It is a calvary, this Premier League, for those condemned to endure it. In Arsène Wenger's words, this emphatic, euphoric victory at Stamford Bridge drew a close to Arsenal's "suffering". He would not mention it, and André Villas-Boas would not confess it, but it also served to cast Chelsea on the road to perdition.
Robin van Persie's hat-trick, as well as goals from André Santos and Theo Walcott, ensured the Portuguese lost his second League game in succession – a relatively novel experience for a manager who has experienced far more light than shade in his brief career – and inflicted Chelsea's heaviest home defeat for more than two decades.
It will be of some relief to Villas-Boas that Roman Abramovich, preparing to take to the witness box in the High Court, has things rather weightier than football on his mind at the moment. Stamford Bridge's overlord did not put so much of his fortune, the one he is defending so vigorously and at such expense, at the 33-year-old's disposal to see his team assume the mantle of the Premier League's red-faced superpower.
At least Villas-Boas seems to be taking solace in the fleeting nature of that role, regardless of his benefactor's distaste for anything but perfection. The Portuguese is clearly well aware that, at various times in this most turbulent of campaigns, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United have already served their stints in purgatory. Chelsea's ordeal is but a necessary evil.
"The results that are happening reflect how chaotic the game is and how beautiful it is at the same time," said Villas-Boas. "I think it should be the pride of the Premier League because it defends British culture. Attacking football is not my culture, it is part of British football. For the fans it is a good spectacle, and for neutrals. So we should not turn things around. Everyone is praising a strong, attacking team like Manchester City, and we are exactly the same. We just have to make the most of our opportunities."
Arsenal fans will recognise the cant. There is the total faith in a higher principle, the determination that vindication awaits and absolution stands close at hand. For weeks, months, it is the creed espoused by Wenger, relentlessly positive even in the darkest days of his reign.
It would be tempting to see this victory as the ultimate riposte to his critics, but it is more important than that. Twice Arsenal came from behind, first after Frank Lampard ghosted between Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, then when John Terry side-footed home the England midfielder's corner. Van Persie and Andre Santos drew the visitors level, then Walcott wriggled free to drill them ahead.
When Juan Mata glanced at Wojciech Szczesny's goal from 25 yards with 10 minutes to play and produced an arrowing, arcing shot to make it 3-3, even Wenger feared the worst. "I thought that a team that comes back [when they are] being dominated like they were, with the quality they have [would go on to win]," he confessed. "We had some tired players on the pitch and I thought we would suffer to finish the game."
Arsenal's suffering, though, is over. Terry's agonising, embarrassing slip let Van Persie round Petr Cech, and the Dutchman completed his hat-trick in injury time. This was not just proof from Wenger and his team that they are not finished, that his philosophy is not bankrupt, this was Arsenal throwing off the long shadow of humiliation suffered at Old Trafford. This was Arsenal reminding the world of their relevance by ensuring a rival must suffer in the same manner as they had themselves.
"The players think [this is a corner turned," said Wenger. "But if you have gone through what we have since the start of the season, it is a bit reassuring. It shows we have suffered, but that the belief is back and the spirit in the team is great. You feel that in the dressing room. The players are determined, and they are together."
And they know now that they have no reason to give any of their elders or betters any quarter at all. "We have been having a good run for almost two months now," said Van Persie, a man who, with 28 goals in 27 Premier League games in 2011, is enjoying a spell of form he believes is the finest of his life. "It has been a bit quiet, and not many people have noticed it, but we have won eight out of nine. To win this sets a standard," Van Persie added.
"Everyone now realises we can do it against any team, so everyone is pleased." Perhaps not Chelsea, of course. Still, at least Arsenal know what they are going through. They did so themselves, once, not so long ago.
Crazy days: the early season goal glut
Man United 1-6 Man City, 23 October The noisy neighbours became the first club to score six goals at Old Trafford in 81 years in the emphatic victory. Ruthless City made the most of Jonny Evans' dismissal to exploit their weakened rivals.
Tottenham 4-0 Liverpool, 18 September
Nine-man Reds had no answer to Tottenham as Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice on his home debut.
Man United 3-1 Chelsea, 18 September
The champions surged to a 3-0 lead at half-time but it could have been level at the end if Chelsea had taken their chances. Fernando Torres will forever be haunted by his open-goal miss in the 83rd minute.
Man United 8-2 Arsenal, 28 August
Due to a mixture of injuries and loss of form, possibly the weakest Arsenal side to visit Old Trafford under Arsène Wenger suffered their worst loss since 1896 in the humiliating defeat which saw United run riot.
Tottenham 1-5 Man City, 28 August
Edin Dzeko hit four as City bossed Spurs from the opening whistle.
Dutch high striker waxes as Chelsea wane
28: Van Persie has scored 28 goals in 27 league games for Arsenal this calendar year. The top five are:
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (R Madrid) 33
2. Mario Gomez (B Munich) 28
3. Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 28
4. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 27
5. Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) 25
10: Van Persie is the first to reach 10 goals within the first 10 matches of a Premier League season since Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink for Chelsea in 2001. Dennis Bergkamp did it in 1997.
The Blues have conceded 15 goals so far equalling the total conceded in the whole season when they won the Premier League in 2004-05 under Jose Mourinho. They have kept only one clean sheet.
Chelsea last conceded five goals in a top-flight home league match on 16 December, 1989, when Liverpool won 5-2 at Stamford Bridge.
(statistics by Infostrada sports)Reuse content