A second-half error from
Carlo Cudicini gifted Arsenal victory as Chelsea suffered
a first Premiership defeat of the season. Hernan Crespo
had brilliantly replied to Edu’s deflected free kick in
a breathtaking opening ten minutes.
After an even first half, in which the inexperienced centre-back
pairing of Robert Huth and Mario Melchiot, along with
holding midfielders Geremi and Claude Makelele, had been
outstanding, Chelsea were unable to find a way through.
In the end, though, two unfortunate goals proved enough
to win the game, and how many more times will we say that
against our north London rivals? It is now a wearisome
15 games in all competitions that we have failed to beat
The game exploded into life straight away, with Edu’s
goal after five minutes. Johnson had needlessly handballed
just outside the centre of the box, and the Brazilian
midfielder curled a shot to the side of the Chelsea wall,
where Ray Parlour stuck a foot out to redirect it away
from Carlo Cudicini.
Claudio Ranieri had ranged his side in a 4-3-1-2 formation,
with Damien Duff playing freely just behind Adrian Mutu
and Hernan Crespo, and it was the impressive Argentinean
who levelled within three minutes.
Geremi, lively throughout the first hour, supplied an
excellent blind-side pass to Crespo, and the striker stepped
inside his marker then pinged a delightful right footer
from 25 yards. Lehmann, who had earlier asked for a cap
because of the horizontal autumn sunshine, was left stranded
as the net billowed. It was, you might say, out of the
Makelele was booked for tackle on Pires as Chelsea battled
and harassed, knocking Arsenal off their rhythm. Chances
were rare either way. Cudicini dived at full stretch to
cut out Pires’s cut back after the Frenchman had outstripped
Johnson, and Melchiot showed excellent composure to allay
any danger from Henry, who was only fitfully involved.
As the tight encounter took shape the crowd banter began.
“We’re ****ing loaded!” sang Chelsea fans.
“48 years!” replied Arsenal, referring to the previous
time we won the League.
The Chelsea choir’s retorts – “You’re gonna ground-share
with Tottenham!” and “Shall we buy a ground for you?!”
– passed without response.
Barclaycard Player of the Month Frank Lampard – quiet
by recent standards – and Crespo drew comfortable saves
from Lehmann, and Johnson, after a neat stepover trick
in the Arsenal box, had his fierce shot blocked. Crespo
and Geremi both shot wide. Duff’s nutmeg and cross just
failed to find the Argentinean as Chelsea’s intricate
probing found gaps.
After the break, Arsene Wenger roused his players to a
much feistier display and, in bringing on Dennis Bergkamp
and Kanu just past the hour, gained the tactical upper
Chelsea’s only real opening until the closing moments
came early on, an inviting Johnson cross evading three
unmarked Chelsea players stretching in front of Lehmann.
Jesper Gronkjaer, brought on after 68 minutes and playing
on the right, failed to make the usual impression on panicky
Joe Cole, though, deployed on the left with 20 minutes
to go, was very lively, even though Chelsea shaped as
if a draw was now a desirable result.
Still the Mechiot-Huth partnership held firm. Gilberto
and the out-of-sorts Robert Pires had already shot straight
at Cudicini before the Italian keeper made a superb point-blank
save from Henry; Kanu headed against the post from the
corner, and a head of steam was building.
No one could have guessed how the winner would come though.
While Ranieri waited with sub Mario Stanic on the sideline,
but before the Croatian could ocme on at a free kick,
Arsenal took it quickly and referee Durkin waved play
on. Breaking down the right, Pires crossed poorly towards
Henry and Cudicini looked to be gathering the ball easily.
Instead, he fumbled as he dipped and presented Henry with
the easiest of goals.
Now Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, not Stanic, replaced Geremi,
and was instantly booked for a high challenge for the
ball on Lehmann.
With five minutes left Henry prematurely ran to the corner
flag, stating Arsenal’s intent.
And if a lovely jinking run and cross-shot from Johnson
in the last minute had ricocheted in rather than clear,
or Cole’s snapshot had been on target, it would all have
been so different.
Once again, at Heartbreak Highbury, it was not to be
= Lampard & Crespo