LONDON: It was a case of ‘winner take all’ as Arsenal finished the new season as they ended the old by defeating Chelsea at Wembley. Last May the Gunners surprisingly, given all the uncertainty around Arsene Wenger’s managerial tenure, scored a 2-1 success over the Premier champions in the FA Cup Final.
This time the margin even tighter. After a 1-1 draw and no extra-time Arsenal won by 4-1 the first penalty shootout seen in England using the experimental ABBA system. Chelsea duly met their Waterloo which would have added to the unease of manager Antonio Conte.
The champions’ Italian manager had not been happy with the transfer summer thus far – including the sale of Nemanja Matic to title rivals Manchester United – and has hopw for some consolation in a curtain-raising trophy triumph. No such luck.
In addition to defeat Chelsea had the irritation of finishing the match with 10 men after the late expulsion of Pedro.
“Every game is a battle in the Premier League, like today. It is a dream to make the fans happy, a difficult dream but we try hard. I would like them to stand behind the team as we might go through some very good periods and some not so good periods. We want to be united and together throughout the season.”
Arsenal missed the unready Alexis Sanchis and slightly injured Mesut Ozil but they did start with new striker Alexandre Lacazette. Chelsea had their own new centre-forward, Álvaro Morata, on the bench. Whereas Lacazette played usefully for just over an hour before being substituted, Morata missed one of the decisive penalties after his late arrival into the game.
Of course the fact that neither man made an explosive impact was no surprise: it will take both time to adjust to their new surroundings.
The match sprang into life from the start of the second half with Chelsea taking the lead almost immediately through wingback Victor Moses. Conte had insisted before the game that his players were rested and refreshed after their foreign wanderings. However, apart from Ngolo Kante, it did not look like it as they faded away the longer the game went on.
Arsenal, by contrast and despite the early, disruptive injury loss of Per Mertesacker, turned up the pace as the half ran on. Granit Xhaka forced a fine save from Thibaud Courtois from long range before Chelsea were reduced to 10 men by Pedro’s expulsion. Within minutes Arsenal capitalised by equalising through new signing Sead Kolasinac.
Chelsea’s late introduction of Antonio Rudiger to try to balance the team was too ittle too late and thus the derby went to a penalty shootout using the new, experimental ABBA format. This has been approved for trial by the law-making International Board and follows the tennis tiebreak format.
Even the players appeared confused, never mind the fans.
New Chelsea captain Gary Cahill, having taken over from departed John Terry, scored with Chelsea’s first before Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal both scored for Arsenal. Goalkeeper Thibaud Courtois and Morata both missed for Chelsea – high over the bar and wide respectively – before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud struck home for Arsenal.
Manager Conte said: “I didn’t see the situation so it is difficult to say something about this decision. This is the second game, after the FA Cup, that we finish with 10 men.
“We are working, we are trying to do our best. We had a tough pre-season, between the six days until we start the league it is important to be focused on the next game
Chelsea: Courtois – Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill – Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Marcos Alonso (Rudiger 79) – Willian (Musonda 82), Pedro – Batshuayi (Morata 74).
Arsenal: Cech – Holding, Mertesacker (Kolasinac 32), Monreal – Bellerín, Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain – Iwobi (Walcott 67), Welbeck (Nelson 87) – Lacazette (Giroud 66).