A double from Didier Drogba sent Arsenal to defeat in the Community Shield on Sunday.
The Ivory Coast striker scored at the start of each half and, despite a response from Francesc Fabregas midway through the second period, Chelsea held on to win the battle of the best two sides in England last season.
However, Arsène Wenger can take heart from this game. On this showing, the difference between the teams is much less than the 11 points that divided them in the Premiership table last term. Arsenal gave as good as they got this afternoon at Cardiff and that bodes well for the long season ahead.
Sol Campbell (calf) and Manuel Almunia (finger) were the only injuries in the Arsenal squad going into this season's traditional curtain-raiser. But Gilberto was left on the bench as he had been given time off after his exertions in the Confederations Cup over the summer and consequently had not figured in any of the pre-season warm-ups.
The pace was fast and frenetic straight from the kick-off. But "t'was ever thus" in this encounter. Ultimately, the trophy means little but the Community Shield always pitches Goliath against Goliath and both sides want to set down a marker with the new season less than a week away.
However, this afternoon, the opening salvo belonged to Chelsea. In the seventh minute Aiser Del Horno pumped a long, lofted pass to the edge of the area. Drogba nipped in front of Senderos, chested the ball into his path and then hooked his shot past Jens Lehmann and into the far corner.
Arsenal looked for an equaliser immediately. Henry flicked the ball up for himself on the edge of the area before sending a swivelling shot into the chest of Petr Cech.
In the minutes that followed the North London side started to gently turn the screw. Lauren's dangerous cross was nodded away then Henry worked his magic on right before cutting the ball back into the area. Unfortunately his team-mates had not followed him into the box and the chance went begging.
However Drogba was becoming a muscular menace up front for Chelsea and his grappling style was testing Senderos to the limit.
Arsenal's other centre half, Kolo Toure, nearly put Wenger's men level eight minutes from the break. The Ivorian won the ball in the centre circle, fed a pass to Henry then raced forward to spank a shot toward goal. Cech stretched his huge frame to divert the ball past the post.
In the final seconds of the half, Henry ended another bright Arsenal move with a shot on the turn into Cech's arms.
Wenger brought on Robin van Persie, Alexander Hleb and Gilberto after the break. Their introduction contributed to a bright start from Arsenal but, again, Drogba's early goal set them back on their heels.
In the 57th minute, the Chelsea striker burst clear from a nod on by Eidur Gudjohnsen. Senderos scrambled back in pursuit and Lehmann forced Drogba wide however he recovered to turn his shot past Toure on the goalline. It would be a long way back from here.
But Arsenal were provided with the perfect short-cut eight minutes later when Fabregas slid in a shot from close range. Lauren spread the ball to Ljungberg on the right flank and his cross was miscued into the path of the Spaniard by Paulo Ferreira at the near post. After scoring, Fabregas raced into the net to collect the ball. It was "game on" once more.
Jose Antonio Reyes came on for the final 18 minutes and showed some classy touches. However, in keeping with the theme of the day for Arsenal, they did not lead to clear-cut chances.
The game became stretched in the final stages; it led to scares at both ends. However the closest Arsenal got to an equaliser was Henry's low shot with eight minutes left.
- Lauren 78
- Senderos 72
- Fabregas Goal! Yellow Card
- Flamini 45
- Pires 45
- Ljungberg 72
- Bergkamp 45
- Hoyte 78
- Cygan 72
- Silva 45
- Hleb 45
- van Persie 45
- Reyes 72
- Del Horno
- Lampard Yellow Card
- Duff 74
- Makelele Yellow Card
- Robben 69
- Drogba 58 Goal! Goal!
- Gudjohnsen 58
- Tiago 58
- Cole 74
- Wright-Phillips 69
- Crespo 58