Arsenal made the short trip to west London yesterday afternoon for an early kick off in the Premier League against Chelsea. Before the game Arsenal had only taken one point from their four previous away games, and Chelsea had won all four of theirs. The task looked to be a very tough one for Arsenal, but their players rose to it on the day.
The only change from the team that beat Stoke City in the Premier League last Sunday was the return to the starting 11 of Robin Van Persie. He had been rested for that game, but he cam on in the second half and rescued the win for Arsenal with a brace of goals. His form in this calender year has been quite sensational, and it reached new heights against Chelsea.
The early exchanges were very worrying from an Arsenal perspective, as Chelsea looked to exploit Djourou's lack of experience in the right back position. They had three good chances to take the lead, but they spurned them all and Arsenal gradually found their feet. The game was very open though, and it looked likely to produce plenty of goals.
On the 10 minute mark Theo Walcott made excellent chances for both Gervinho and RVP in quick succession, but they somehow managed to spurn them. I thought Arsenal might pay a price for missing such good chances, and so it proved only a couple of minutes later. A cross from the right by Juan Mata was met by the head of Frank Lampard, and Wojciech Szczesny could do nothing to keep it out of the net.
As the half progressed both teams had chances, but Chelsea probably missed the best of them. They paid the price after 36 minutes when Aaron Ramsey opened their defence up with a through ball for Gervinho. He was through with only Cech to beat, but he unselfishly squared the ball for RVP to tap into an empty net.
Chelsea appealed for offside, but their appeals correctly fell on deaf ears. The ball from Ramsey to set up the goal was excellent, but the Chelsea defending which allowed it was right out of the Arsenal handbook.
Chelsea had been on top of the Arsenal defence in the first half, but it looked likely to be 1-1 at the break. In the very last minute of the half Chelsea won a corner and John Terry was on hand to stab the ball home, as Mikael Arteta abandoned his duties at the near post. Per Mertesacker's attempts to stop Terry didn't exactly cover him in glory either.
Chelsea led 2-1 at the break, but there was still hope for Arsenal. In my preview of the game I said that both defences had been poor so far this season, and during the first half they both proved me right. Arsenal's defence had been the worse of the two in that first half, but that was soon to change after the break.
Arsenal started the second half as if they meant business, and they spurned two chances in the opening minute. After only four minutes the teams were level when Alex Song turned and played an excellent pass to Andre Santos. The Brazilian had a torrid time in the first half, but he found space behind the full back and finished well at Cech's near post.
Arsenal were playing the better football, but the defending of both team's at that stage meant there was no way of knowing who would win. The most important moment of the game for Arsenal came soon after that equaliser, and for a change this season they got a little bit of good fortune. I'm sure Chelsea will feel that Arsenal should have been reduced to ten men, but the officials decided otherwise.
Ashley Cole chased a through ball and Szczesny came out of his box to attempt to get to the ball first. Cole got to the ball and Szczesny brought him down, and the referee should have issued him witha red card. Laurent Koscielny may have been just behind Szczesny, but it was a certain goalscoring opportunity for Cole.
Yet again the officials had got a big decision wrong in a big game, but at least Arsenal benefited from it this time. I would love to hear the referee's explanation of why he didn't send Szczesny off, and it would probably illustrate how little the majority of officials actually understand the game. If Koscielny had brought Cole down in that position with only the keeper to beat I am sure he would have received a red card, but it wasn't issued with no keeper left to beat and only one defender.
Arsenal took advantage of their good fortune in the 55th minute when Walcott got a reward for his persistence under pressure. He ran at the Chelsea defence and he appeared to be tripped, but he got up and played on as the Chelsea players stood back and watched. He squirmed past what seemed like half of the Chelsea team, and lashed the ball past Cech at his near post again.
Arsenal were now well on top of Chelsea, and their defending was far better than it had been in the first half. The game looked to be theirs for the taking, as Chelsea struggled to create much. Arsenal were still in need of another goal though to ease their nerves, and those of their magnificent traveling support too.
