Arsenal vs Chelsea: A Rivalry Reviewed

When Arsenal and Chelsea meet, it is usually the most exciting match in the Premier League that week. They are games that attract attention from the whole country, not just Arsenal and Chelsea fans, and they usually have implications on the Premier League title, or the Champions League places at the very least.

We wanted to take a look at some of the classic matches and moments between two of the most successful teams in the Premier League era, and relive some moments that will live long in the memory. They first met at Stamford Bridge in 1907, so there is plenty of history there, and over 100 years of a rivalry that has been bubbling away – which occasionally boils over which no one (read: absolutely everyone) wants to see.

Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea - 6th December, 1919, First Division

We’re going to get into some clashes that really expose the rivalry between these two teams, but to start, let’s have a match that was significant for a number of reasons.

Firstly, this was the first season to take place after the enforced break during the First World War. Both teams had a reason for being grateful that this was a top flight fixture – Arsenal had finished 6th in the second division in the last season before the break, and Chelsea had finished 19th (out of 20) in the first division. Yet due to a (controversial) quirk of a league reshuffle, they both miraculously appeared in the top division after the war. (At the expense of Tottenham Hotspur, amongst others).

This was also the first match that Arsenal were known as ‘Arsenal’, rather than ‘The Arsenal’ (having previously changed from Dial Square, Royal Arsenal and Woolwich Arsenal).

The match itself was played in front of 50,000 people at Highbury, and ended up a 1-1 draw with Henry Albert White scoring for Arsenal, while John Cock scored for Chelsea, who would go on to finish third in the league. At the time, this was the highest ever finish for a London club.

Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea - 3rd April, 1971, First Division

Going into April 1971, there were four teams in with a shot of the title and Arsenal were one of them, sitting second behind Don Revie’s Leeds United. Fans packed into Highbury (some even sat on top of one of the stands) to witness this crunch match between the two clubs.

Chelsea had two decent opportunities to go a goal up in the first half, but the ref stopped play on both occasions. Then in the second half, Arsenal showed their quality, and two goals from Ray Kennedy gave them the crucial win. Arsenal went on to win the double that year – only the second team to do that in the 20th century.

The match was a full-blooded encounter – the highlights were followed by a discussion from Jimmy Hill about whether the tackle from behind should still be allowed in the modern game…! I dread to think what he would think of what gets called a foul in the Premier League these days!

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal - 2nd February, 1991, First Division

There was an unexpected hiatus for the Arsenal-Chelsea rivalry during the 80s while Chelsea had a well-earned break from the top flight of English football. But they were back in the early 90s and taking the lower-mid table by storm!

Arsenal, by comparison, were experiencing a resurgence under George Graham. They’d won the title when it was up for grabs in 1988-89, finished in the top four behind Liverpool, Aston Villa and Spurs in 1989-90, and were pushing Liverpool again for the title in 1990-91. When they turned up at Stamford Bridge, they were unbeaten in the league. But Chelsea were ready to spoil the party.

Arsenal had a legitimate penalty claim turned down in the first half for handball (a decision which I think Mikel Arteta is still fuming about), but Arsenal kept pushing for the opening into the second half. But they made a mess of a hoof up the pitch and Graham Stuart opened the scoring for Chelsea, and Arsenal started to fall apart. Kerry Dixon made it two with a minute to go, and despite an Alan Smith consolation in injury time, the unbeaten record had gone.

Fortunately for Arsenal, the shock resignation of Kenny Dalglish saw Liverpool’s form plummet, and Arsenal held their nerve to take their second title in three years. Chelsea, meanwhile, finished 11th.

Arsenal 3-3 Chelsea - 4th September, 1996, Premier League

This match in 1996 is not only memorable because of what an exciting match it was, but also because it seems that this was the last match between the ‘old’ Arsenal and Chelsea – just before Wenger, and then later Abramovich, changed them into the clubs we know today.

Arsenal had just sacked Bruce Rioch, and were in negotiations with Arsene Wenger, when Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea rolled into town. This was an unrecognisable Chelsea compared to the team from just a few years before. Where there was once Kerry Dixon and Dave Beasant, there was now Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo.

