Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1 – the score-sheet says that the Gunners painted North London Red last night and bagged three points, but the victory last night was not about points, but more than that – all of a sudden the prophets of doom and gloom seemed to escape allowing a ray of hope to enter in the dressing room and in the hearts and minds of the frustrated fans of the Gunners.
Even though the Gunners are in 14th and just six points off the relegation zone in the Premier League, but they can now approach games against Brighton and West Brom next with much more positive intent – the victory earned last night should work as a tonic for the boys of Mikel Arteta.
Really happy for all our youngsters today – playing with pride & no fear❤️👏🏼 Crucial 3 points! #YaGunnersYa
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 26, 2020
Yes, Mikel Arteta – what a time he was going through before the Christmas break – torrid! His job was on the line and everyone lost faith in him.
Arsenal had been able to score four goals in their previous 10 Premier League matches – a sequence that had brought them five points.
It had the club mired in their worst start to a season since 1974-75.
One of the big pre-match questions concerned whether Arsenal were in a relegation battle.
Arteta trusted on the academy graduate Emile Smith Rowe his first start in more than a year in a frontline which also contained 19-year-olds Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli alongside Alexandre Lacazette. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was fit again after injury, but the club captain was left on the bench – that was quite brave from the under-fire coach.
The game began and Smith Rowe, Saka, and Martinelli provided Arsenal with the type of attacking intent Arteta’s side have been missing all season.
— aloT (@Tola_is_aloT) December 22, 2020
Arsenal missed Martinelli. His agility and Brazilian skills lifted the spirits of the Gunners and instilled the confidence to pressurize the Chelsea markers and defenders. He was the X-factor on the pitch and one could always leave thinking, how badly the Gunners missed this talented Brazilian.
But now he is back and should prove clinical for Arteta in the coming days.
Saka and Martinelli were supreme down both flanks, while Smith Rowe created two chances, including the assist for Arsenal’s third goal, in a free role off Lacazette.
Good to see Gabriel Martinelli back in action. Arsenal missed him a lot.
— Faisal Caesar (@faisalyorker1) December 26, 2020
Arteta insists both Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe “deserve” their starts as Arsenal aim to arrest their slide against Chelsea.
“They play because they deserve to play,” said the Arsenal boss.
“Emile has been training really well. The games that he’s played in the Europa League and the other day when he came on, he looked really sharp.”
“He gives us something different. He’s got different qualities to any other midfielder and the same with Gabi.”
that was for the fans🙌🏻❤️ pic.twitter.com/wGkwEFNF43
— Emile Smith Rowe (@emilesmithrowe) December 26, 2020
“He had to come off the other day with a bad kick but he’s feeling good and we need him.”
Chelsea seemed to have asserted authority when Mason Mount’s free-kick clipped the post, yet Arsenal were ahead in the 34th minute, as Lacazette sent Mendy the wrong way from the spot after Reece James was adjudged to have fouled Kieran Tierney.
While Lacazette became Arsenal’s leading scorer, the Gunners’ second came from an unlikely source – Xhaka curling in a sublime 25-yard free-kick on the stroke of half-time.
What a strange player Xhaka has been for Arsenal!
You just never know, what he might come up with and he always gives the impression of a player, who never exploited his talents to the full extent – almost like an unprogrammed robot –going nowhere, but when he starts to click – he delivers amazing things – the free-kick last night says it all.
— Dardanian Footy Videos (@DardanianFVids) December 26, 2020
With his superb effort, Xhaka became the first Arsenal player to score a direct free-kick versus Chelsea in the Premier League since Thierry Henry in December 2004.
Arsenal have also scored 13 Premier League goals from outside the box against Chelsea – against no side have they netted more in the competition (also 13 v Southampton).
As for Xhaka, no Arsenal player had more pass attempts (44), completed passes (34), passes in the Chelsea half (26), or touches (55) than him.
Lampard introduced Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jorginho at half-time, but it was Arsenal who struck again 11 minutes after the restart.
Having cut into the area, Saka spotted Mendy off his line and floated in an audacious – perhaps accidental – effort in off the left-hand upright.
It was just icing on the cake – a sublime finish from the youngster.
SAKA WHAT A GOAL. STARBOY pic.twitter.com/faH8dRiyPe
— #LennonOut #WengerIN (@KieranCFC88) December 26, 2020
Three key saves from Eduard Mendy denied Arsenal a fourth before Mohamed Elneny struck the bar.
Chelsea made their fortune count when Tammy Abraham chested in Hudson-Odoi’s cross, and Arsenal’s nerves were fraught when Pablo Mari felled Mount in the box.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 26, 2020
Yet Jorginho, who has now missed two of his last four penalties, failed to script a memorable finish or propel a great come back – Leno diving to his left to hold onto a weak shot.
After the final whistle, there was joy among the players and Arteta seemed a relived man – he and his team needed this victory badly to rediscover their lost mojo.