By Rob Kelly at Stamford Bridge
Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the Premier League is over after they were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
In a tightly-contested first half, the Gunners fell behind in the 27th minute when Eden Hazard converted from the spot after he was felled by Laurent Koscielny.
Arsène Wenger’s side continued to up the tempo after the interval, with Cazorla and Calum Chambers both coming close with firm efforts.
But Chelsea wrapped up the points on 78 minutes as former Gunner Cesc Fabregas lifted a pass over the top for Diego Costa to run on to and lob Wojciech Szczesny.
It was a bitter blow for Arsenal, who had played so encouragingly for much of the game and they left west London frustratingly empty-handed.
SETTING THE SCENE
While both teams came into the game boasting an unbeaten record in the Premier League, not many gave the Gunners much chance of extending that record in west London.
The home side’s ominous early-season form, coupled with the near-constant reminders of March’s heavy defeat at Stamford Bridge, saw Arsenal assume an unfamiliar role as underdogs.
The much-publicised reunion with Fabregas added a fresh level of intrigue to proceedings - but Wenger hoped that two of his newest additions, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, would be the game’s dominant personalities.
The pair came into it in fine form, with the former’s hat-trick in midweek -coupled with the Chilean’s fifth goal in his last eight matches - highlighting the danger they would pose. They lined up alongside Mesut Ozil in attack, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench as Wenger made one change to the side that dismissed Galatasaray so emphatically.
Wilshere came in to add a more physical edge to a three-man midfield, alongside Mathieu Flamini - tasked with keeping Fabregas quiet - and Santi Cazorla. Elsewhere, Nacho Monreal returned to the squad after recovering from a back injury while Emi Martinez replaced David Ospina, out with a slight thigh problem, on the bench.
Arsenal had been blown away in the opening 10 minutes of that heavy defeat in March, and played in a much more circumspect manner this time around. With Wilshere biting into tackles, and Alexis and Welbeck full of pace and power, they imposed themselves quickly during the early exchanges.
Neither side were able to take control of the game, but Chelsea had early problems to contend with as Thibaut Courtois was poleaxed in the area after a collision with Alexis.
There was no blame attached to the Arsenal man, who had every right to go for a loose ball, but the Belgian came off the worse for it. While he managed to battle on for some 10 minutes longer, he eventually made way for Petr Cech.
Both sides were biding their time, waiting to land a decisive blow and in the 26th minute one finally came - but it was the Blues who were celebrating.
It came as Hazard picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, dropped the shoulder to ease his way past Flamini and sprinted into the box. The Belgian was in full flow as he then dummied his way past the covering Koscielny, who could only fling out a leg to haul down the Chelsea man. Penalty.
Hazard made no mistake from the spot, pushing it low into the bottom right-hand corner to give the hosts the lead.
It was a blow for the Gunners, but their response was strong - and immediate. Straight away they set about the hosts, pushing and probing as they sought a way back into the match.
On the half-hour mark they came close to finding the equaliser as Ozil set Cazorla free on the left with a beautiful first-time pass. The Spaniard took a touch before cutting the ball back to the edge of the area for the onrushing Wilshere, but his first touch was just too heavy and Cech was able to claim the loose ball.
With the interval rapidly approaching, Arsenal were on the hunt as they pinned the hosts back into their own half. Their intricate build-up play was causing problems, but the opening they required just would not present itself.
It had been that kind of half, but there were certainly encouraging signs for the Gunners ahead of the second period.
Arsenal picked up from where they left off at the start of the second period, pushing forward and putting Jose Mourinho’s side under concerted pressure.
Just four minutes in, they created their first opportunity of the half as Alexis rolled the ball back into the middle from the left, and Wilshere brilliantly dummied it for Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard collected the ball, moved it on to his left but drilled his shot just wide of the far post.
While Wenger’s side continued positively, they had to be wary of the threat Chelsea posed on the counter and that was underlined just before the hour mark as Hazard came forward again.
The Belgian had been in a lively mood all afternoon and he skipped up the left flank to the byeline, before delivering a dangerous low cross that Flamini just about dealt with at the near post.
With the game so delicately-poised, it was vital that the Gunners keep themselves in the game ahead of a late push but they soon came under pressure from the hosts who were determined to wrap things up.
There was some controversy in the 63rd minute as Wilshere took aim from the edge of the box and his fierce shot appeared to hit the hand of Fabregas in the box. The Arsenal players went up as one to remonstrate that it was a penalty, but Martin Atkinson would only point for a corner.
Oxlade-Chamberlain soon arrived as Wenger shuffled his pack for the final quarter of the game, and still the waves of red pressure continued to build.
Chambers came close with a flashing drive on 73 minutes, before Chelsea came roaring back and Hazard fired over the bar from close range after good work by Costa.
With the Gunners pressing on, space was always going to open up for the hosts and in the 78th minute they took advantage as Fabregas released Costa through the middle and he made no mistake with a cute lob.
It was a frustrating way to concede and despite some late pressure, the Gunners could not force their way back into the game. It had been a frustrating afternoon.
- Chambers Yellow Card
- Mertesacker (C)
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Alexis 78
- Cazorla 69
- Wilshere 83
- Welbeck Yellow Card
- Podolski 78
- Rosicky 83
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 69
- Courtois 23
- Terry (C)
- Cahill Yellow Card
- Ivanovic Yellow Card
- Hazard Goal!
- Schurrle 69 Yellow Card
- dos Santos Emboaba Junior 87
- Da Silva Costa Goal!
- Borges Da Silva 87
- Cech 23
- Mikel 69