Arsenal's worst fears were realised with only 10 minutes left when Mata equalised for Chelsea. In recent seasons Chelsea have scored their fair share of wonder goals at home to Arsenal, and Mata added his name to a list that includes Michael Essien and Alex. It was a goal that might have knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal earlier this season, but they showed some real fighting spirit in the last 10 minutes.
The expected onslaught from Chelsea didn't happen in those last 10 minutes, and it was Arsenal who went on to score two more goals to win the game. The first one came when the Arsenal forwards put Florent Malouda under pressure with only five minutes left, and he passed the ball back to Terry. He wasn't expecting the pass and he fell flat on his face, as RVP raced through to round Cech and put the ball into an empty net.
The sight of Terry lying on the ground with his arms outstretched was priceless, as he almost looked like he was bowing down to praise the great RVP.
Chelsea tried to throw everything they had at Arsenal, but a succession of long balls into the Arsenal box didn't pay dividends. There were good blocks by Arsenal defenders, and Arsenal looked likely to add to their lead on the break if the opportunity arose. The fourth official showed four added minutes, and that was just enough time for Arsenal to add a fifth goal.
Chelsea pumped another ball towards the Arsenal box, but it was cleared and four Arsenal players broke forward. Arteta approached the Chelsea box and played the ball to RVP whose left foot shot flew past Cech at his near post yet again. The Arsenal players and fans went wild with their celebrations, and they continued long after the full time whistle.
Arsenal have now won three league games in a row, and eight of their last nine games in all competitions. They are only three points off third place in the Premier League with another 28 games to go, and their chances of finishing in the top four are looking much better. The team showed the sort of resillence and mental strength that they have been accused of lacking in recent seasons.
Arsenal went behind twice in the game, but they managed to stay strong enough to play their own way and get back into the game on each occasion. When Chelsea equalised with 10 minutes left Arsenal showed real character to keep playing and going for the win. They got their rewards in the end, and even though it was only three points it felt like an awful lot more.
The traveling Arsenal fans could be heard singing their hearts out even when Arsenal were losing, and their are an absolute credit to the club and all other Arsenal fans. I have the pleasure of following a few of them on Twitter, and I felt the need to tell them how proud they made me feel.
Arsenal have two home games in the next week before the next dreaded international break rears it's ugly head. If they can beat Marseille at home on Tuesday night they will insure qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League with two games left to play. Then West Brom come calling next Saturday afternoon in the Premier League, and a win in that game would move them even closer to their goal of returning to the top four.
I'm not counting my chickens just yet, but I believe if Arsenal can continue to play with the same attacking style and confidence they can defy all of their critics. I don't think the Premier League is a realistic goal, but a top three finish is not beyond them. The defending has to improve if that is going to happen, but the return of Vermaelen will certainly help the team to defend better.
When Vermaelen is back as a permanent fixture in the team I think he has to be accompanied at the back by Koscielny who has been outstanding in recent games. Koscielny was bought to partner Vermaelen, but they never got the opportunity to form a partnership last season due to Vermaelen's injury. I still think Mertesacker's purchase will be a good one in the long term, and it's great that Arsenal will have some real options at the back.
Mertesacker has not fully adjusted to English football yet, and it hasn't been easy for him to have a different partner in almost every game. He was thrown in at the deep end as soon as he arrived at the club, but he is a good enough player to make a real impact at the club.
When Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere return from injury in the new year it could give Arsenal the boost they need in the later stages of the season to finish strongly. Sagna should hopefully be back in January, but it's not so clear when Wilshere will return. While he is absent other players are using the opportunity to stake a claim in the team, and Arsenal are starting to reap the rewards.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
It's not too late to join the over 900 teams in my fantasy league, and there are prizes for the top three teams at the end of the season. Just go to the site and use the code 125540-42785 to join my league when your team is set up.
To join the predictions league, just go to the site and set up your predictions. Then use the code F688F-JCO to join my league. I'll update the league table in my predictions every week.
Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, too.
I'm also a member of a very good and very active Arsenal group on Facebook which you can join here.
See You Tomorrow.