This originally appeared in The Independent
Chelsea 6–0 Arsenal
Miguel Delaney, Stamford Bridge
A remarkable new spin on the same old story. After all the talk of 1,000 games, this all came down to a mere 10 minutes. That was when Chelsea did the damage that actually mattered, that was likely when Arsenal title’s challenge was killed off.
Jose Mourinho summed up it as clinically and as brutally as his attackers had finished in that period: “We came to kill, and in 10 minutes we destroy.”
Arsene Wenger had another description, but one that was just as stark: “A nightmare.”
If so, it is a recurring one, and that should be the real issue for the Arsenal manager beyond the embarrassing scale of the scoreline. He felt there was not “much need to talk about the mistakes” but there’s clearly a very pressing requirement to address them.
In all three away matches against their title rivals – Manchester City, Liverpool and now Chelsea – Wenger’s side have conceded 17 goals. Most damningly, eight of those have come in the 20-minute spells at the start of those games. Arsenalagain never got started and consequently saw their structure completely collapse. Mourinho’s team ruthlessly and relentlessly went for that mistake, as well as a host of others.
Once Olivier Giroud typically squandered the single chance that Arsenal had to change the course of the game, Chelsea never let up. There were 38 seconds between that Petr Cech save and the moment when Samuel Eto’o had curled the ball into the net for the first goal, and that set the tone for the blistering next few minutes.
Within moments, Andre Schurrle had thrashed the ball past Wojciech Szczesny after another thrusting break. Arsenal found themselves caught up in another whirlwind and it was sending them into another whirlpool.
Given the similarity between this opening and the 5-1 defeat at Anfield in February, it might have been fair to expect that Wenger had at least mentally prepared his side for such an event; that they would at least have been capable of giving themselves a better chance of recovery. That was not the case.
Arsenal were so frazzled by the force of Chelsea’s opening that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was panicked into a preposterous full-length dive to touch away Eden Hazard’s 15th-minute shot with his hand.
That was the effect of the home side’s start. The eventual defeat, however, was not the effect of the red card. Although Marriner’s incredible decision to send off Kieran Gibbs for the handball rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain will take up much of the discussion, it should not obscure the truth: Chelsea had virtually secured victory by then, and rendered Arsenal irrelevant. Nemanja Matic, most notably, simply trampled over Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla.
Yet, if that opening period displayed the appalling worst of Arsenal, this was also the absolute best of Chelsea. All of their primary qualities were seen, but they also rectified one major flaw of their own at the beginning of games.
In their last four matches prior to this, Chelsea had failed to score a first-half goal, and it too often left them with too much to do. That was the case at Aston Villa last week, as they were eventually caught out in a chaotic 1-0 win.
It was simply not an issue here. By the time that Oscar had fired the ball into the roof of the net from substitute Fernando Torres’s 41st-minute cross to make it 4-0, Chelsea had scored more in this first half than in all their previous six Premier League opening periods.
Mourinho praised the impetus his team had shown from the off.
“We were very, very good. We press high and we know they want the ball at the back, to be comfortable. We press them very high immediately.”
The score got very high very quickly.
“After that, easy,” Mourinho said. “Penalty, red card, easy.”
That was clearly the case, and the platform provided by those opening 10 minutes. In a procession of a second half, Chelseamerely picked their moments. Oscar capitalised on a misplaced Tomas Rosicky pass to make it 5-0, Mohamed Salah slotted in another on 71.
By then, the impressive figures being talking about were not Wenger’s amount of games.
“We got a result with some numbers that, for our fans, are special numbers,” Mourinho said.
On the eve of the game, which now seems so long ago, Wenger had acknowledged this was the biggest fixture of his side’s season for reasons even beyond his 1,000th fixture. It was big alright: Arsenal‘s heaviest ever defeat against Chelsea, Mourinho’s biggest win as manager at Stamford Bridge.
It was a day of those kind of extremes, never more so than in that opening 10 minutes.