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Offshore drilling, England: Chelsea 2, at Arsenal 1

Sep 29, 2012, 9:48 AM EDT

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-CHELSEA Getty Images

Man of the Match: It wasn’t quite his old self, but  Fernando Torres flashed a little bit of his peak Liverpool form with a creative finish around Laurent Koscielny in the 20th minute, giving Chelsea the lead. But despite the goal and some good play with the ball at his feet, Torres’s main contributions came when Chelsea wasn’t in possession, the Blues’ striker proving a pest tracking back to disrupt Arsenal, particularly when the Gunners were hogging the ball in the second half.

NBC Sports: Chelsea wins 2-1 at Arsenal to stay top of EPL

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The teams matched up in near-identical formations: lone strikers up top; four at the back; two deep midfielders. With Ramires and John Obi Mikel set to sit deep in Chelsea’s midfield, Arsenal wasn’t going to enjoy the same advantages they did against Manchester City.
  • Of note, given this was Chelsea’s first big Premier League match of the year: Frank Lampard was on the bench (though he did start against Juventus in Champions League).
  • One of Arsenal’s advantages against City was in possession, but on Saturday, it was Chelsea who controlled most of the play early. The Gunners would even the numbers by half, but over the first 45 minutes, this wasn’t your typical Arsenal match. Arséne Wenger’s side wasn’t able to dominate the ball.
  • The home side was dealt a blow early with Abou Diaby had to come off, the midfielder straining his left hip after a 12th minute shot on goal. Wenger brought on Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, pushing Aaron Ramsey to the middle.
  • It’s the story of Diaby’s career: injuries. The frequency with which he’s hurt in matches has to be a tactical concern. Even if Diaby’s healthy, you can’t start him if you don’t have a substitute to spare.
  • Chelsea broke through fist, with Torres wrapping his right leg around Laurent Koscielny to redirect a Juan Mata restart past Vito Mannone at the left (far) post. For those hoping Torres can somebody (after all this time) find his old self, it was a very encouraging goal, one set up after a touch from the Chelsea striker helped draw the original foul, Thomas Vermaelen caught diving in for a ball perfectly laid off for Eden Hazard.
  • Even after the goal, it took Arsenal some time to get going. Ramsey was slowing down play through the middle, getting caught on the ball, while Oxlade Chamberlain still hadn’t found a rhythm. It was only after the Gunners started pestering Oscar, himself caught on the ball multiple times near the end of the half, that Arsenal came into the game.
  • That was also the same time that Santi Cazorla started popping up everywhere. After being relatively quiet for the first third of the match, Cazorla started coming a little deeper for the ball, making some runs to the right that he wasn’t making before – generally trying to get more involved.
  • Near the 40th minute, Cazorla’s work helped create a chance down the right, the Spaniard putting a shot out of play off a pass from Carl Jenkinson. Although nothing came from it, the movement exposed two things about Chelsea’s defense that would come into play a few minutes later. First, Ashley Cole was playing very narrow on the left, giving Jenkinson or Oxlade Chamberlain all the room they wanted down the attack’s right. Second, Chelsea’s line was collapsing far too deep – right to the edge of Petr Cech’s six-yard box.
  • In the 43rd minute, those factors conspired to give Arsenal their equalizer. Jenkinson played a ball wide to Chamberlain, whose cross found Gervinho open near the spot, set up in front of the defense but behind the midfield two. The Ivorian was able to trap, turn and fire the equalizer past Cech.
  • The second half opened with Arsenal in firm control, something that worked against them when a 52nd minute Mikel Arteta giveaway allowed Chelsea to catch the Gunners on the counter. A fifty-fifty ball won by Ramires forced Vermaelen to take down Torres 35 yards for goal, a textbook professional foul (for which he saw yellow).
  • Mata put the ensuing restart at the far post, Mannone frozen when a ball grazed off Koscielny’s left shin and in.
  • From there, Chelsea showed what’s becoming a trademark pragmatism under Roberto Di Matteo. They didn’t threaten Mannone again, but they didn’t need to. Staunchly maintaining their shape while getting good work from Ramires and Torres, Chelsea made their good fortune hold up.
  • In doing so, they also created a match that played to Arsenal’s reputation. No doubt Gooners will insist they outplayed Chelsea, a debatable assertion. Even if you grant it, Saturday’s game adds to a long list of Arsenal results that betray their on-field play. It’s still unclear when they will award trophies for finishing with the most style points.
  • They do award trophies for finishing first, which is where Chelsea stay with three points at the Emirates. The result also alleviated the biggest qualm about Chelsea’s start: A weak schedule. Their first big win of the season may have announced the Blues as title contenders.