By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
What a game. What a win. What a performance.
We have waited for close to five years to witness an Arsenal victory over Chelsea. It has been a long time coming, but this was some way to do it.
This was as complete a performance as you’ll see. From front to back, Arsene Wenger’s side were imperious, dominating every facet of a game played at breakneck speed.
Fluidity was allied with the fight that we have so often been accused of lacking. No backwards steps were taken, no challenge shirked. This was a magnificent display borne as much out of effort as the elegance that bewitched their opponents.
The three points were won in an unforgettable first half in which the Gunners blew away Chelsea with a display of such passion and poise that Antonio Conte’s side just could not live with it.
Alexis started the onslaught when he pounced on a defensive error to open the scoring, before the outstanding Theo Walcott made it two at the end of a slick team move moments later.
Mesut Ozil, creator-in-chief, made it three just before half time after combining brilliantly with Alexis and the dye was cast.
The pace dropped in the second half, but the hosts’ commitment didn’t. Walcott came close to adding the fourth goal both his and the team’s display merited, but his fierce shot was saved.
It mattered not. The points were won, and the Gunners’ Chelsea blues had been banished in fine style.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger’s side came into this game in fine fettle, having won three on the bounce in the Premier League while also riding high after a 4-0 midweek win against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup.
It would have been a tough call for the manager when it came to his starting XI, but he opted to revert to the side that beat Hull City so convincingly seven days earlier.
It meant that Alexis - on a run of four goals in his previous four games - retained his role as central striker, while Olivier Giroud was back on the bench after recovering from a toe injury.
Mohamed Elneny dropped out of the matchday squad, while Granit Xhaka and Lucas - who both scored at Nottingham Forest - had to make do with a place on the bench.
Chelsea, meanwhile, named former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas in midfield, while the Gunners’ bête noire, Diego Costa, spearheaded the attack.
The Gunners were without a win in their previous nine Premier League clashes against the west Londoners - they would need to be at the top of their game if they were to end that run.
There has been no shortage of drama in the recent clashes between these two sides, and the game got off to the sort of frenetic start we have come to expect.
Within four minutes, Santi Cazorla tested Thibaut Courtois with a fierce drive, while from the ensuing counter-attack the visitors appealed for a penalty after Costa was taken down by Laurent Koscielny on the edge of the box.
Alexis saw a snapshot deflected over the bar moments later as a see-saw game got off to a thrilling start. This was Premier League football at its best.
We should have known a goal was coming and, sure enough, on 11 minutes it arrived as Arsenal’s own Duracell bunny, Alexis, pressured and probed before preying on a Cahill mistake.
The Chilean stole the ball off the England international’s foot and raced through on goal. There was still plenty to do and, with Courtois racing out to meet him, he kept his composure and delicately chipped it over the goalkeeper and into the empty net.
The goal prompted ecstatic celebrations around the Emirates, and the home fans’ joy turned to delighted disbelief when, just three minutes later, their side doubled their advantage.
Arsenal had been the quicker, slicker and hungrier team up until that point, and their second goal was a thing of beauty straight out of the Wenger manual.
It saw a beautiful passing move on the edge of the area pull Chelsea out of position, before Alex Iwobi rolled the ball right to the onrushing Bellerin. The Spanish right back sent into a pinpoint first-time cross to the waiting Walcott, and he calmly converted it beyond Courtois.
It was sensational stuff - a performance that recalled last season’s early demolition of Manchester United in its intensity and excitement.
But Chelsea were not beaten yet, and back they came at the hosts and a well-worked move in the Arsenal area had hearts in mouths as Willian arrowed a shot just wide of the far post.
The teams could not sustain this pace surely? It was a hundred miles an hour, helter-skelter stuff but the Gunners were in command and remained the more threatening side.
The early departure of Francis Coquelin to a knee injury was the only blot in the copybook for the home side, with the buoyant home fans constantly on their feet to applaud the effort of their side.
Walcott’s industry summed up his side’s display. The England international never stopped running, constantly tracking back to chase down blue shorts and helping to frustrate Costa et al.
There was still one more twist to come before the break, and once again it went the way of Arsenal as Ozil put the gloss on a stunning display with a third goal.
The Germany international had been excellent all afternoon, but this was truly world class. Ozil intercepted the ball midway through his own half and raced up the touchline before racing at the backpeddling Chelsea backline.
Alexis made a sharp run in behind them, Ozil found him and then raced to the back post, where the Chilean picked him out with a well-weighted cross.
The World Cup winner ran on to the ball and met it on the volley, smashing it into the ground, beyond Courtois and in off the far post to send the Emirates into ecstasy once more.
What a way to end an incredible half of football.
With a three-goal lead, Arsenal did not need to come flying out of the blocks in the second half but they continued to look in total control.
Happy to sit back and hit on the break, the hosts harried and hurried Chelsea into mistakes - and when the chance came to break at speed, they took it.
Within seven minutes of the restart, the Gunners could have made it four as they stole the ball - again - and Xhaka released Walcott in acres of space on the right.
The Arsenal forward took a touch, and tried to pick out Alexis in the area but his cross just evaded his team-mate and the chance - for once - went begging.
Still the hosts came forward, their hunger for goals not yet sated and Ozil saw another half-chance bundled away by the visitors.
Every touch, every chase, every tackle from an Arsenal man was greeted with a huge cheer from the home support, who were witnessing as complete a performance as you could hope to see.
Chelsea, as you would expect, tried to up the ante as the game entered its final third but Wenger’s side - marshalled superbly by Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi - held firm.
Walcott, the irrepressible Walcott, came close to adding the second goal that his performance merited when put through by Cazorla to the right of the area, but Courtois got a glove to his firm drive.
Petr Cech - once of Chelsea of course - had been underemployed for much of this game but when called upon, he responded, denying Michy Batshuayi as the substitute raced in on goal.
It summed up a perfect evening’s work for Arsenal, and the cheers on the final whistle spoke of the fans’ appreciation for what they had witnessed.
What a game. What a win. What a performance.
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Referee: Michael Oliver
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