By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal slipped to their first defeat of season as they went down 2-1 to Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Both the visitors’ goals from came from Juan Mata free kicks. The first was prodded home by Fernando Torres after 20 minutes, the second drifted in directly just after half-time.
Shortly before the break, Gervinho had expertly equalised from a low cross by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsène Wenger’s side tried to salvage a draw in the second half but, somehow, Chelsea always seemed to have this game under control.
Arsenal have won plaudits for their style and steel this season but they were not at their best in this game. Chelsea snuffed out their threat and took two of the chances that came their way
This was the first bump on the long, hard Premier League road this season. And every side will suffer them.
As always, the recovery will decide a team’s destiny. And Arsenal have already showed their have plenty about them this season.
There was a medium-sized surprise in Wenger’s line-up before the game. Per Mertesacker had been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers this season but it was he, not Laurent Koscielny, who made way for returning skipper Thomas Vermaelen. Not a happy birthday for the German.
Apart from that, Arsenal were unchanged from the draw at Manchester City last Sunday. That meant Aaron Ramsey continued on the right and Gervinho was the main striker.
In previous weeks, the manager had talked about the difference between “the Premier League games and the big games”. This was most definitely one of the latter - and the first at the Emirates this season.
Arsenal played with confidence in the early stages. Santi Cazorla fizzed a shot over the bar and Abou Diaby thumped an effort into the chest of Petr Cech.
It would be the Frenchman’s last meaningful contribution; he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 17th minute, presumably due to injury.
The new addition went wide on the right and Ramsey pushed into the middle.
Before the switch in formation had settled Arsenal were behind. Mata floated over a free-kick from the right and, as Torres and Koscielny tussled, the Spanish hooked a shot behind the Frenchman and into the net at the near post.
In the context of the game it was bolt from the blue - and, indeed, for the Blues.
Arsenal sought parity immediately and it was that urgency which may have led to Chelsea’s penalty shout shortly afterwards. Referee Martin Atkinson shrugged off Cazorla’s assertion that he been baulked by John Obi Mikel and the visitors fled to the other end.
Torres escaped to go one-on-one with Mannone. The backtracking Koscielny certainly made contact with the striker but the referee deemed that the Chelsea man had kicked the back of the defender’s leg.
The goal, followed by the scare, sent Arsenal into a ragged period and they struggled to recover their composure. It looked like they had settled for regrouping at half time when the home side grabbed the equaliser.
Oxlade-Chamberlain again found space on the right and whipped in a low cross. An unmarked Gervinho controlled it with one touch on the edge of the six-yard area and swiveled to fire fiercely into the top of the net. It was his fourth goal of the season.
Oscar blasted wide and Torres found the sidenetting in the dying minutes. It had been a first half without a discernable pattern but at least Arsenal had parity.
Wenger’s side seemed to fancy their chances at the start of the second period. Podolski burst through and his cross rebounded off Gervinho for Cazorla to slash a shot wide.
However, in the 53rd minute, Arsenal fell behind to another set-piece. Vermaelen clipped Torres as he galloped through and Mata’s free-kick missed the onrushing hoards in a crowded area and found its way just inside the far post.
Just before the hour, Podolski guided his header towards the far corner only for Cech to bat it aside. Ramsey flashed a shot wide from the rebound.
As we reached the midway point of the second half, Arsenal were pressing and pressing. Chelsea were happy to soak up that pressure and snatch opportunities on the break.
Wenger made his final changes - Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott for Podolski and Ramsey.
The Frenchman nearly squeezed the equaliser when his deflected drive forced Cech into a twisting save.
Seven minutes from time Koscielny headed Cazorla’s free-kick against the far post. In between those efforts, Chelsea had their fair share of breakaways. Mata’s free-kick found the wall and substitute Victor Moses volleyed over.
Arsenal tried to rouse themselves for one final foray and Cazorla sidefooted a shot over the bar from Gervinho’s pass.
As injury time began, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain combined to send Giroud through. He breezed past the keeper but, with the angle narrowing, could only find the side-netting.
It was Arsenal’s last chance of a disappointing afternoon.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
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