© PA Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts after missing an open goal. Less than a minute later Chelsea were 2-0 up.
This ended up feeling like a vindication of all the caution expressed publicly by Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery in the campaign’s early days. Chelsea, relieved to have a player of Eden Hazard’s calibre to fling on to make a difference, triumphed here at Arsenal’s expense and celebrated in the giddy din at the final whistle. But for all the excitement this furious contest whipped up it also provided evidence as to why these teams are outsiders in the title race.
Marcos Alonso’s winner came late on, with Petr Cech twice going on to deny Hazard the rewards his eye-catching cameo deserved. The Belgian only featured for 29 minutes but probably still provided the stellar impact of the afternoon. As it is, having clawed their way level and missed too many opportunities for comfort in a madcap opening period, Arsenal have lost their opening two topflight fixtures for the first time since 1992. That is a downbeat way to welcome the Emery revolution. How he must have craved having a talent like Hazard with which to turn the tide.
These teams are works in progress under new management, with both head coaches having spent their early days in English football warning of long, bumpy roads ahead in these corners of the capital. Sarri had suggested the world may not see the best of his Chelsea team until after Christmas. Emery has quickly made “work” one of his early buzzwords, with the gulf between Arsenal and Manchester City having been exposed brutally on the opening weekend. In that context, the exquisitely entertaining if utterly chaotic frenzy of this derby could actually have been anticipated.
While it was easy to thrill at the best each team had to offer, those in the dugout were left grimacing too often at the carelessness of so much of the play. The visitors had retired at the break relieved to be level having retrieved a two-goal deficit, but actually cursing the reality that they had not settled the derby already. Some of their misses defied belief, from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang skying a shot over the bar from the penalty spot after wonderfully slick approach play from Matteo Guendouzi and Héctor Bellerín, to Henrikh Mkhitaryan repeating that sorry trick from an Alex Iwobi pull-back.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts after missing an open goal. Less than a minute later Chelsea were 2-0 up.Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
Throw in Mesut Özil’s volley on the charge, Aubameyang’s scuffed attempt wide of the near-post, and Iwobi’s slice over the bar as half-time approached and the visitors should probably have long been out of sight. Thankfully for Emery, his players had snapped out of their profligate mood in the last eight minutes of the period. Mkhitaryan fizzed a low shot inside Kepa Arrizabalaga’s near post via the goalkeeper’s glove from just outside the area, Arsenal having capitalised from Willian’s failure to retain possession from Ross Barkley’s slack pass. While Chelsea were still digesting that wasteful concession, Bellerín clipped the Armenian to the byline with Iwobi slamming in his low centre having escaped César Azpilicueta.
The hosts departed aghast. Everything had appeared so comfortable in that opening 20 minutes, when Jorginho was calmly dictating the play and Arsenal’s backline was in utter disarray. The Italy midfielder’s gloriously weighted pass inside Mkhitaryan had liberated Marcos Alonso early on with the visitors’ centre-halves caught on their heels and Bellerín lost upfield. Alonso squared for Pedro to convert with ease.
Then, while Arsenal were still contemplating Aubayemang’s miss in front of goal, Azpilicueta’s long ball beyond Nacho Monreal was collected by Álvaro Morata on the charge. The striker, with one Premier League goal to his name since Boxing Day, ran at and then cut inside Shkodran Mustafi before placing his shot back inside Petr Cech as the goalkeeper tumbled the other way.
Morata, confidence now flooding back, always sensed vulnerability in the ponderous Sokratis and Mustafi and stung Cech’s hands from distance with the centre-halves flat-footed. Yet, where Chelsea had briefly envisaged inflicting a thrashing, they were forced to fling on the cavalry in Eden Hazard and the debutant Mateo Kovacic to inject momentum back into their display from the hour mark. The Belgian was soon skimming centres across Arsenal’s goalline as the frantic pace was maintained, and there was an inevitability that he would be instrumental in forcing the hosts back ahead.
It was Hazard who isolated the Arsenal substitute, Alexandre Lacazette, out on the visitors’ right flank nine minutes from time and darted far too easily beyond the static forward to the byline. While the visitors desperately attempted to reorganise, cluttering their penalty area with bodies, Alonso was allowed to meander unchecked into the box to finish the playmaker’s pull-back through Cech’s legs. Sarri, arms aloft on the touchline, puffed out his cheeks in relief. Across the divide, Emery’s slump into his dugout said it all.