Drogba’s double

Chelsea will be particularly capable of making heads ring if Drogba can go on landing blows as he did in this match, writes Kevin Mccarra.

Here was the Premier League season in miniature for these clubs, with Chelsea doggedly clambering upwards and Arsenal taking a tumble just when it looked as if they had a secure footing with the opening goal. The departure from normality lay in the radical effect that Avram Grant had. If his substitutions had to be deplored when Chelsea slithered to a 4-4 draw at Tottenham then the changes he made in this match must be applauded.

Juliano Belletti and Nicolas Anelka came on to contribute to the winner, the second of Didier Drogba’s goals. The chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” from his own fans when that pair were introduced to address the 1-0 deficit reflected the lack of confidence in the Grant regime, but no one is entirely clear about Chelsea’s actual worth nowadays.

There are rational causes for gladness around Stamford Bridge now that a fixture with a principal rival has finally been won by the Israeli. What is more, Chelsea have overtaken Arsenal to stand second in the table, five points behind the leaders Manchester United, whom they have still to meet on this ground.

The overall situation will please Sir Alex Ferguson and the Old Trafford squad but Chelsea are at least putting up a fight. They will be particularly capable of making heads ring if Drogba can go on landing blows as he did in this match. The Ivorian must be infuriating to Stamford Bridge devotees, since it sometimes feels as if he had no sooner set down his pen after signing for the club than the tales of his disaffection began to spread.

He was fully engaged, particularly after the interval. Arsenal were unlucky since Drogba should have been given offside in the build-up to the equaliser as the ball was launched through the middle. Nonetheless, Arsene Wenger’s team began to reel from the moment they opened the scoring. That goal from the right-back Bacary Sagna exposed Chelsea’s deficiencies at set-pieces, just as Tottenham had done.

The Frenchman broke away from Salomon Kalou and got in front of Frank Lampard to head in a Cesc Fabregas corner from an acute angle at the near post in the 59th minute. Before long, Sagna hurt an ankle and he eventually had to be replaced, a factor that Wenger blamed, in part, for the outbreak of confusion in his back four. As the Arsenal manager knows, of course, his squad have to be far more resilient than this in adversity.

Chelsea, by and large, had been toiling. The exasperation would have peaked when Kalou, with an opportunity at last, had a fresh-air shot just before the interval. In retrospect it is not too difficult to explain the downfall of Arsenal that lay ahead. Direct football was productive and it took no more than a clearance from John Terry for Drogba to tear through, only for the ball to bounce off his knee as he raced towards Manuel Almunia.

With 17 minutes to go, the striker was initially offside. Permitted to proceed, Drogba pushed a pass towards Frank Lampard and when possession came back to him he shot home confidently, past the left hand of Almunia. The winner, eight minutes from the close, saw Belletti clip a free-kick and Anelka nod it into the centre for an unmarked Drogba to fire into the net.

There might have been a hat-trick for the striker but Almunia made an excellent save after Belletti had pulled a cut-back to him. This victory contained traces of the old Chelsea in the steadfastness shown in a moment of crisis. In addition to seeing Arsenal move in front they also had to put up with handicaps, such as the hip injury that hampered Lampard.

It is, all the same, much too soon to declare that a fresh phase of Chelsea ascendancy is in the making. The hardened sceptic can also quibble over the precise amount of credit due Grant. His alterations to the line-up worked but with the team in arrears it took no feat of imagination to see some worth in sending on Belletti, an attack-minded full-back, and Anelka, an outstanding forward.

There are more delicate judgments to be made while ferrying a lead to the full-time whistle and the knee-jerk use of Alex as a third centre-half just because Tottenham were employing three attackers was misconceived recently. Grant, overall, has deserved this breathing space. Chelsea’s consistency against the lesser teams was not to be sniffed at since other clubs have found it elusive. Now, too, Grant has taken a prize scalp in the Premier League.

Expressions of gratitude to Chelsea are unfashionable because the sheer wealth of the club seems to exclude affection for them. Nonetheless, it is they, with United due here on April 26, who have sustained a little suspense over the outcome of the Premier League contest.

The Results

March 23: Chelsea 2 (Drogba 73 & 82) bt Arsenal 1 (Sagna 59). Half-time: 0-0; Manchester United 3 (Brown 34, Ronaldo 79, Nani 81) bt Liverpool 0. Half-time: 1-0.

March 22: Aston Villa 0 lost to Sunderland 1 (Chopra 83). Half-time: 0-0; Blackburn 3 (Santa Cruz 12 & 63, Roberts 45) bt Wigan 1 (King pen-17). Half-time: 2-1; Bolton 0 drew with Manchester City 0; Everton 1 (Yakubu 8) drew with West Ham 1 (Ashton 68). Half-time: 1-0; Middlesbrough 1 (Sanli 32) bt Derby 0. Half-time: 1-0; Newcastle 2 (Viduka 6, Owen 83) bt Fulham 0. Half-time: 1-0; Reading 2 (Bikey 31 & 79) bt Birmingham 1 (Zarate 64). Half-time: 1-0; Tottenham 2 (Bent 80, O’Hara 82) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 0-0.

March 19: Manchester United 2 (Ronaldo 9 & 19) bt Bolton 0. Half-time: 2-0; Tottenham 4 (Woodgate 12, Berbatov 61, Huddlestone 75, Keane 88) drew with Chelsea 4 (Drogba 3, Essien 20, J. Cole 52 & 80). Half-time: 1-2.

March 17: Birmingham 1 (McFadden 33) drew with Newcastle 1 (Owen 56). Half-time: 1-0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008