I speak of course of the massive and totally unexpected Arsenal 5-3 away victory over Chelsea on Saturday. Chelsea had not lost a game at home this season. Arsenal found itself racking up its worst string of away results since 1992. But the stat junkies must now officially hit reset. And update Robin van Persie’s tallies for 2011 to 28 goals in 27 matches. He has notched 9 in the last 5 and he just scored the second hat trick of his career.
Every match is about scoring more goals than the other team, but the Stamford Bridge showdown took it to another level. The players celebrated afterwards as if they’d just won the domestic treble. And though it was just one game, three points like any other, I felt exactly the same, staring at the TV in disbelief. In recent memory, only the 2-1 victory over Barcelona last spring and last December’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea compare in terms of sheer jubilation.
When I ended the match preview on Thursday with, “Van Persie has scored six goals in the last four league games. Hopefully he’s saved a few for the Blues.” I never thought anything like a hat trick possible. Or John Terry tripping himself and faceplanting from out of nowhere to set up the easiest goal van Persie will ever score. Terry is innocent until proven guilty, and the allegations of a racial slur against Anton Ferdinand are yet still allegations, but you have to imagine the brothers Ferdinand will save that match on the DVR for months to come. I wouldn’t mind looping that clip into a continuous play video myself.
In fairness, Chelsea did not play their best match. As expected, both defenses lacked solidity and leaked goals. If not apparent before, Mourinho has truly left the building, even though many of the old guard remain. As with Arsenal, Chelsea’s game plan mandates scoring more than they concede, because they look ever ready to concede.
Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and of course van Persie had outstanding performances. For the opposition, Juan Mata played excellently for the Blues. He is very much the one who got away. Linebacker Romelu Lukaku opted for a different approach, that of launching an NFL tackle on Andre Santos. Interesting tactic, and apparently not card-worthy in the eyes of the official.
Fernando Torres, the £50 million man, did nothing, and I mean nothing, of any consequence whatsoever on the pitch. He did catch a point-blank ball to the face, though, which was fun to watch. At Liverpool, he was incredible. Those days seem increasingly long ago.
Santos had a terrible first half, but he emerged from the tunnel a new man in the second. He defended much more effectively and scored his second goal in seven games with Arsenal. To compare to a recently departed Arsenal left back, Gael Clichy scored 2 goals in his 8 years at Arsenal. Just saying.
The team unity at the final whistle was a great sight to see. Thomas Vermaelen, Gervinho, Arteta and Santos looked ecstatic. And van Persie, for all the speculation of his moving on to pastures greener, looked a happy Gunner. After the match. Chelsea supporters called Yossi Benayoun “Judas” for complimenting his current loan club on the victory over his home club. One wonders if the hecklers considered the Israeli irony of it all… Yossi, you can kick it with us. Forget about the boo boys in Blue.
I would venture that the team has still not “turned a corner,” but Arsenal definitely took another step in the right direction. Eight in nine, now. Of course, Arsenal drew Manchester City for the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup on Saturday, so we might be out of that competition quite soon, but one step at a time.
Tottenham, third is now yours for the taking.