No celebrations for Wenger's 1000th game
Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal proved to be a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons. It ended up being a historic day for Chelsea, as they recorded their biggest-ever win over Arsenal, a 6-0 rout, to leave the Gunners' title hopes in tatters.
The problems began with Wenger's team-sheet. The Arsenal boss chose to stick with the same XI who beat Tottenham in the North London derby last weekend. After that match, Spurs manager Tim Sherwood had suggested the result had merely "papered over the cracks."
The remark sparked ire among the Arsenal fans, but contained an element of truth: Wenger's team had performed poorly at White Hart Lane, and required an impressive rear-guard action to obtain a result. Given that, it was something of a surprise that Wenger didn't opt to change his team, perhaps by introducing combative Mathieu Flamini.
After the reverse fixture at the Emirates Stadium, Jose Mourinho had boasted that he had tamed Arsenal by pressing high up the pitch around pedestrian Mikel Arteta. From kickoff, his Chelsea players sought to do the same at Stamford Bridge.
It feels like a long time ago now, but Arsenal actually had the first good chance of the game. Olivier Giroud was played in on goal, but his scuffed effort allowed Petr Cech to make a fairly routine save.
However, within a minute, Arsenal were behind, as Samuel Eto'o showed the value of a clinical striker. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was embarking on a truly disastrous first-half performance, gave the ball away in midfield. With Kieran Gibbs caught upfield, Chelsea were able to feed Eto'o on the right. Oxlade-Chamberlain got back to defend, but needn't have bothered: He was turned far too easily, and Eto'o curled his shot into the far corner.
Less than two minutes later, Chelsea doubled their lead. This time, Santi Cazorla was dispossessed, leaving Gibbs once again stranded high up the pitch. When Andre Schuerrle was fed on the right, Laurent Koscielny turned his back, allowing the German international to shoot beyond Wojciech Szczesny.
Unfortunately for a shell-shocked Arsenal, Chelsea were not in a merciful mood. After 17 minutes, another high-octane move ended with Eden Hazard bending a shot towards the goal. It beat Szczesny, but Oxlade-Chamberlain dove and palmed it away with his hand. It appeared to be swerving away from goal, but the intervention was reckless and unnecessary.
It was no surprise to see referee Andre Marriner award a penalty and reach for his red card. However, it was bizarre and shocking to see him dismiss Kieran Gibbs instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, despite the protestations of both players. It's certain we haven't heard the last of this strange case of mistaken identity. Nevertheless, Eden Hazard stepped up and converted the spot-kick with aplomb. Arsenal were not only three goals down but a man down too.
It was a truly awful start from the Gunners -- and one that felt horribly familiar. In the opening 20 minutes of Arsenal's games away to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, they have conspired to concede a combined total of seven goals.
It got even worse shortly before half-time. Fernando Torres, on as a substitute for injured Eto'o, raced down the right and squared for Oscar to tap in.
At half-time, an apoplectic Wenger made two changes, introducing Carl Jenkinson and Flamini in place of Koscielny and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The substitutions didn't change much: Arsenal conceded two further goals. First a tame shot from Oscar slipped beyond Szczesny, then Mohamed Salah raced beyond Arsenal's feeble offside trap to score his first Chelsea goal.
The final score of 6-0 matched 2011's 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford as Wenger's worst ever. What ought to have been a day of celebration ended as one of shame and humiliation. The combined aggregate score for Arsenal's three trips to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea now stands at 18 goals to four.
Once again Arsenal failed to turn up for a big game on a Saturday lunchtime. Questions must be asked of the players, who performed well below their usual standards. However, there also inevitably will be a huge focus on the manager. He is ultimately responsible for preparing and organising his team, and they appeared to be in chaos from the very first minute. Of Wenger's 1000 games in charge, few can have been more painful than this.