The second half did not have the pace of the first but it was more open. Henry took down Cole's high cross but blazed over. Then Drogba, a half-time substitute, fired a couple of chances wide.
Mourinho completed his compliment of substitutes by bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips and Michael Essien in the 58th minute. The game continued at some pace and, if anything, Arsenal were looking at their strongest when the Chelsea goal came.
Minutes before Drogba's strike, Toure had burst forward and Van Persie's backflick flew wide with Petr Cech standing statuesque. But the mood changed in the 73rd minute with that odd, odd goal.
The pressure was now on Arsenal. Henry fired goalwards and Cech fumbled the ball around the post. The Frenchman tested the big Chelsea keeper again seven minutes from time. This time Cech snaffled the ball in his chest.
However Arsenal could not sustain their challenge and, as the home crowd's whistles grew louder around Stamford Bridge, it was Chelsea who looked more likely to score.
They nearly did it when Drogba escaped from Senderos deep into injury time. This time Lehmann clutched on to the weakest of shots.
The big Ivorian had already done the damage.
- Cole Yellow Card
- Senderos Yellow Card
- Ljungberg 26
- Fabregas 85
- Flamini 85
- van Persie 26 Yellow Card
- Del Horno
- Robben 59
- Makelele Yellow Card
- Gudjohnsen 59
- Crespo 45
- Essien 59
- Wright-Phillips 59
- Drogba 45 Goal!