It was not so long ago that Stamford Bridge was regarded as the kind of stadium where all away teams – famous or humble – came to lie down and die. But yesterday it was the Arsenal players who took their leave bare-chested and belligerent, tossing their shirts into the crowd and generally swaggering about the place as if they owned it, which, for one afternoon, you could say that they did.
Their victory was something of a miracle, thanks in no small part to a bizarre decision by the referee Mike Dean to allow Robin van Persie's first goal to stand despite it being offside. But let us lay that aside for a moment and draw an early-season conclusion: Big Phil is not doing very well in the big games. Luiz Felipe Scolari can complain about the referee as much as he likes – and he certainly did his best on that score yesterday – but the record against his three big rivals does not make happy reading
Under Scolari this season, Chelsea have lost at home to two of their three big rivals – Liverpool and now Arsenal – and they managed only a draw against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. At times like this it is easy to forget that Scolari's team are still top of the Premier League – until tonight at least – but this season the terms of engagement are different. Fortune changes in an instant. Form is temporary. And amid all this chaos Chelsea find themselves in a period of difficulty that we still hesitate to call a crisis.
That indomitable 86-game unbeaten league run at home feels like a distant memory when they toss games away like this. Chelsea were in control, ahead through Johan Djourou's first-half own goal, when they lost their grip in a three-minute period on the hour during which Van Persie scored twice.
This irresponsible crashing from triumph to disaster is what we expect of Arsène Wenger's side, not the shock troops of Scolari's squad who, in two title-winning seasons with Jose Mourinho, dropped only 12 points at home.
As for Wenger's side, it is impossible now to gauge whether to take them seriously: they succumb to Stoke, Hull and Fulham but bring on Chelsea and United and the story is different. Even William Gallas threw his shirt into the away fans at the end of the game and did not have it tossed back into his face.
The former Arsenal captain was impressive, nonetheless, but no one in a red shirt was more competitive and as uncompromising as the match-winner Van Persie.
For periods, Wenger was consumed by rage, not towards the opposition or the referee, but his own team. There were even times when he seemed to be sulking in protest at another erratic, unpredictable performance from Arsenal, yet he was on his feet with clenched fists at the final whistle. But as a football man he will know his side found an unlikely escape yesterday against a Chelsea team who simply neglected to close this game out when they had the chance.
It is rare for Deco to play as poorly as he did yesterday and stranger still that a Chelsea manager should look around him for an attacking substitute and find a kid from the academy as his only option on the bench.
Miroslav Stoch looked like the mascot when he came on, the only card Scolari had to play as his team struggled to find their rhythm after Van Persie's second goal. In the meantime, Didier Drogba sat in the stands listening to his iPod, watching another fine mess in his absence.
It was not a result that looked on the cards when Wenger's side enraged their manager by sloppily conceding the first goal. A bad throw from Manuel Almunia to Samir Nasri was anticipated by Jose Bosingwa and possession was turned around quickly. The ball went from Jon Obi Mikel to Nicolas Anelka and back to Bosingwa whose cross to the near post was put into his own net by Djourou under pressure from Salomon Kalou.
Chelsea had easily the better of the first half. Their dominant player was Mikel who would later lose Emmanuel Adebayor at the free-kick that brought Arsenal's winner. Van Persie created the only half-decent Arsenal chance of the first half when his shot was saved by Petr Cech and fell just behind Gallas. The abuse from the Chelsea fans for their old boy was pretty unrelenting; ditto that from the Arsenal fans to Ashley Cole. The most repugnant of all, however, was the chant directed from Chelsea fans at Wenger.
There was an appalling dive from Denilson in the Chelsea area when he was being tracked by Ashley Cole, which the referee was wise to ignore, and it was difficult to see from where the revival would come. It came from referee Dean's oversight when Van Persie was played in by Denilson.
The striker was not just a knee or a shoulder offside; there was clear daylight between the Dutch striker and the last Chelsea defender. So much so that when Van Persie hit his shot past Cech, Denilson looked long and hard at the linesman before he decided it was worth joining the celebrations.
It was barely credible and Chelsea reacted badly. Rampaging forward, John Terry lost control of the ball and was booked for a two-footed lunge on Bacary Sagna. Then Arsenal scored for the second time in three minutes. Cesc Fabregas hit a free-kick from left to right that was headed down by Adebayor and, despite running away from goal and under pressure from Frank Lampard, Van Persie swivelled and hit his shot first time past Cech.
Chelsea failed to react. Deco's replacement by Stoch told the Portuguese midfielder all he needed to know about his own performance. Florent Malouda miscued dreadfully with a volley and there was a sense of foreboding about the place. It will be no consolation here that this result only serves to make this season's title race even more absorbing.
Goals: Djourou og (og30) 1-0; Van Persie (59) 1-1; Van Persie (62) 1-2.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, A Cole; Mikel (Malouda, 70); Kalou, Lampard, Ballack, Deco (Stoch, 81); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Bridge, Ferreira, Miniero, Alex.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Song, Nasri; Van Persie; Adebayor (Bendtner, 83). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Vela, Ramsey, Silvestre, Wilshere, Bendtner, Gibbs.
Booked: Terry, Ivanovic.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Man of the match: Van Persie.