Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
“It’s not over,” Mikel Arteta said on Monday. It seems they are, Manchester City are simply too powerful, as evidenced by their 4-1 dismissal against Arsenal last Wednesday. But Arsenal cannot allow their drive for the Premier League title to fade. They owe it to themselves after the great season they produced. And then who knows? Just maybe…
Arteta’s men kept their end of the bargain, returning to the top of the table, two points clear of City, having played two more games, although failing to beat this Chelsea would have been an abdication. Frank Lampard’s guests were incredibly bad in the first half. Then again, it’s been all too believable for their supporters of late. Arsenal were 3–0 up after 34 minutes, game over.
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The outstanding Martin Ødegaard scored the first two, Gabriel Jesus added the third and the damage could have been heavier. The blot for Arsenal was the sight of Gabriel Magalhaes limping towards the end, but the bigger picture showed a first win in five; a reaction to the hammering at City.
It was an ordeal for Lampard, the ‘Super Frank’ chants coming from Arsenal fans rather than the Chelsea precinct. His move from the three-man back to the 4-3-3 formation didn’t work, as did Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang’s choice up front. The former Arsenal favorite, starting for the first time since the reverse fixture last November, had nine strikes before being pulled off at half-time. Four of them were kickoffs.
Lampard came to be concerned only with scraping consolations and there was at least one consolation goal – scored by Noni Madueke, his first for Chelsea – plus one that came through for a late push. It was just the second goal of Lampard’s six interim games, each of which ended in defeat, equaling his worst run in 30 years.
More generally, Chelsea went nine games without a win, dropping below the mid-table mark, while Lampard himself suffered 10 straight defeats as manager, returning to the dog days of his Everton tenure, which ended in January. . He is without a win in 16.
A penny for his thoughts as he crossed the pitch to wave goodbye to away fans when it was all over; there weren’t many left. Lampard knew he was in for some tough work, but the reality was horrific. None of his players even made the groundwork for the better part of the game and it’s a sobering thought that Chelsea are yet to face clubs from Manchester and Newcastle. It has become crystal clear why the permanent standby coach, Mauricio Pochettino, would prefer to arrive in pre-season.
The hope from Chelsea’s perspective had been that they couldn’t drop further, but that was before the half-time embarrassment, the tone set by a swing-and-a-miss from N’Golo Kanté inside his own box and also a weak header from César Azpilicueta; Granit Xhaka pounced and Kepa Arrizabalaga had to make a decent close-range save.
Ødegaard had started out as if he intended business, working tirelessly, demanding the ball, building the game in that driving style. Bukayo Saka came up to stretch Arrizabalaga with a commanding header (yes, really) in the 15th minute, Chelsea’s late goal-scoring, and then Ødegaard popped from the edge of the area to reward Arsenal for their positivity.
Jesus went left towards Xhaka and screwed in a low pass back. It was surprising to see Chelsea’s lack of pressure on the ball. There was Ødegaard unloading an early shot which flew into the net into Arrizabalaga’s fingertips and onto the underside of the crossbar.
Ødegaard’s second course was similar. Again, Arsenal strengthened the left and once again Xhaka cut in for Ødegaard’s run. Thiago Silva was rooted, Raheem Sterling didn’t follow through and Arrizabalaga was exposed. Ødegaard’s closer ending was true. Silva and Ben Chilwell argued about who should do what.
Five minutes earlier, Chilwell had almost created an equalizer out of thin air, Kanté’s pass past Saka clearing it but Aaron Ramsdale made a fine save. Now Arsenal have turned the screw, the third goal summing up Chelsea’s defensive chaos.
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Jesus was allowed to clear a deep Ben White cross over the far post and hit Xhaka, who was wrong-footed. But nobody in the blue could react when the ball broke for Jesus, who slammed home. There were four Chelsea players on the ground next to Jesus. Two of them – Arrizabalaga and Silva – beat her with their fists.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half it was more or less the same. Gabriel saw a scruffy shot from a corner carried away from in front of the da Silva line as Xhaka worked Arrizabalaga after beating Wesley Fofana. Saka whistled another shot wide.
At least Chelsea have found some stability. Mateo Kovacic set up Madueke’s goal with a nice pass past Oleksandr Zinchenko and Mudryk Mkyhailo, who came on as a substitute, had some surges. As Lampard acknowledged, it was far too little.