Chelsea meets Arsenal this weekend in the 139th final of the FA Cup, the third time we have faced the Gunners at this conclusive stage of the competition. Whilst the previous two meetings ended in defeat for Chelsea, this Saturday’s fixture marks the end of an impressive first season for Frank Lampard and his showtime Blues. They have inspired hope and there is anticipation racing through the veins of all Chelsea fans at the heights this squad could potentially reach under Lampard’s stewardship. Domestic cup success over one of our fiercest rivals would be the cherry on the cake for a season that has already surpassed countless Chelsea fans’ expectations. To get us in the mood for what could be a special day, here are my top five moments against the Europa League hopefuls, Arsenal FC.
5. Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge.
For a moment, as sweet as this is to be fifth just goes to show how dominant and successful we have been over our London minnows in recent history. Arsenal’s most prestigious and successful figure to ever step foot in their institution was looking to celebrate his 1000th game as the Gunners boss in style, with a trip to Stamford Bridge in March 2014. To say it didn’t go quite as planned would be an understatement – or maybe even a downright lie. The Blues recorded a record 6-0 win in a game exploding with action and controversy. Amidst Jose Mourinho and Wegner’s touchline ruckus, Samuel Eto’o’ and Andre Schurrle’s electric start, and Mo Salah’s cameo goal at the death, the moment of this memorable fixture had to be the wrongful sending off of Kieran Gibbs, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had tipped an Eden Hazard effort round the post. Despite being a better save than Wojech Szcezney had made all day, referee Andre Mariner knew it had to be deemed a red-card offense. What he wasn’t so certain about was the culprit of the last ditch effort, only adding to the collection of calamitous errors on the day from everyone involved, excluding the Blues. It was a d day of pure comedy for Chelsea fans, and an excellent memory to look back on. More of the same on Saturday wouldn’t go amiss.
4. Tammy’s Didier Drogba tribute.
This one may be slightly contentious for many, especially as Tammy Abraham’s form and role at the club has been under such scrutiny in recent weeks. But for me, it is the context and the ‘life imitating art’ aspect of his goal to secure a 2-1 win at the Emirates in December that makes it such a special moment. We are all familiar, and do not need to be reminded of the bullish nature of Drogba against Arsenal, over his initial eight years in blue. Thirteen goals in 15 appearances made the King of Munich an absolute menace to handle for the Gunners, and he quickly became renowned for scoring against them whenever the two teams would face each other. So when Abraham broke at pace, played the ball wide to Willian, before receiving it back and slamming it in the back of the net, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two. What cemented that feeling of nostalgia even more was Tammy’s tribute to Drogba’s iconic arms out celebration, and subsequent composed knee slide to send the travelling away fans into raptures. Such a simple gesture in such a significant away win created excitement at just how great a talent we had on our hands – and just how good he could become.
3. Eden Hazard’s magic run
I was lucky enough to be at Stamford Bridge for this masterpiece and it remains one of the greatest goals I have ever seen live at a football match. Diego Costa, in typical Costa fashion, bullied Koscielny to present the ball to Eden Hazard, just inside his own half. What entailed from there on was something so special, yet unbelievably familiar to a player like Hazard, testament to just how exceptional he is. Twisting and turning with the ball glued to his feet, with players bouncing off him as if protected by some unseen force, Hazard had soon managed to floor Francis Coquelin and find himself 1v1 against Chelsea legend Petr Cech. A deft finish later, and the Bridge was bouncing at the scintillating magic that had just occurred before their very eyes. An already perfect day was made timeless when former Gunner Cesc Fabregas secured a 3-1 win with a cheeky lob over Cech, making it yet another day to forget for Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger alike.
2. Giroud scores in Baku
This very easily could have been number one, as Baku in its entirety is arguably our biggest ever win against Arsenal. Not often do you brush aside your domestic rivals in a European Final, whilst making sure they do not achieve Champions League football in the process. So when you do, euphoria is a word best suited to describe the feeling. As it has to be a moment, however, I thought I’d focus on the first goal of the game, scored by ex-Arsenal talisman, Olivier Giroud. Seven goals in his last eight starts for the Blues since the return of Premier League football has seen the French target man nominated for July’s player of the month, alongside American teammate Christian Pulisic. In May of last year, he too showed the prowess which he is presently featuring, when he stooped low to guide a Pedro cross past Petr Cech to give the Blues an advantage. There’s something thrilling about taking a player from a bitter rival, showing them the fruits of success that could not be achieved with their former employers, and subsequently converting them into true ‘Chelsea’ players. Giroud, I feel ,has followed in the footsteps of Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas in realising who the pride of London really is.
1. Wayne Bridge at Highbury
Rewind 16 years and Arsenal, at the time, were the best team in England. As difficult as it is to envisage the Gunners ever reaching the heights of their 2003/04 success, the Invincibles* have to be hailed for an amazing Premier League campaign in which they truly dominated the rest of the country. So when we were matched up with Arsenal in the quarter-final of the Champions League, it’s fair to say we were written off relatively quickly. After all, we were a team in new territory, with it being less than a year after Roman had taken over. The first leg had finished 1-1, so when Jose Antonio Reyes scored late in the first half, it seemed that the tie was slipping away. On top of the fact that we were winless in 17 against Arsenal, no one could’ve predicted the outcome that would unravel in the second half at Highbury. Super Frank levelled up six minutes into the second half after Jens Lehmann spilled a Claude Makelele shot straight into his path. The moment of magic came in the 87th minute after a beautiful one-two between Bridge and Eidur Gudjohnsen resulted in an emphatic low finish from the most unlikely of scorers. The goal secured our place in the Champions League semi-final and sparked huge celebration among Chelsea fans.
*What makes this the best moment, for me, is the fact that the ‘Invincibles’ were not actually invincible. Bridge made sure of that. Let’s hope Alonso can recreate something similar come Saturday afternoon.