Sunday, November 29, 2009

Drogba at the double In Emirates Stadium

Chelsea tightened their grip on top spot in the Premier League and put a massive dent in Arsenal's own title ambitions with a convincing 3-0 win at Emirates Stadium.The Blues, then under Guus Hiddink, were the last team to beat the Gunners on their own ground, ripping them apart 4-1 here in May.
While this encounter was nowhere near as much a one-sided affair, it still highlighted the gulf between the two sides' ability to produce a big performance when required.

Chelsea - who restored their lead on Manchester United to five points - grabbed a brace at the end of a first half in which Arsene Wenger's men had enjoyed plenty of possession, but without really troubling Petr Cech.

The Gunners were made to pay when Didier Drogba converted Ashley Cole's low centre, and Thomas Vermaelen's own goal effectively killed off the contest before the interval, with the Ivory Coast striker drilling in a late free-kick to seal matters.

There is, of course, plenty more football to be played before they crown the 2010 champions, but even with a match in hand, it is difficult to see Wenger's young squad - without Robin van Persie until at least April - clawing back what is now an 11-point deficit, and indeed they could still face a battle to secure a top-four finish.

Arsenal may have dedicated this afternoon's match to their charity of the season at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, but there was little compassion shown towards former Gunner Ashley Cole, who was resoundingly booed every time he touched the ball.

It had been a bright start from the hosts, with Bacary Sagna's deep cross flicked back into the penalty area by Andrey Arshavin, but Cesc Fabregas was unable to make decent contact.

Eduardo almost robbed England captain John Terry on the edge of the Chelsea box, but Ricardo Carvalho cleared the loose ball.

Chelsea, though, looked dangerous on the break and were somewhat unfortunate to see Drogba's run clear onto a pass from Joe Cole halted by an offside flag.

Nicolas Anelka, whose big break came at Arsenal, then went down in the penalty area as he got ahead of Sagna, but referee Andre Marriner was not interested.

There was a brief stoppage in play when the referee removed an object, which looked like a fake camera, which had been thrown on in the direction of Frank Lampard, the England midfielder fit again following a thigh injury.

Arsenal had plenty of possession, but lacked spark in the final third, with the absence of Dutch forward Van Persie painfully clear.

It was no real surprise when Chelsea went ahead on 41 minutes.

Terry played in Ashley Cole down the left, and he whipped a low centre across the six-yard box, where Drogba got in between the static Arsenal centre-backs to steer the ball into the net off the angle of post and bar.

Before Wenger could regroup his team in the dressing room, it was 2-0.

Cole was again the provider, as this time his ball from the left was deflected into the Arsenal net off Vermaelen's shin.

Wenger had to do something to inject fresh life into his shell-shocked side, and it came in the form of England forward Theo Walcott, defensive midfielder Alex Song the man sacrificed.

Arsenal certainly had more urgency following the restart, and thought they had a goal back when Arshavin smashed home from close range - but the effort was ruled out for a high boot from Eduardo on Cech.

Chelsea almost grabbed a fortunate third goal when Drogba's shot deflected off William Gallas and then Lampard, but Manuel Almunia made a quick change in direction and touched the ball around the post.

Arsenal were getting desperate and called for what would have been a harsh penalty as substitute Carlos Vela went down under a challenge from Branislav Ivanovic.

On 71 minutes, Ashley Cole was replaced by Paulo Ferreira, the England defender clenching his fists towards the travelling Chelsea fans as he left the pitch, before heading straight down the tunnel.

Arsenal threatened, but once again lacked a decisive pass at the key moment.

Drogba wrapped things up for Carlo Ancelotti's men when he smashed in a 25-yard free-kick with four minutes left.

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