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Making of a Rivalry: Arsenal vs Chelsea

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Ahead of Saturday’s title contenders bout, we look back on some classic moments between these London rivals.

Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Rivalries are funny things. They can arise out of location, even though we all accept Tottenham were just keeping North London warm for Arsenal. They can arise from table position, for if you are one of two serious title contenders for a number of years the rivalry builds itself. (Damn United.) And sometimes, they pop up because of a business deal.

That’s the weird thing about the Chelsea-Arsenal rivalry. Though both London clubs, for much of their existence, there really wasn’t anything between them. Arsenal remained a perennial top flight participants with a smattering of trophies in each era while Chelsea bounced between 1st and 2nd division football and had some lengthy droughts. All of which changed in 2003.

Enter Roman Abramovich. A sudden influx of money, massive signings and one pompous manager was all it took. Chelsea became true contenders and trophies began to tilt to the Blue side of London as Arsenal began their biggest trophy drought since the 50s/60s. It became a rivalry that some pushed to the front with some surveys putting Chelsea as the most hated club in England, largely due to their neighbours, something Blues fans return. (Yada yada Tottenham hates both teams as well but let’s not quibble with small fish.)

Whether familiarity, proximity or jealousy (or all three), the Chelsea-Arsenal rivalry hotly contested by the teams and fans alike. Here are some moments that helped it along:

KANU BELIEVE IT?!

While not part of the Abramovich era, 1999 was seeing a stronger presence from Chelsea. Having finished third the previous season, behind Champions Manchester United and 2nd place Arsenal, it appeared the mid-to-lower finishes were over and the Blues were looking to take the next step. Being 2-0 up on Arsenal with only a quarter of an hour to go had all the makings of a statement of intent.

And then, this happened:

Three improbable goals from the impossibly lanky Nigerian, coupled with one of the finest calls I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Kanu solidified both my Gooner fan status and my love for the sport, all in those short 15 minutes.

Death, Taxes and Didier Drogba Scoring Against Arsenal

I hate Drogba. I really hate Didier Drogba. I possess a simple loathing for the man for the simple reason that he is just so damn good at football and even better at scoring on Arsenal. Since joining Chelsea in 2004, the same year as their first league title in aeons, one can’t fathom why bookies kept taking bets on who would score as soon as Drogba stepped on the pitch. His record is as follows:

2005 Community Shield: 2 goals (Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal)
Aug 2005, Premier League: 1 goal (Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal)
2007 League Cup final: 2 goals (Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal)
Mar 2008, Premier League: 2 goals (Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal)
2009 FA Cup semifinal: 1 goal (Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea)
Nov 2009, Premier League: 2 goals (Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea)
Feb 2010, Premier League: 2 goals (Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal)
Oct 2010, Premier League: 1 goal (Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal)

He’d later add a pair playing for Galatasaray during an Emirates Cup and even at the tender age of 38 in the MLS All-Star game this summer. As a Gooner, you couldn’t really be mad. It’s just what the man does.

2007 League Cup Final

If there wasn’t a rivalry before this game, there certainly was one after. This match was nasty. The second cup title match between these two in the 2000s (the first being Arsenal’s 2-0 FA Cup win in 2002 which you really should check out for some lovely goals from Parlour and Ljungberg), the two team philosophies couldn’t be any more apparent. Chelsea trotted out a nearly full strength side of major signings. Arsenal trotted out the kids - average team age was 21, the youngest ever in a English Cup Final.

Despite their age (or perhaps because of it), Arsenal grabbed the early advantage through young phenom Theo Walcott. The team had bags of speed and looked to shock Chelsea early but failed to convert a few more chances. And then Drogba. Tying the game up in the first half, Chelsea began to assert full control and Drogba scored his second late to hand Chelsea the Cup.

But before that happened, this happened:

Red cards and bad blood abound.

Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game.

Arsenal lined up against Chelsea for the big man’s 1000th game.

Huh. I guess they had a do-over the next week.

Terry Provides An Exemplar of Good Defending

In 2011, Chelsea and Arsenal put on a classic at Stamford Bridge. The teams traded goals, the tension was high. It was 3-3 with less than 10 minutes to play...

...and then it wasn’t. My word, that’s lovely.

Every rivalry needs heroes, villains and outright clowns - players who bring those moments that make you smile no matter what, and help you remember that this is a game you’re supposed to have fun watching. Few things make me smile more than watching John Terry eat turf, costing his team points before Steven Gerrard made it cool. Robin van Persie would complete his hattrick for a memorable win, but who really remembers that?