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Chelsea and Arsenal play out a thriller

BRIDGE BATTLE: Alex Iwobi (left) battles with Alvaro Morata at Stamford Bridge

A BREATHLESS and entertaining London derby saw Chelsea edge past Arsenal 3-2 to make it two wins from two for Maurizio Sarri’s side.

There were, however, numerous signs to indicate why the Italian and his Arsenal counterpart, Unai Emery, are tempering expectations as they embark on new eras at their respective clubs.

Chelsea’s four-man backline was porous, with new goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga looking less than secure at times, but their ability to bring a player of Eden Hazard’s quality off the bench in the second half was enough to see off Arsenal’s fightback.

On the opposite side, Emery may have felt the familiar sense of defeat that has greeted his predecessor at this ground in recent years, but his team recovered from a sluggish start to force their way back into the game. It is still two defeats in two for the Spaniard, even if the calibre of the opponents offers considerable mitigation.

With new signings on both sides, there is plenty to ponder for Chelsea and Arsenal, but here and now, the Blues, champions just two seasons ago, look the stronger outfit.

That point could have been made with greater vigour at the beginning of the first half when Chelsea came flying out of the traps, establishing a two-goal lead courtesy of Pedro and Alvaro Morata.

All the same, the half ended with Sarri’s side clinging on having been pegged back by goals from Henrikh Mkitaryan and Alex Iwobi.

But to return to the eighth minute when a Chelsea rout loomed large, Hector Bellerin was caught upfield as Jorginho threaded the ball into the path of Marcos Alonso in oceans of space. Chelsea’s Spaniard was able to cross for his compatriot Pedro to slot the ball beyond Petr Cech.

It had been far too easy for the hosts, who hassled and harried Arsenal, preventing them gaining any rhythm. Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi were overwhelmed at times and it was no surprise when the former was hooked for Lucas Torreira at the interval.

The second Chelsea goal saw Morata stride onto Cesar Azpilicueta’s perfectly pitched pass as he proceeded to bamboozle Shkodran Mustafi and direct the ball beyond the scrambling Cech.

That came moments after Aubameyang spurned a glorious chance at the other end. If it served noticed of the attacking threat an under-the-cosh Arsenal held in reserve then Chelsea certainly weren’t equipped to heed the message.

The Blues could have been out of sight by the time Mkitaryan whipped a shot inside Arrizabalaga’s post in the 37th minute. The goalkeeper should have done better but he was not helped by the dawdling teammates in front of him during the build-up.

It gave the Gunners a timely boost and they were level four minutes later when another Arsenal attack saw Bellerin pay back Alonso, as he found space and time on the Chelsea left, to cut the ball back for Iwobi's tidy finish.

The frantic pace continued after the break, with Chelsea having more of the running but also finding Cech, who won nearly every available trophy during his time at Stamford Bridge, in superb shot-stopping form.

He could not, however, prevent Alonso claiming the final redemption of the evening when he steered Hazard’s cross through Cech’s legs from close range in the 81st minute.

Hazard, who may not be long for these parts if speculation linking him with Real Madrid turns out to be well-founded, was dangerous and influential from the moment he took to the field and ultimately profited from an error from fellow substitute, Alexandre Lacazette, whose backwards pass let in Chelsea.

That play proved to be the final telling intervention in a superb contest fought by flawed but talented teams who both hope to be in better shape in the coming months.

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