Chelsea raced to a two goal lead, thanks to a penalty from Frank Leboeuf and a goal from Vialli that stand-in keeper John Lukic really should have done better with. Paul Merson got a goal back just before half time, and Arsenal were back in it.

Martin Keown got the equaliser early in the second half, before Ian Wright put them 3-2 up, before Dennis Wise popped up with a late, late equaliser. A brilliant match, and better things for both clubs were just around the corner.

Arsenal 3-3 Chelsea - 4th September, 1996, Premier League

By the following year, Wenger had transformed Arsenal into a club intent in winning the title (and the FA Cup as it turned out) – the first team to test the dominance of Manchester United in the late 90s. Early in the season they met a Chelsea team that were starting to fulfil their potential, with a squad full of internationals. It was a Premier League classic match.

Gus Poyet opened the scoring with a tap in, before Ian Wright put Dennis Bergkamp through on goal for the Dutchman to equalise. In the second half, Bergkamp made it 2-1 to Arsenal, before Gianfranco Zola got on the end of a Mark Hughes cross to pull Chelsea level. Frank Leboeuf then received a second yellow, and Arsenal began their siege of the Chelsea goal – but with no success.

Until the ball fell to the dangerman – Nigel Winterburn. He picked the ball up miles away from goal, dribbled it uncomfortably for a few yards and then unleashed an unstoppable shot from 30 yards, straight into the top corner of the net. Incredible scenes.

Chelsea 2-3 Arsenal - 23rd October, 1999, Premier League

I reckon I could write an entire about this match alone. It was an absolute classic. The two sides were so strong that both Zola and Bergkamp started the game on the bench! Chelsea had not conceded a goal at home up to that point in the season, and were building on a solid few years towards the top of the table. Arsenal were going for the title.

This was a feisty affair from the off. Lee Dixon picked up an early booking for renewing a battle with Graeme Le Saux. Davor Suker was the next player in the book for a foul on Le Saux, before Tore André Flo put the hosts 1-0 up. Emmanual Petit then picked up a booking for a foul on [guess who], before daytime TV Star Dan ‘Pet Rescue’ put Chelsea 2-0 up. Game over. Right?

Enter Nwankwo Kanu. His first was slightly opportunistic, controlling an intended shot from Marc Overmars, and poking it home. Game on, with fifteen minutes left. The rain was really coming down by this point, and Kanu pulled the game level by immaculately controlling an Overmars cross and firing in at the near post. 2-2.

Both sides pushed for a winner, when the ball broke for Kanu near the corner flag. Chelsea keeper, Ed de Goey, was miles out of position, narrowing the angle outside his box. Kanu dummied to cross it in, de Goey fell for it, and Kanu was inside the box, but still with a virtually impossible angle, and two defenders on the line. Inexplicably, he shot. Right into the far top corner, to win the match for Arsenal. An iconic Premier League moment, goal and match.

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea - 6th April, 2004, Champions League

Arsenal had a decent season in 2003-04. But while their utter dominance in the league secured another Premier League title, success in Europe evaded them. Because of this match.

Arsenal had secured a decent draw in the first leg of this Champions League quarter final at Stamford Bridge, and would have fancied their chances of finishing the job at Highbury against a Chelsea side that would finish the league 11 points behind them.

The game started as you would expect, with the home team creating a couple of decent chances for Theirry Henry. Jose Antonio Reyes eventually put them 1-0 up, and they were expected to kick on from there to put the tie to bed.

However, when the second half started, Chelsea got right back into it. Frank Lampard took advantage of a spill from Jens Lehman, and the game became an end-to-end battle, with both sides having decent efforts on goal. Eidur Gudjohnsen thought he’d scored with five minutes to go, but his effort was miraculously cleared off the line by Ashley Cole.

Then in the 87th minute, left-back Wayne Bridge played a one-two with Gudjohnsen and prodded home an effort into the corner to win it for Chelsea. They were finally ready to mix it with the big boys of European football.

The Ashley Cole Transfer Saga - 2006

Boyhood Arsenal fan Ashley Cole had become one of the best left-backs in the world by 2006. He was an integral part of the Invincible team of 2003-04, and also one of the England national team’s best players. His profile had grown after an excellent Euro 2004, which was perfect timing for Cole, as he was about to open talks with Arsenal about extending his contract. His value had never been higher.

