It was April 2004 and Frank Lampard was coming to the end of his third season as a Chelsea player. He had yet to beat Arsenal wearing our blue, and there had been 11 meetings.
For the west Londoners overall, the run without a win went back even further – to 1998 for the last time we had got one over on the Gunners. Now on that spring evening five-and-a-half years later we faced them in the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final at Highbury, with the aggregate score 1-1.On the stroke of half-time it was 2-1 to Arsene Wenger’s table-topping side but then Lampard equalised before Wayne Bridge snatched a winner late on to complete a historic victory.Everything changed! It would not be until Christmas 2007 that Arsenal beat Chelsea again, by which time we had won two league titles and three domestic cups.
With Lampard due to lock horns with the north Londoners again in two days’ time, albeit now from the technical area rather than the pitch, he has been asked to recall that 2004 game.‘The evening was a turning point when we got that result because it gave us a huge amount of belief at that time,’ he confirms.‘We had not managed to beat Arsenal in my first days at Chelsea because they were a really strong unit and they had been built up for quite a number of years under Arsene Wenger, and we were changing, we were young. That night gave us belief so it did push us on at that point.’
Having been involved in some of those famous contests in his playing days does not give Lampard extra incentive when he faces current Arsenal but he admits he has always felt a big rivalry between the clubs.‘When I joined at Chelsea, Arsenal had the upper hand on us and had won league titles before I came here. As we managed to change that a lot, there was obviously clear rivalry, as you would expect with London teams anyway.
‘I enjoyed that side of it, as long as it is controlled and carried out the right way, which I think it was for most of the time. I think that rivalry remains. My role now is different, I am not on the pitch, the players have to play with controlled passion because that is what a derby brings.’What is also different for Lampard this year especially is Christmas, not in facing big football matches at this time of year but in the festivities around them. He, like many others, is making changes with London among the areas under the strictest Covid regulations in England.
‘Some plans did up in smoke unfortunately in terms of seeing more family but we have to adhere to that at the minute,’ he says. ‘I think we all understand the seriousness of the situation, especially in the last week and the news and if you read the reactions and what we are being asked to do, there is a reason for it. I am fortunate that I can spend it with some close family but maybe not as normally as most years.’