Bridge's dream strike turns Arsenal into champion chumps

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2
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The Independent Online

English football's highest roller is heading for Monte Carlo but the casinos need not worry. This season Roman Abramovich is putting his money on blue and it keeps coming up.

English football's highest roller is heading for Monte Carlo but the casinos need not worry. This season Roman Abramovich is putting his money on blue and it keeps coming up.

Last night the Russian's investment delivered again as the most expensive left-back in England scored the goal which put Chelsea into the last four of the European Cup for the first time in their history and plunged Arsenal into despair.

Wayne Bridge, who cost a staggering £7m in the summer, scored three minutes from the end of this Champions' League quarter-final second-leg to reduce Arsenal's treble ambitions to a singular one. If this result influences the remainder of the League season a glittering campaign could yet end in ashes.

In the semi-finals Chelsea will play, unexpectedly, Monaco. The French league club, managed by former Chelsea midfielder Didier Deschamps, defeated Real Madrid 3-1 to go through on away goals.

Arsenal looked to have recovered from Saturday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United when Jose Antonio Reyes scored in first-half injury-time. But Frank Lampard equalised seven minutes into the second period then Bridge snatched victory.

Given his recent association with Stamford Bridge the evening will have made interesting viewing for Sven Goran Eriksson. This is what he turned down. By way of consolation the England manager will have been cheered by the performances of Bridge, of Lampard, of John Terry, who was magnificent in the Chelsea defence, and of Joe Cole.

This has been a frustrating season for Cole, a bit-part for club and country. Coming on with seven minutes left his desperation to impress manifested in an instant booking for clattering Freddie Ljungberg. Calmed, he then transformed the game. Duping two defenders he produced a cross which Eidur Gudjohnsen sent goalwards. Though Ashley Cole made a startling goalline clearance Chelsea suddenly believed. Bridge's goal was the consequence.

The contest had started aggressively ­ this was a match when even the finest technician would have to earn the right to play. William Gallas and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were booked in the opening 15 minutes as Chelsea tried to follow Manchester United in hustling Arsenal out of their stride. As on Saturday, however, Arsenal still created the better chances. After 19 minutes slick midfield passing, culminating in incisive balls from Ljungberg and Reyes, released Henry on the left. He bore down on Marco Ambrosio but, to general astonishment, dragged his shot wide.

Chelsea responded with a virtuoso run from Damien Duff which took him past Kolo Touré and Sol Campbell only to scuff his shot wide under pressure from Edu. Six minutes from the break Arsenal should have scored but, as at Villa Park, Robert Pires spurned a free header, this time putting Ashley Cole's cross into the side netting.

After a crucial intervention by Cole denied Gudjohnsen profiting from a similar chance Arsenal struck. The fourth official had just raised his board signalling one minute of added time. Perhaps Chelsea switched off, thinking already of regrouping in the dressing-room. Pires was given time to swing a cross-field pass out to Lauren who was given time to deliver a deep cross. Henry nodded it down and Reyes reacted first to drive the ball into the net through the legs of Terry and Ambrosio. For the first time in five meetings this season Arsenal had drawn first blood.

Chelsea, in the four previous matches, had each time failed to retain a lead. Could they cancel one out? They re-emerged with Jesper Gronkjaer on the right. Claudio Ranieri was going for broke. Why not? He had nothing to lose, not even his job, that was already being hawked about. It is probably on e-bay by now.

For the moment, though, Chelsea remain his team and they relished their manager's brave approach. Arsenal found themselves under pressure and they did not react well. A left-wing cross was only half-cleared. Claude Makelele, the only man on the pitch other than referee Markus Merk to have experienced a Champions' League final, drove it back in. The ball cannonned off Lehmann's chest and Lampard stabbed it in. Somewhere in Bavaria Oliver Kahn, Lehmann's bitter rival for the German goalkeeper's jersey, a man whose own mistake prompted Bayern Munich's exit in this competition's last round, must have smiled.

Now Arsenal's mettle was under examination. Their initial response was impressive. Driven forward by Vieira they attacked on both flanks pressing Chelsea back into defence. Terry and Gallas, protected by Makelele and Lampard, stood firm. As on Saturday Arsenal found both space and ideas in short supply. This time they resorted to shooting from distance but, unlike his experienced German international counterpart, Ambrosio, the rookie goalkeeper growing with every game, was equal to the challenge. A fierce drive from Reyes was beaten away, a long range piledriver from Touré tipped over.

Arsenal's concern grew as Henry limped off, but perhaps Bergkamp would find more space. With extra-time, and a silver goal finish looming, Ranieri also made changes adding Cole and Hernan Crespo to the mix. Cole soon changed the mood, newly emboldening his colleagues.

Suddenly there was Bridge surging forward. He exchanged passes with Gudjohnsen and clipped the ball past Lehmann. Arsenal now needed two goals in as many minutes and everyone knew it was over. For the first time in 18 matches dating back to a Football League Cup tie in 1998, Chelsea had finally defeated Arsenal. It had been a long wait but, for the Chelsea fans exulting in a corner of the Clock End, it was well worth waiting for.

Arsenal 1
Reyes 45

Chelsea 2
Lampard 51, Bridge 87

Aggregate score: 2-3 Att: 35,486

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, A Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Edu, Pires; Reyes, Henry (Bergkamp, 81). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Keown, Wiltord, Gilberto, Clichy, Kanu.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Ambrosio; Melchiot, Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Parker (Gronkjaer, h-t), Lampard, Makelele, Duff (J Cole, 83); Hasselbaink (Crespo, 83), Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Sullivan (gk), Mutu, Huth, Geremi.

Referee: M Merk (Germany).

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