It was the 77th minute of the match. Arsenal are playing a dangerously high line in the defence. A couple of quick passes from Chelsea, means Pedro has half the pitch in front of him — lots of green to run and take on Petr Cech, one on one.
Over the past few years, Chelsea have had Arsenal’s number in the Premier League. It has been 9 matches since Arsene Wenger’s men defeated Chelsea. They did not even get on the scroesheet in the last 5 games.
In such a world, Pedro would be expected to slot this chance at ease. In that world, Chelsea would have already been 1-0 ahead with Arsenal throwing the kitchen sink at them, getting caught on the counter attack. 2-0, shut up shop in defence, game over for Arsenal.
But Arsenal were not playing to the script. As Pedro, no slow coach himself, went through on goal, a flying Hector Bellerin caught up with him from behind — as if someone had pressed the nitro boost button — and put in a sliding tackle that brought the roof of the stadium down. The noise was incredible. The cheer was spontaneous. The decibel levels for that tackle was only matched by the cheer that accompanied Diego Costa’s yellow card.
And in the real world of Arsenal Football Club on this Saturday in the Premier League, they were already leading 3-0, thanks to a masterful first half display.
The hoodoo was ended as Antonio Conte’s side were made to look ordinary by a team slowly finding its groove. Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil put the full house at the Emirates stadium in dreamland with three well-crafted goals. The roar after each goal more deafening than the previous.
The Arsenal home fans are notorious in the Premier League for being docile — stares are thrown at someone trying to initiate a chant when there is nothing happening on the pitch, the cheers are usually reactive to something players do on the pitch, rarely pre-emptive.
But for the first 40 mins against Chelsea, the Emirates stadium was rocking. Ever since Sanchez started harrying the Chelsea center-banks and from the moment Costa and Cesc Fabregas touched the ball for the first time, the Arsenal crowd let the players know that they meant business. That they were going to be loud & make themselves heard.
The Chelsea fans, to their credit, were in the game more than the players — with chants of “this is a library, this is a library” when the Arsenal fans quietened down just a bit and of course, the “champions of Europe, you’ll never be able to sing that”. The fans, unfortunately, were the only ones ‘keeping the blue flag flying high’ on a day when the players looked disinterested.
Chelsea have had a knack of raining on Wenger’s parade — his 500th game in charge was a 2-0 defeat, his 1000th game was a 6-0 thrashing at the Bridge. But on the 20th anniversary of him being named the Arsenal manager, his wards produced a near-flawless performance.
“It was one of the moments in your life when as a manager you think ‘ok today is a great day,” said Wenger, beaming in the post match conference. In the first half I think [we] were nearly perfect and in the second half it was a bit in and out but overall in the first half we have shown great quality, we played with style, with pace, with movement and matched the kind of game that we want to play.”
It was not a great day for just the manager. It was a great day for every Arsenal fan at the stadium. As four 20-something fans from India, who were watching their first ever match at the stadium put it – “it was the best evening of their lives”.
And with that, Arsenal announce their arrival as title challengers this season.
The writer was at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday on an invitation from Puma India. Puma, as principal sponsors of Arsenal, invited fans & journalists as a part of their initiative to improve fan-engagement in India.
(Feature image source: Twitter | @BBCSport)