The game started at what was probably a fast pace considering winter fatigue, and despite their growing list of injured players, Arsenal looked like a decent match for Chelsea. The two sides traded possession, free kicks, and corners, with a good chance for Alexis from the edge of the box deflecting off the Chelsea wall and over the goal. When they could keep possession, Arsenal looked sharp, stringing quick passes together and picking their way through Chelsea’s back line. They have definitely missed Mesut Özil, and if they keep making strides like this when they get their other first-team players back, then a top-four finish may not be as far-fetched as it has seemed recently.
But the defense had a few shaky moments. In the fourteenth minute, Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata had a golden chance on a breakaway—but with only Petr Cech still in his way, he pulled his shot wide of the goal. Cech made a save just a minute later against his former team. Pulling themselves together, Arsenal took the ball back down to the other end and nearly scored twice, with the ball rolling along the Chelsea goal line until Thibaut Courtois got to it before any Gunners could.
At halftime, it was still 0-0—Courtois saved a few more, and although Arsenal made a handful of defensive mistakes, Chelsea seemed to have trouble hitting the target.
Arsenal’s defense was again inconsistent as the second half began, and Cech had to step in and save a couple Chelsea shots. On the other end of the pitch, Alexandre Lacazette pirouetted through Chelsea’s defense, but then waited half a second too long and bounced his shot off of Courtois.
At about the one-hour mark, Hector Bellerin lost control of a ball from Özil and hit a loose pass, but the ball found its way to Jack Wilshere, who rocketed a shot above Courtois and into the top corner.
Wilshere smashes Arsenal in front against Chelsea. 1-0 pic.twitter.com/kCUms0WGXl— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) January 3, 2018
And just three minutes later, Eden Hazard went down (clutching his shin) in Arsenal’s box after the lightest of taps (on the foot) from Hector Bellerin, and slotted the resulting penalty home, leveling the score. An already physical game got even scrappier after that, but Arsenal stepped up their defending a bit and, for a time, kept Chelsea from adding to their tally. Danny Welbeck came on for Lacazette in the 80th minute, stepping into Alexis Sánchez’s spot while Alexis moved to center forward, providing some fresh legs for a tiring Arsenal side.
Three minutes later, Arsenal’s periodic defensive mistakes finally caught up to them, and Marcos Alonso poked the ball past Cech for Chelsea’s second.
It looked rather bleak as the scrappy game continued into stoppage time with Chelsea still in the lead. But Arsenal kept the pressure on, and after some chaos in Chelsea’s box, Bellerin found the ball at his feet and hit a strong shot into the top corner, saving a point for Arsenal. They had to see off a Chelsea attack just seconds later, but the Blues’ accuracy issues resurfaced as Davide Zappacosta bounced his shot off the crossbar, and the game ended 2-2.
Bellerin with a great strike to equalise against Chelsea. 2-2 pic.twitter.com/jFs37YBpnt— Terje (@xArsenalTerje) January 3, 2018
The half-hour stretch with Chelsea’s two goals was a bit nervy, but for the majority of the game Arsenal played rather well. They looked more like themselves with Özil back on the pitch, and they should get Aaron Ramsey and a few other first-team players back soon as well, which will only help them. Although the math is not on their side, the Gunners are still in the fight for the top four, and soon they’ll be back at full strength.
Arsenal play again on January 7th against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, and their next Premier League match is on the 13th against Bournemouth.