Roman Abramovich, meanwhile, had hired Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, and he was looking to build something special… As talks with Arsenal stalled, Cole attended a meeting with Mourinho and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon in January 2005. This wasn’t allowed – you can’t meet up with another team to talk about a transfer while you are under contract with your club. Cole pleaded his innocence, but it’s not a good look.

Despite this, Cole signed a new 1 year extension with Arsenal that summer, although he was reportedly unhappy with his pay and felt he deserved more. About £5,000 a week more. As he recalled in his autobiography, upon hearing Arsenal’s offer of around £54,000 a week, “I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I suppose it all started to fall apart for me from then on.” We’ve all been there…

This was the beginning of the end for Cole and Arsenal. He was injured a lot that year, and Gael Clichy (who would surely never leave for a league rival) proved to be a more than adequate replacement for Cole – so Arsenal were confident they could live without him.

Chelsea won their second consecutive Premier League title in 2005-06, and renewed their pursuit that summer. The negotiations were bitter. Arsenal wanted £25 million, while Mourinho was adamant that they were not budging from their initial offer of £16.5 million. In the end, it went down to deadline day, when they eventually agreed on a deal of £5 million with William Gallas moving to Arsenal. The unspecified value of Gallas seemed to save face on both sides.

By this point, though, the Arsenal fans had lost all their affection for the man they now dubbed Cashley Cole – who was paid £90,000 a week by Chelsea. On his first return as a Chelsea player, he was pelted with fake money.

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal - 25th February, 2007, League Cup Final

With all that fresh in people’s minds, when Chelsea and Arsenal met in the League Cup final the following year, it all boiled over.

Just 11 minutes had gone when a 17-year-old Theo Walcott scored his first goal for Arsenal to put them a goal up. This was an incredibly young Arsenal side, as Wenger stuck with the players that he had rotated in from the earlier rounds, leaving players like Henry out of the side.

It didn’t last long, as Didier Drogba equalised after 20 minutes. Into the second half, and John Terry took a boot to the face, with both sets of players showing huge concern – he was knocked out cold and rushed to hospital.

Then, with just seven minutes to go Drogba headed in the winner. But the action continued, when in injury time, a clash between John Obi Mikel and Kolo Toure sparked a brawl that saw both benches rush onto the pitch. Mikel, Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor were all sent off to add to the seven yellow cards that had been issued in the match. Absolute chaos.

Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal - 29th October, 2011, Premier League

Chelsea had really turned the tables on Arsenal in this period, winning most of the matches between the two clubs, and winning many more trophies in the period. However, in 2011, there was this classic Premier League match that gave Arsenal fans something to sing about.

Frank Lampard put Chelsea 1-0 up, before Robin van Persie equalised. Chelsea went back up the other end of the pitch and John Terry scored from a corner. 2-1 at half time.

The second half was bonkers. Santos equalised for Arsenal, before Walcott put Arsenal ahead for the first time with a great finish at the near post. Juan Mata equalised, and Chelsea fans would have been well within their right to think they’d go on and win from there.

However, a loose back pass let in van Persie to dart past John Terry doing his best Steven Gerrard impression, and he confidently rounded Petr Čech in goal to send Arsenal 4-3 up. As Chelsea pushed for another equaliser, Arsenal hit them on the counter and van Persie completed his hat trick in emphatic style. A cracking match.

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea - 27th May, 2017, FA Cup Final

Premier League champions Chelsea were looking to win the double, while Arsenal had not qualified for the Champions League for the first time in Wenger’s reign – the end looked near for him as fans started to show discontent with the man that had given them so much.

After just four minutes, Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal 1-0 as he ran from deep to latch on to his own knock-on. Aaron Ramsey was flagged for offside, but as he didn’t touch the ball, a goal was awarded after a chat between the ref and linesman.

Arsenal had the better chances in the first half, having one cleared off the line and Ramsey mis-controlling from a yard out when he had an open goal. Chelsea grew into the game, though, until they were reduced to 10 men when Victor Moses was sent off when he received a second booking for a dive in the box. That should have been that, but Diego Costa equalised for Chelsea and it looked like the game would head into extra time, when Ramsey made up for his miss in the first half by scoring the winner.

It was Wenger’s last major trophy as Arsenal manager.

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