There were still eight minutes left in this absorbing Cup tie and Arsenal's victory was still not secure, but when the fourth official signalled time up for the Gunners' No 9, the game was forgotten.
On the pitch Jose Antonio Reyes turned towards the dug-out. First Dennis Bergkamp, then Patrick Vieira, two Arsenal greats, stopped him to touch palms. Reyes then raised his arms to the crowd, who rose as one to confirm his coronation as the new prince of Highbury. In the director's box Roman Abramovich turned to one of his entourage and one could imagine the exchange. "We've bought all those players. How did we miss this one?"
Reyes' first goal in an Arsenal shirt was not exactly the stuff of dreams, the young Spaniard toe-ending the ball past his own goalkeeper at Middlesbrough almost a fortnight ago to end Arsenal's Carling Cup run. His second and third goals were out of a Boy's Own annual. Expertly taken, they overturned Chelsea's first-half lead, earned through Adrian Mutu, reinforced Arsenal's psychological edge over their West London neighbours, and put the FA Cup-holders into the quarter-finals. Moreover they unveiled the colossal talent Arsenal signed.
Until Reyes, 25 yards out, let fly his high-velocity equaliser he had looked, again, a little boy lost. Afterwards, his confidence lifted, his class shone. "His first goal surprised me," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "After the first half he had had, I did not expect him to have the courage to take the ball and do something special but that is the sign of a great player."
Wenger added: "There is much more to come from him. He is only 20, has just arrived from Seville, does not speak the language and has only had three games. He is not used to this role either but while there is a lot of work to do with him, the talent is there."
Reyes, speaking through a translator, said: "To score my first goals for Arsenal in a match such as this was fantastic. It is the best feeling in the world."
Reyes' explosive intervention enabled Arsenal to make light of the absence of the injured Thierry Henry, a handicap which, for all Bergkamp's genius and Vieira's midfield mastery, had previously seemed likely to undo them.
Chelsea, with Scott Parker intent on showing Sven Goran Eriksson the error of dropping him from the England squad, had deservedly shaded the first period. It seemed we were about to witness the first indications of a westward shift in the capital's balance of power.
Chelsea had made their intentions clear from the kick-off, Parker clattering into Vieira within seconds. Parker was then himself upended by Sol Campbell, who became the first of six first-half bookings, evidence that Paul Durkin, after some myopic recent displays, had regained his vision.
The match remained fiercely but sportingly contested as Chelsea snapped at Arsenal's heels, refusing to allow them time to settle. Arsenal, though, were always threatening and Gilberto Silva ought to have scored on the counter-attack, only to be expertly tackled by the majestic John Terry. For Chelsea, Frank Lampard and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink wasted chances created from the flanks.
Though the many flashes of skill illustrated the quality of the protagonists, few stinted on the necessary but unspectacular in-the-trenches work such as tracking back. There was a pleasing contrast in approach. Arsenal sought to fillet their way through the midfield, their attacks pivoting on Bergkamp's geometric passing and the slick interplay of Robert Pires and Ashley Cole on the left. Chelsea were more direct, using Hasselbaink's muscular power and Mutu's movement as their outlet though they, too, passed sweetly.
With 35 minutes gone, Chelsea "scored" a goal which, under the new offside interpretation, should have stood. Lampard crossed and, with Cole playing him onside, Jesper Gronkjaer headed in. The linesman, however, had wrongly flagged the "inactive" Hasselbaink.
Five minutes later, Chelsea scored for real. Parker returned Jens Lehmann's poor clearance and Mutu dummied Kolo Touré before shooting inside the far post. With Arsenal's indiscipline, never far from view, surfacing as the half finished, the omens looked good for Chelsea.
But Wenger calmed his team and they began to push Chelsea back. Ten minutes into the second period Reyes, from 25 yards, drilled in a half-cleared corner. Five minutes later, the Chelsea goalkeeper, Carlo Cudicini, limped off having aggravated his muscle injury. Within seconds Vieira ploughed through the tiring Parker's tackle and passed astutely behind Mario Melchiot to Reyes. Neil Sullivan's first touch could not deny him.
While Arsenal maintained their progress towards a record fourth successive FA Cup final, Chelsea must rebuild their belief ahead of next week's Premiership encounter. They had left the pitch to taunts of "You'll never beat the Arsenal", a claim supported by the statistics. Chelsea have not defeated Arsenal in 15 matches in all competitions and last beat them in the Premiership in 1995, 16 fixtures distant.
Ranieri, who has never beaten Arsenal, said: "How do we beat them? I don't know. If I did I'd tell my team. We try. Maybe today we lost the plot but I don't think there is a mental problem. I hope not. We always score first."
True enough but Chelsea looked beaten as soon as Reyes levelled. And next week Arsenal should have Henry back.
Goals: Mutu (40) 0-1; Reyes (55) 1-1; Reyes (61) 2-1.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, A Cole; Parlour (Edu, 51), Gilberto, Vieira, Pires; Bergkamp, Reyes (Clichy, 82). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Cygan, Bentley.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini (Sullivan, 60); Melchiot, Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Parker, Lampard, Makelele, Gronkjaer (J Cole, 69); Hasselbaink, Mutu (Gudjohnsen, 83). Substitutes not used: Huth, Crespo.
Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).
Bookings: Arsenal: Campbell, Gilberto, Vieira. Chelsea: Melchiot, Mutu, Makelele, Hasselbaink.
Man of the match: Reyes.
Attendance: 38,136.Reuse content