It was, to employ Ruud Gullit's phrase, "a fighting match," scuffling, ill-tempered and strenuous as local derbies always seem to be whether they take place in Italy or England.
Chelsea's Dutchman, who shone all afternoon like a good deed in a naughty world, was quite unfazed by proceedings with which he had become well acquainted during his recent years at Milan.
"The derbies in Italy can also be mean," he said. "It is normal. But in Milan, if one team loses, then people make fun of them for four or five months until they meet again. It is different in London because there are so many clubs."
Chelsea's manager, Glenn Hoddle, made the same point after an attritional match won by one smart piece of finishing from Mark Hughes and marred by the late sending-off of Chelsea's Nigel Spackman for retaliation. "Now you see why it is so difficult for London sides to win the League," he said.
For Arsenal, the last London side to have achieved that feat, this defeat ended an unbeaten run of 15 games. Had Glenn Helder not missed a clear opportunity soon after coming on as substitute in the 72nd minute, they might have extended that sequence.
But Arsenal's manager, Bruce Rioch, reserved his invective for the referee, Martin Bodenham, whom he described as "past his sell-by date". Rioch, whose usual demeanour is polite with a hint of menace, could not withhold his frustration over the actions of an official who booked five of his players and one of Chelsea's.
"He didn't give the right decisions," Rioch said. "He let too many things go. This is the first time I have criticised a referee and it will be the last time. But he was not good enough."
The game was indeed full of unpunished unpleasantness; but Arsenal gave at least as good as they got. Rioch's particular concern, however, was the decision to award a free-kick against Nigel Winterburn for a tackle on Gavin Peacock, an incident which preceded the decisive goal after 52 minutes.
From the free-kick, Gullit headed against a post and although the ball was cleared, two subsequent corners in succession ended with Hughes employing his left foot with characteristic finality.
Gullit, who had shaken off the effects of the flu which had prevented him training all week, expressed particular pleasure at his intervention. "I think that moment gave the team something extra because soon afterwards they got the goal."
Spackman, 34, had never been sent off before. He did not defend his actions in hitting Martin Keown after having his shirt pulled. "It was completely out of character," he said. Sadly, the same could not be said for the match.
Goal: Hughes (52) 1-.
Chelsea: (3-5-2) Kharin; Johnsen, Gullit, Sinclair; Burley, Wise, Spackman, Peacock (Newton, 82), Myers; Furlong, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Stein, Hitchcock (gk).
Arsenal (3-5-2) Seaman; Keown (Linighan, 88), Adams, Bould; Dixon, Merson, Jensen (Helder, 72), Parlour, Winterburn; Bergkamp, Wright. Substitute not used: Bartram (gk).
Referee: M Bodenham (Looe).Reuse content