Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Eddie Nketiah scores twice in six-goal thriller to give Gunners hope in Champions League race

NOT since the Invincibles were in their pomp have Arsenal had the opportunity to have a good old laugh at Chelsea.

But here, on the back of three straight defeats and with a centre-forward who hadn’t scored a Premier League goal in a year, was a night for the Gooners to savour.

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Arsenal celebrate their third goal at ChelseaCredit: Getty

They gloated at Stamford Bridge’s empty seats and empty boardroom.

They laughed at Chelsea’s empty-headed defending.

And they rejoiced when Eddie Nketiah struck a winning double, twice taking advantage of a team of European champions who decided to defend in clown’s shoes.

It all meant that Arsenal are level on points with Tottenham in the race for the final Champions League place.

Nketiah bags brace as Gunners assert themselves BACK into top four race
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Eddie Nketiah puts Arsenal in the lead at Chelsea

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Eddie Nketiah puts Arsenal in the lead at ChelseaCredit: Jamie McPhilimey
Arsenal celebrate opening the scoring

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Arsenal celebrate opening the scoringCredit: Jamie McPhilimey

Next month’s North London derby – just ten days before the end of the season – promises to be the most significant such fixture in years.

Mikel Arteta’s callow team appeared to have been knocked right off course by those miserable defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton.

But here, in a remarkably wide-open derby, they were gifted a way back into the mix.

Arsenal attacked with purpose and pace. They defended well at times in the second half, too.

And yet there was no mistaking that Arteta’s side had been gifted three of their four goals.

It was Chelsea’s third successive home defeat – during which time they have conceded 11 goals.

Timo Werner levelled for Chelsea

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Timo Werner levelled for ChelseaCredit: Jamie McPhilimey
Timo Werner celebrates equalising for Chelsea

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Timo Werner celebrates equalising for ChelseaCredit: Jamie McPhilimey

While they may have an FA Cup final to look forward to next month, you can be assured that opponents Liverpool will fancy their chances of ripping into this rabble.

There were around 9,000 empty seats, as the anti-Putin sanctions bit following Roman Abramovich’s departure – but those casual Chelsea fans who might have bought tickets, will have felt they dodged a bullet.

Arsenal’s followers lapped it all up – ‘just like the old days, there’s nobody here’.

Just like the days before Abramovich arrived and the Gunners could call themselves the best team in London.

Even though the game was of vast importance to Arsenal, there was a carefree, end-to-end end-of-season feel about it from the off.

It felt like you were watching a bunch of mates taking advantage of the longer evenings. If someone had declared ‘rush goalie’ or ‘knockout Wembley’ it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

Emile Smith Rowe put Arsenal back in the lead

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Emile Smith Rowe put Arsenal back in the leadCredit: PA
Emile Smith Rowe celebrates his goal

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Emile Smith Rowe celebrates his goalCredit: Jamie McPhilimey

As soon as the team-sheets were out, we could tell it wasn’t crucial to Chelsea – who are almost certain to finish no higher or lower than third – because Tuchel gave Romelu Lukaku his first Premier League start since February.

The big Belgian soon fired wide across goal after Wembley hero Ruben Loftus-Cheek had rumbled forward and released him.

Then came the fun and games – four goals in the space of 19 minutes.

Andreas Christensen got the party started by shinning a back-pass, allowing Eddie Nketiah to nip in and slot past Edouard Mendy for his first Premier League goal in more than a year.

Arsenal’s lead had a butterfly lifespan – Loftus-Cheek winning possession and feeding Timo Werner, whose shot took a nasty deflection off Granit Xhaka’s heel, giving Aaron Ramsdale no chance.

Then a second Arsenal goal – and the sort Arsene Wenger used to fantasise about.

Cesar Azpilicueta got Chelsea back level

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Cesar Azpilicueta got Chelsea back levelCredit: Jamie McPhilimey
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta celebrates his equaliser

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Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta celebrates his equaliserCredit: AP

Xhaka started it all with some Fred Astaire footwork on the edge of the box. At the sharp end, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard combined for Smith Rowe to tuck it into the corner of the net with a bedtime story.

Again, though, Chelsea responded swiftly – Mason Mount winning possession, kippering Mo Elneny and curling in a low centre which Azpilicueta stabbed in at the near post.

Smith Rowe, with four men around him, somehow wriggled free but shot narrowly wide.

It was all pleasingly chaotic. The defending non-existent at times. This is not the sort of match elite coaches enjoy but as light entertainment for the masses, it was just fine.

Tuchel responded by replacing the hapless Christensen with Thiago Silva at half-time – yet somehow Chelsea’s defending managed to get even worse.

Azpilicueta played a dozy pass to Arsenal full-back Nuno Tavares, who centred for Nketiah.

The young striker was surrounded by Thiago, N’Golo Kante and Malang Starr – who made a collective pig’s ear of trying to clear, allowing Nketiah three stabs at it before he drilled into the net.

Eddie Nketiah pokes in his second of the game

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Eddie Nketiah pokes in his second of the gameCredit: Reuters
Eddie Nketiah celebrates putting Arsenal 3-2 up

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Eddie Nketiah celebrates putting Arsenal 3-2 upCredit: AFP

Tuchel, visibly seething, hauled off Lukaku, to a chorus of boos – aimed at the striker, rather than the decision to withdraw him – and introduced Kai Havertz.

Ramsdale spilled a Reece James shot, which was scrambled clear but Arsenal were generally looking solid and composed.

And then in the 90th minute, another brainstorm from Azpilicueta, who wrestled over Saka off the ball.

Ref Jon Moss pointed to the spot and Saka rammed it home before celebrating with those celebrating Gooners – who laughed their way all the way back across town.

Cesar Azpilicueta fouled Bukayo Saka leading to a penalty

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Cesar Azpilicueta fouled Bukayo Saka leading to a penaltyCredit: Reuters
Bukayo Saka places the penalty home

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Bukayo Saka places the penalty homeCredit: Getty

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