For almost an entire half, under heavy snow falling down from the London skies, Chelsea looked like the dream team someone envisioned them to be earlier this season. Not Eden Hazard, not Fernando Torres and not Oscar were responsible for the blitz, the speed and flair. It all began and ended with Juan Mata and Ramires.
The Brazilian midfielder, who sometimes finds himself to be very useful and sometimes just wanders around the pitch without too much to do was brilliant during the first 45, not just by winning a penalty kick that Frank Lampard converted, but with his movement towards the right wing every time Oscar dropped back to fill his place. Ramires was a huge part of Chelsea winning the Champions League and the FA Cup by using his speed and dribbling coming from the right wing. Once again, when shifting to his favorite area of the pitch, he was at his best.
With Victor Moses gone to Africa and Marko Marin not someone anyone considers starting material, Benitez went to the trio, and started Oscar next to Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. The result? Very good in the first half, although things did slow down in the second. Chelsea aren’t a good enough team to dominate for the entire 90 minutes, not with a midfield that’s made up of Lampard, who makes himself look much more useful than he really is by converting a penalty nearly every match, and Ramires, who does a few things very well, but a defensive midfielders that eliminates the opposition he is not.
The big key to Chelsea’s incredible start, scoring two goals after only 16 minutes, was their front four. Fernando Torres didn’t score, but he showed he still has the speed, and was as hard working as ever in a return to the starting lineup. The theory of whether his ability is gone or it’s all in his head will continue, but it looked like a couple of better first touches from the Spanish striker would have earned him a goal and an assist as he kept breaking away from the slower Arsenal defenders.
Juan Mata was the real delight, as he’s been for most of this season. Almost every touch he has with the ball creates something for other players. He always finds himself, or brings himself to an area where he can create the most damage possible. His passing and decision making has been fantastic since becoming the sole holder of the behind-the-striker position, leaving Eden Hazard slightly out of his depth.
After a slump during their home matches, it wasn’t surprising to see Chelsea fall back in the second half: Confidence and things went too smoothly during the first half. Something had to give, and Chelsea stopped playing the perfect football they weren’t meant to play for 90 minutes. It almost cost them dearly in the form of a late equalizer, but some solid aerial defending from Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic did the trick, creating quite a lot of distance between the gunners and the third place.