Eddie Nketiah’s brace led Arsenal to a 4-2 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a crucial win for their top-four aspirations.
Three times Arsenal went in front on the night, the first coming through the 22-year-old striker who coolly slotted past Edouard Mendy after a scuffed backpass from Andreas Christensen.
Timo Werner’s deflected shot brought Chelsea level soon afterwards, but the Gunners retook the lead in some style when Bukayo Saka raced down the right flank before squaring for Martin Odegaard who teed up Emile Smith Rowe for a precise low finish from 20 yards.
Mason Mount’s superb inswinging cross from the left flank was met by an equally smart finish from Cesar Azpilicueta to bring the Blues level a second time just after the half-hour mark.
Nketiah ultimately sealed the game 12 minutes into the second half when Malang Sarr’s touch fell into his path and he poked past the goalkeeper.
Saka was dragged down off the ball in the area by Azpilicueta in the final minute and the England forward got up to send Mendy the wrong way from the spot, with his first penalty since missing in the shoot-out for England last summer.
Arsenal are now level on points with Tottenham but with an inferior goal difference. Chelsea are five points clear in third.
Is it now a case of two from three? – Chelsea look a tired side. They were far from their best against Crystal Palace at the weekend and may be feeling the repercussions of the dramatic Champions League exit eight days ago. They have a game in hand on Tottenham and Arsenal but extra games seem the last thing this team wants. The defence has gone from water-tight to porous. In midfield, the batteries seem finally to have run out in N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic could well be out for a few weeks at best. Timo Werner’s improved form is very welcome, but with the exception of Mason Mount he seems the only player playing at his best in the business end of the season. They should still be fine. Their vastly superior goal difference means the North London duo would have to finish a point clear of them, and of course there is one North London derby remaining in the season. But there is a sliver of doubt now and they need to beat West Ham at home on Sunday to extinguish this.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal) – Was this the birth of new Arsenal striking hero? Playing just his second full league game of the season against the team who released him as a 16-year-old, showed the goalscoring instincts worthy of some Arsenal legends. Although he has shown his striking prowess for England Under-21 and in the reserves, turning 23 next month, he was running out of time to do so for Arsenal with, you would expect, more forward players arriving at the Emirates in the summer. His all-round game and inter-play with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe suggests he is well worth persevering with until the end of the season and, buoyed by the confidence of his ice-cold finishes, could well end up giving Arsenal the luxury of spending money elsewhere on the field.
Chelsea: Mendy 6; Azpilicueta 6, Christensen 5, Sarr 6; James 6, Kante 6, Loftus-Cheek 6, Alonso 7; Mount 7, Lukaku 6, Werner 7.
Subs: Silva 7, Havertz 6, Ziyech 6.
Arsenal: Ramsdale 6; White 6, Holding 6, Magalhaes, 6 Tavares 7; Elneny 6, Xhaka 6; Saka 8. Odegaard 7, Smith Rowe 7, Nketiah 9*.
Subs: Martinelli 6, Cedric 6, Lacazette 6.
13′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! Against the run of play, Nketiah takes advantage of a bad mistake from Christensen who scuffed a backpass and the young striker then calmly kept his cool and slotted past Mendy.
17′ GOAL FOR CHELSEA! Werner comes in from the left wing and shoots from outside the box and it takes a strange deflection off Xhaka which flummoxes Ramsdale, bringing Chelsea level.
27′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! They were in trouble in their own box before Xhaka eventually dribbled out of trouble and started a brilliant break which saw Saka run down the wing and square to Odegaard who then teed up Smith Rowe for a precise low shot into the corner.
32′ GOAL FOR CHELSEA! Azpilicueta times his run perfectly to meet Mount’s fine low inswinging cross from the left flank with a deft flick which flies inside the front post.
58′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! Nketiah again. It looked like his chance had gone after he was twice dispossessed in the box but he kept on battling and the ball deflected back to him off Sarr and he coolly poked home.
89′ PENALTY FOR ARSENAL! Azpilicueta drags Saka down in the box before the cross comes in from the right flank.
90+2′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! Saka sends Mendy the wrong way from the spot.