Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
The demon over Arsenal that was Didier Drogba might have lifted, but they might well have found a new one in Fernando Torres.
The Spanish ace has blown hot and cold in his time in west London, but with the sun shining, he at least made today a pleasantly warm outing, showing glimpses of his brilliant self, sprinkled with the occasional reminder of how frustrating he can be.
It was he and his compatriot that clinched all three points; Gervinho’s spin and hit sparked a comeback, but it was all in vain, as Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the table to four points, albeit for a few hours.
It was the sort of match that could test both sides. Chelsea have stuttered of late, and though the 6-0 thumping of Wolves would have put a short-term smile on fans’ faces, the real test would have been today at the Emirates.
Likewise for an Arsenal side, the “most complete side” Arsene Wenger has ever had during his 12-year tenure there, according to the man himself. The rock-solid back-line, with the help of their coach Steve Bould, would be severely tested — and penetrated — by a frightening combination of Mata-Hazard-Oscar, with Torres just in front.
The build-up to Top Four matches like this was not requited with the noise inside the stadium, at least on the home side front, who were intriguing quiet in a match that felt like a pre-season friendly.
But put that down to a slow start and an early kick-off, and once things got going, the crowd followed suit.
It was up to a back-line consisting of Gibbs, Jenkinson and Mannone to contain the unchanged quartet from the last league outing against Stoke. Ramires kept his place in the middle, with Roberto Di Matteo keeping faith in the Brazilian, and he showed his worth, tidily keeping Carzola at bay alongside Mikel.
The slow start changed, however, in a four-minute period just before the 20-minute mark. Anchorman Abou Diaby was substituted off after picking up an injury, and though Aaron Ramsey is an equally adept defensive midfielder, the shift in position ultimately foreshadowed the first Chelsea goal.
Torres started and finished the move, having being tripped by Vermaelen to earn a free-kick in an attacking area. Juan Mata returned the ball to his team-mate from the dead-ball situation, and this time Torres got ahead of Vermaelen’s defensive partner in Koscielny, to fling the ball into the top corner: a smart goal that caught the absent Arsenal defence out.
One could have become two just three minutes later, but if that was the brilliant Torres, this was the indecisive Torres. The hard work was done, getting past Koscielny again, but in a one-on-one situation, he opted to go round Mannone and fall over, when a cool head and a chip over the goalkeeper might have been more wise.
Oscar, still adapting to the Premier League after announcing himself on the European stage, was getting away with some challenges, testing the patience of Martin Atkinson, who was to book him in the second half.
But there was still time in the first-half to play, and Gervinho levelled things just before the interval. The pressure told as Oxlade-Chamberlain slid a ball into the Ivorian, who was granted too much space by John Terry to pivot on the penalty spot and lash home past Cech.
Much has been made of the influence of Lukas Podolski and Santi Carzola since their summer arrivals, but against the well-knitted back-line of Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry and Ashley Cole, they were finding it hard to weave their magic this lunch-time.
Chelsea, however, were having no problems. Indeed, Arsenal were inflicting the problems onto themselves, as Vermaelen this time tripped Torres from a near identical position.
Juan Mata once again was over it, and this time decided to go for glory himself, and though the ball took a slight nick off the sliding Koscielny, the trajectory of the ball did not change, and it was truly Arsenal 1-2 Spain.
Conceding late goals have been a characteristic of Chelsea, and were it not for Petr Cech, who was making his 300th domestic start for Chelsea, the story might have been different. The Czech stopper was there twice to deny Arsenal, first a curling Podolski header, and then readjusting to a blocked shot off Luiz.
The golden chance for substitute Giroud to make his mark on the game fell to the Frenchman in stoppage time, but having round Cech, he fluffed his lines in an open goal.
Arsenal have come from behind to beat Chelsea in seven Premier League games, more than any other side, but it was not to be this time round, with Chelsea becoming the first team to beat the Gunners three times at the Emirates.