Chelsea twice fought back to equalise but were unable to salvage a point as Arsenal came out on top following a breathless London derby at Stamford Bridge.
Four of the six goals came within an end-to-end 20-minute period in the opening half, the visitors’ lead twice cancelled out. The latest goal in Timo Werner’s recent revival made it 1-1 after Eddie Nketiah had fired the Gunners in front, our number 11 cutting inside and finding the bottom corner with the aid of a useful deflection.
Arsenal were back in the lead when Emile Smith Rowe finished neatly at the end of a quick break forward but Chelsea’s response was swift and sure once again as Cesar Azpilicueta poked in Mason Mount’s brilliant inswinging cross to make it 2-2.
With the second half a little more measured, the next goal proved significant and that went the Gunners’ way when Nketiah capitalised on a couple of ricochets in the Blues box to sweep in a decisive finish 12 minutes after the restart.
Even though there was time on our side, the siege on Arsenal’s goal failed to materialise, our best chance falling to Marcos Alonso, who saw his shot blocked at close quarters. The visitors then made sure of the points in stoppage time as Bukayo Saka won and converted a penalty to boost their European qualification aspirations.
Romelu Lukaku’s return to spearhead the attack was one of four changes from our FA Cup semi-final victory over Crystal Palace three days previously, along with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante and Malang Sarr. The latter replaced the injured Antonio Rudiger, who missed out with a minor groin issue.
Mount made his 100th Premier League appearance for the Blues and started just behind strike duo Werner and Lukaku, while captain Azpilicueta continued as the wing-back on the right.
Mikel Arteta made three changes for the Gunners from their recent defeat at Southampton as Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny and Smith Rowe all returned.
While Stamford Bridge was at less than full capacity due to the sanctions imposed on the club preventing further ticket sales, the derby didn’t lack intensity in a lively start to proceedings. Reece James forced his England international team-mate Aaron Ramsdale into some early work as the goalkeeper shovelled a looping free-kick from the right behind for a corner.
From the quickfire set-pieces that followed, Alonso’s effort from nine yards was thwarted bravely by Ben White diving in to block the Spaniard’s shot, while an important header from under the crossbar diverted the danger again seconds later.
However, Edouard Mendy was the first man required to make a save of note after seven minutes when he kicked away a low effort from Granit Xhaka, which may have been intended as a cross rather than a genuine strike at goal.
Down the other end, Lukaku’s first opportunity came down the right channel as Loftus-Cheek flicked the ball on neatly and the Belgian slowed before skipping beyond Xhaka, though his right-footed low drive whistled just beyond the far post.
It was a frenetic opening under the setting sun in south-west London and a pair of goals in four minutes before the contest was even a quarter of the way through took the action to another level. The visitors struck first by capitalising on a lapse at the back and meting out maximum punishment as a long clearance forward from Nuno Tavares caused the problems.
Andreas Christensen’s pass back towards Mendy was misjudged and Nketiah, who spent seven years in the youth system at Chelsea, latched onto the ball, taking one touch to control and a second to steer a low finish into the bottom corner for his first Premier League goal of the season.
However, the game had already settled into an end-to-end pattern of attack versus defence and the Blues were soon level. Loftus-Cheek did well to retrieve possession as Arsenal attempted to play out from the defensive third and Werner collected, driving inside before unleashing a strike that deflected off Xhaka and wrong-footed the unsighted Ramsdale to spin into the unguarded left side of the goal.
The German celebrated, arms held aloft as his team-mates rushed to pass on their congratulations at his fourth goal in as many games and his 17th of the season for club and country. It also took him onto more Chelsea goals since the start of last term than any other player with 23.
Attacks on top
With both sides lacking their usual defensive options, there was a sense in the spring air that chances, goals and entertainment could be in plentiful supply. Chelsea were buoyed by the goal and Mount soon sliced a decent sighter high and wide, with the lively Werner involved again with a foray down the left and Alonso providing the tee-up from within the box.
