Arsenal sent a strong message as they produced one of their best performances of the season so far to beat Chelsea 3-1.
Arsenal went into the game on the back of an eight-game run without a Premier League win. They received more bad news before kick-off, as Gabriel Magalhaes, David Luiz and Willian were all ruled out.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were able to give Ben Chilwell a start, despite it looking as if he would be out with an injury.
Confidence may have been low in the Arsenal camp before kick-off. But they went on to allay any fears they may have had of being on the receiving end of a defeat from their rivals on Boxing Day.
The hosts came closest to scoring first inside the opening minute, when Gabriel Martinelli nearly made the most of an unsuccessful header from Thiago Silva. However, the striker shot wide.
Chelsea’s first decent chance came when Mason Mount skimmed the outside of the post with a free kick.
Arsenal had a chance when the referee played an advantage after two fouls, as Hector Bellerin was driving forwards. Captain for the day in place of the benched Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he sent a pass along the floor, but Emile Smith Rowe could not stretch onto the end of it.
The Gunners have been struggling to convert chances recently, but were given a golden opportunity when Reece James clipped Kieran Tierney in the box to give them a penalty.
Alexandre Lacazette sent Edouard Mendy the wrong way with his powerful effort from the spot to give Arsenal the lead.
It marked the first time Arsenal have taken the lead in a league game since their last victory in the competition, nearly two whole months ago.
Things got even better for Arsenal from another dead ball situation around 10 minutes later. Granit Xhaka stood over a free kick on the edge of the box, and brilliantly curled it beyond Mendy’s reach.
That made it the first time Arsenal have scored more than one goal in a Premier League game since the beginning of October.
Arsenal increase lead in second half
Chelsea made two changes at the break, and began the second half on the front foot.
However, Arsenal were not going to let their hard work go to waste. Just over 10 minutes into the second half, they extended their lead to three.
Smith Rowe fed the ball to Bukayo Saka on the right wing, before the England international sent a chip towards goal.
Only he will know if it was a shot or cross, but if it was the former, it was a stroke of genius. His effort clipped the inside of the frame of the goal before dropping in to stun Chelsea further and make it 3-0.
Arsenal are in dreamland! 💭
Bukayo Saka sends a looping shot over the head of Edouard Mendy and into the top corner to make it three… but did he mean it?! 🤔
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 26, 2020
Hence, Arsenal found themselves three goals up in the Premier League for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Arsenal had more chances, with Martinelli twice being thwarted by Mendy – who first saved a weak overhead kick from him and shortly after was equal to an effort from close range.
As the clock ticked down, Mendy had to make another save to make amends for his own error. The goalkeeper gave the ball away to Lacazette with a poor pass out, but he clawed away the striker’s attempt to chip him.
There was drama from the resulting corner, as Mohamed Elneny hit the crossbar.
Chelsea almost set up nervous finale
Moments later, Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net for the first time on the evening. It prompted a rare instance where VAR awarded a goal that had been ruled out, rather than vice versa.
Tammy Abraham’s tap-in was initially ruled out by the linesman for offside. But VAR found that the striker was onside when he received Callum Hudson-Odoi’s cross, so the goal was given.
⚽️ Tammy Abraham has scored 21 goals in 50 PL apps for Chelsea – only Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (34) and Diego Costa (31) have scored more in their first 50 PL apps for the club pic.twitter.com/eQaxbwjrss
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) December 26, 2020
If that made things nervous for Arsenal, that became even more the case when Chelsea were awarded a penalty in stoppage time.
But Bernd Leno went the right way to push away Jorginho’s effort to retain Arsenal’s two-goal advantage. They held on to it for the remaining minutes to seal three valuable points.
The result may not be enough for Arsenal to rise out of the bottom half yet, but it was a strong step in the right direction.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have now suffered defeats in each of their last three away games. They miss the chance to move into the top four.