Neil Humphreys: “Gunners done in by double punch”
Keeper's blunder ends resistance, Abraham's sucker punch seals it for Chelsea
Until last night, Christmas came only once a year. For Chelsea, it came twice.
Santa Claus made an unexpected return in the shape of Bernd Leno. The Arsenal goalkeeper popped up with some festive punch.
Actually, there were two punches. First, there was the missed punch of a goalkeeper who lost his head, lost sight of the ball and lost his side the lead.
|(Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 13)||(Jorginho 83, Tammy Abraham 87)|
Then there was the sucker punch from Tammy Abraham.
Two late goals in four minutes handed the Gunners a defeat in a London Derby that they didn't deserve to lose.
In his second game in charge, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had successfully adopted his tactics, rallied his players and steered them towards a 1-0 lead, but he could not possibly anticipate what happened in the 83rd minute.
In a crowded box, Leno took flight to reach Mason Mount's cross. He clenched a fist, took aim and missed the ball with the comedic grace of Mr Bean.
Jorginho, who was lucky to escape a second yellow card for an earlier foul, tapped in an open goal.
English Premier League goalkeepers do not misjudge such routine crosses. Human beings with eyes and hands do not misjudge such routine crosses.
But Leno's butter-soaked fingers left him looking like a Christmas turkey as he handed his opponents the gift of the season.
Arsenal, so committed for 83 minutes, visibly wilted.
Confidence evaporated. And, four harrowing minutes later, Abraham killed off the contest on the counter-attack.
On the touchline, Frank Lampard fist-pumped the air with an authority that had previously eluded Leno.
The Chelsea boss had stolen a lucky victory and he knew it.
For much of a feisty contest, an intriguing role reversal saw the hunted turn hunters.
Arteta has clearly experienced the epiphany that eluded his dogmatic predecessor Unai Emery. Central defenders that cannot play out from the back should not play out from the back.
Instead, a niftier, more direct approach focused on finding the front four faster. Along the right flank, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and particularly Reiss Nelson, danced past the dithering Blues, encouraging Mesut Oezil to scamper forward.
Arteta's "less possession, more penetration" philosophy was helped by his traumatised opponents stumbling around as if they had fallen off a ghost train.
Chelsea looked haunted.
Frank Lampard had matched Arteta's 4-2-3-1, but the initial formations were all that the two sides had in common.
The Blues were bewildered, chasing shadows and losing markers as if playing a post-Christmas parlour game that involved blindfolds and too much sherry.
In a crowded field, Emerson took the sash for the most incompetent Chelsea performance, giving away the initiative, too much space and even the opening goal to Arsenal.
In the 13th minute, he lost track of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the box, allowing the diving Gabon striker to nod Arsenal ahead.
Emerson didn't keep up with Nelson down the right flank either, practically inviting Arsenal to increase their dominance.
Lampard took action after half an hour, swopping Emerson for Jorginho and switching to a more disciplined 4-3-3.
In the process, the decisive Chelsea boss shifted the balance of play towards the visitors.
Jorginho's introduction enabled N'Golo Kante to get a grip on central midfield for the first time.
But Lampard continues to struggle with the schizophrenic elements of his side's play.
Despite his emphasis on youth - he brought on both Callum Hudson-Odoi and 19-year-old debutant Tariq Lamptey - an overriding lack of urgency remains.
Despite Chelsea largely taking control, their lone totem up front, Abraham, rarely saw the ball. The striker was gifted a free header in the 75th minute, which was easily saved.
Willian and Mount's deliveries were little different to the post office over the festive period - erratic, unpredictable and rarely on time.
Clear-cut chances remain elusive among Lampard's men.
The Gunners, on the other hand, struggle to keep them out at the other end and their exhausted, patched-up back four were hanging on in the frenetic, latter stages.
They almost made it, until that decisive, double punch to the gut.