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Monday, December 11, 2006

 

Essien's stunner rescues Chelsea

Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien hit a stunning late equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw against Arsenal on Sunday. Jose Mourinho's side looked set for their first home league defeat in 52 matches when Mathieu Flamini put Arsenal in front late on. But Essien rescued Chelsea with a blistering long range strike with just six minutes remaining.

However, it is Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson who will have been more satisfied by the outcome than either manager at Stamford Bridge.

United are now eight points ahead of second-placed Chelsea and the reigning champions have just one game in hand, against Newcastle on Wednesday.

But Mourinho had the following warning to the Old Trafford boss.
"Ferguson, I think he must be happy now as we dropped two points but if he thinks it's over he's in trouble!"

He praised his side's feisty reaction after Flamini had put the Gunners ahead.

"After their goal we had a great emotional reaction. Losing at home with minutes to go, it was an incredible reaction. Essien's goal was unbelievable."

Chelsea kicked-off trailing in Manchester United's slipstream after their title rivals extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday.
So the onus was on Mourinho's men to take the game to Arsenal and Michael Ballack did just that as he flashed a powerful drive just wide in the 15th minute.

With William Gallas ruled out of a return to his former club with a thigh injury and fellow centre-back Kolo Toure suspended, Wenger was forced to pair the relatively inexperienced Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou at the heart of his defence.

Chelsea were quick to try and take advantage of that perceived weak spot and Frank Lampard nearly punished sloppy defending in the 17th minute.

Drogba flicked on Geremi's long throw and, as Arsenal's back four dithered, Lampard drove a shot into the turf that cannoned off a post before being scrambled clear.

Thierry Henry's absence through injury left Arsenal toothless up front and Robin van Persie had their only worthwhile attempt of the first half when his long range shot skimmed narrowly past a post.

The most intriguing sub-plot of the day was how Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole would fare against the club he left so bitterly in August.

Cole spent eight years with Arsenal before falling out with the club's directors over their failure to meet his contract demands.

The England star's decision to turn his back on Arsenal still rankles with Gunners fans, who waved bunches of fake English pound notes with Cole's face printed on and taunted him throughout the match.

To their obvious delight Cole was booked midway through the first half for a rash lunge on Aleksandr Hleb.

In such a fiercely fought contest genuine chances were always likely to be at a premium and Essien squandered one of the few opportunities of the opening 45 minutes.

Geremi surged into the penalty area and, when his cross was only half-cleared by Senderos, Essien could only scuff his shot over the bar from no more than 12 yards out.

Lehmann almost gifted Chelsea a goal just before the break when he fumbled Lampard's corner and Essien fired in a shot that forced Fabregas to clear off the line.

Mourinho was visibly frustrated by Chelsea's failure to breakdown Arsenal's youthful defence and he sent on wingers Arjen Robben and Shaun Wright-Phillips in an attempt to breathe new life into his increasingly moribund attack.

In fact Senderos created Chelsea's next chance for them with a careless pass that was intercepted by Robben. The Dutch winger raced into the area, but Lehmann blocked his shot and Gilberto Silva hooked the rebound to safety.

Chelsea had made all the running without making the decisive breakthrough and Flamini made them pay in the 77th minute.

Van Persie sprayed a pass wide to Hleb, who whipped in a low cross to Flamini. The French midfielder was unmarked and fired a low first-time shot past Hilario.

But Chelsea refused to accept defeat and Essien rescued a point for the champions in the 84th minute with a ferocious strike that gave Lehmann no chance.

They could even have won it in stoppage time but Essien's shot cannoned off the bar and then Lampard hit the post with virtually the last kick of the game.

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