Nketiah also fired a warning shot after Martin Odegaard had set Saka sprinting down the right beyond Alonso, the forward scuffing his effort from a promising position. Yet that right-sided combination soon proved the undoing of Tuchel’s men as the Gunners took the lead once again just before the half-hour mark.
Werner and Lukaku had threatened in the opposite penalty box to no avail and Arsenal quickly launched a break forward, spearheaded again by Odegaard finding Saka in an advanced position on the wing. The Norwegian was involved once more in laying the ball back for Smith Rowe, who hit an instinctive first-time shot perfectly into the bottom corner.
Azpi sneaks in
This was the 205th occasion of this ancient meeting between the capital clubs, the most-played fixture in our history, but few of those encounters have packed as much action into the first 45 minutes as the latest.
The breathless drama continued as the Blues restored parity within five minutes of falling behind through skipper Azpilicueta. Mount and Werner, our most effective players in the final third, conjured the chance from the left with hassling and harrying, before Mount provided the quality with a teasing inswinging cross.
Azpilicueta’s run from right to left, darting in front of the defender, was just as impressive and the defender then had the composure to finish at the near post with a gentle prod beyond the helpess Ramsdale. It was the 32-year-old’s first league goal in 15 months and his third against the Gunners.
Opportunities kept coming down both ends at the end of a breathless first period, with Nketiah and Smith Rowe sending efforts narrowly wide in search of the game’s fifth goal.
Alonso went closest for the world champions after brilliant work in the middle of the park from Werner, who won the ball and then beat a host of red shirts before Mount took over and hit a superb switch of play into Alonso’s path. The wing-back brought the ball down nicely but was off-balance and couldn’t hit the target.
Nketiah gets the luck
Tuchel felt the need to make changes at the break, pushing James out to wing-back and sending on the defensive nous of Thiago Silva, the Brazilian in the process becoming the oldest outfielder ever to play for the club in the Premier League at 37 years and 210 days old.
The Brazilian almost averted the danger when Arsenal took the lead for a third time just before the hour mark but proved unable to prevent Nketiah making it 3-2 to the north Londoners. It was a messy and unfortunate goal to concede, the ball ricocheting first off Thiago Silva and then Sarr before Nketiah eventually poked it beyond Mendy from close range.
Tuchel responded by swapping Lukaku for Kai Havertz up top but it was the two wing-backs who soon threatened a third leveller when James’s rasping low delivery was spilled by Ramsdale and fell into the path of Alonso.
The Spaniard reacted quickly but the effort was on his less favoured right foot and, despite being hit sweetly, struck Holding before Arsenal managed to clear the ball to safety. Werner also had another effort, left-footed and spinning away from the far corner, as Chelsea pushed to avoid the ignominy of a third successive winless season against the Gunners at the Bridge.
Yet the siege on Arsenal’s goal never arrived and Saka sealed the precious points in stoppage time when he won and converted a penalty in front of the travelling supporters. Azpilicueta was adjudged to be the guilty party as the pair tussled in the box and the youngster stepped up to fire in the game’s sixth and final goal, condemning Chelsea to a third straight Stamford Bridge defeat in almost 30 years.
The last of our three consecutive London derbies sees West Ham visit the Bridge on Sunday afternoon for a Premier League encounter.
Chelsea (3-4-1-2) Mendy; James, Christensen (Thiago Silva h/t), Sarr; Azpilicueta (c), Loftus-Cheek, Kante, Alonso (Ziyech 81); Mount; Lukaku (Havertz 60), Werner
Unused subs Kepa, Chalobah, Jorginho, Saul, Barkley, Pulisic
Scorers Werner 17; Azpilicueta 32
Booked Sarr 65; Mount 85
Arsenal (3-4-3) Ramsdale; White, Holding, Gabriel; Saka, Elneny, Xhaka, Tavares; Odegaard; Nketiah (Martinelli 70), Smith Rowe (Soares 75)
Unused subs Leno, Swanson, Sambi Lokonga, Azeez, Hutchinson, Pepe, Lacazette
Scorers Nketiah 13, 57; Smith Rowe 27; Saka 90+2
Referee Jonathan Moss