Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal – van Persie the difference as defensive frailty remains at both clubs

Stamford Bridge, London
Lampard 14, Terry, 45, Mata 80 – van Persie 36, 85, 90+2, Santos 49, Walcott 55

This game was meant to be all about Arsenal. Season after season the Chelsea fixture is seen as a litmus test for the Gunners’ Premier League title hopes and this term it also supposedly offered insight as to whether their recent run of seven wins in eight games was a genuine revival. They delivered a result in some style, notching up Arsene Wenger’s 500th win as Arsenal boss and a hat-trick from Robin van Persie in the process.

The game however answered none of the questions about whether Wenger’s team have the defensive strength to mount a genuine title challenge. They merely played to type – scintillating going forward but as brittle as uncooked spaghetti at the back.

However, such were Chelsea’s defensive frailties a few questions were instead raised about the Andre Villas-Boas project at Stamford Bridge. This is the first time the Blues have let in five at home in the Premier League.

Would that have happened in the days of the Special One’s so-called anti-football or under Carlo Ancelotti who famously once said: “ If you want entertainment go to the cinema”?

After the game Villas-Boas did his best to put on a brave face, but he cannot shy away from the fact that his team have already conceded 15 goals in the league (the same as they did in the whole of Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge) and so far only three teams have conceded more than them.

One of those teams is Arsenal who, despite this win, have now shipped 17 in their last four away league games and it’s for that reason the jury must still be out on their title hopes. This game saw Wenger pick the same back four for the first time all season but it certainly isn’t their strongest.

Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny were the rocks upon which the rest of the crumbling defence were built, although even the goalkeeper had a mad moment straight out the Bruce Grobbelaar book of Comedy ‘Keeping, which on another day could have seen him sent off.

Per Mertesacker, however, was embarrassing. The 6’6” German was bought for his height but made basic errors as he was out-jumped for both the first two Chelsea goals.

At the other end, the combined ineptitude of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic was at fault for two of Arsenal’s goals while Terry took it upon himself to stumble to the ground and give van Persie a free run for the fourth. It was little surprise that a defender was not man of the match.

Arsenal’s celebrations at the end showed just how much the win meant to the Wenger’s players and it will have undoubtedly given them a huge confidence boost after the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and their torrid start to the season.

But then it’s been a crazy start to the season all round. Already Manchester City have put six past Manchester United who have put eight past Arsenal who have now put five past Chelsea (and then there’s Newcastle unbeaten in fourth with the best defence in the league).

This game and the others like it are great for that famous old fan ‘the neutral’ but Villas-Boas and Wenger will both know it’s not games like this that win titles – it’s keeping clean sheets and eking out boring 1-0s.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Ramires (Lukaku 72), Mikel (Meireles 76), Lampard; Sturridge (Malouda 62), Torres, Mata.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny, Djourou (Jenkinson 75), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos; Ramsey, Song, Arteta; Walcott (Rosicky 79), Van Persie, Gervinho (Vermaelen 88).

Did you know…Arsenal had failed to win their last eight Premier League games on the road before this match. The last time they went nine without a win was in the 1987/88 season.

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