A surreal goalfest at Stamford Bridge was won by the visitors, Robin van Persie the hat-trick hero
The acceptable face of London: The Bakerloo Line, 11am, this morning. A middle-aged couple get on at Waterloo. Both are smiling. Shall we get off at Piccadilly Circus, he says, and walk up Regent Street, or alight at Oxford Circus, and walk down the other way? She's not sure. He knows a place they can eat down the Piccadilly Circus end, so it depends whether she's peckish now or not. Maybe she'll just have a cup of coffee for the minute. She kind of wants to get on with looking for a hat for some wedding or other. He's after a pair of trousers. (Casual slacks, presumably he's already kitted out for the big day, unless he's not invited.) Anyway, they're both smiling, out and about in the city for the day. They're excited and happy. London: a force for good.
The unacceptable face of London: This fiasco. It'd be nice to think, for so many reasons, that this weekend's big showdown in the capital will pass off without any grim incident. Play the game nicely, gentlemen.
Having said all that: It'd be quite funny if this ends up eight men apiece after a massive brawl, a cartoon cloud with boots and fists sticking out of it. Newsrooms would be sent into a flat spin. Twitter would snap in two. The bottom half of the internet would catch fire. The world would keep turning.
Kick off: 12.45pm.
Team news: John Terry, from off of TV's The News, returns to the Chelsea side, along with Fernando Torres, who has been missing for the last three league games due to suspension. The spectacularly useless David Luiz is on the bench. Arsenal captain Robin van Persie is back, after starting last week's win over Stoke on the bench.
The happy happy sound of London:
Technically about the King's Road (pronounced "King's Raaahd") but it does mention Piccadilly, so it'll do. Written by Jim Dale from the Carry On movies, incidentally.
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic , Terry, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Lampard, Sturridge, Torres, Mata
Subs: TOPICAL SATIRE ALERT!!! Blackman, Bertrand, Luiz, Romeu, Meireles, Malouda, Lukaku.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos, Ramsey, Song, Arteta, Walcott, Van Persie, Gervinho.
Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Frimprong, Park, Rosicky, Arshavin.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
The Carling Cup quarter-final draw's just been made, by the way. Chelsea are at home to Liverpool, while Arsenal entertain Manchester City. The other ties: Manchester United take on Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, while Cardiff City play host to Blackburn Rovers.
The teams are out. John Terry leads Chelsea onto the Stamford Bridge pitch. He's got that determined face on. The last time he wore that look was ahead of the Wayne Bridge Dignity Match, and look what happened there.
And we're off! Chelsea get the ball rolling, kicking towards Fulham Broadway tube, sort of. A rare old atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, but then there often is. Arsenal's travelling support are giving it plenty too.
1 min 20 sec: Chelsea so nearly take the lead, Cole steaming clear down the inside-left channel and sliding the ball into the middle for Torres, who sees the ball taken off his toe before he can sidefoot home, but only just.
3 min: Well, this is an open start. Van Persie is allowed to skidaddle down the left and reaches the byline. Clear of the back line, he draws Cech and pulls the ball back, but only Cole is there, and after a fashion the defender clears.
4 min: The right backs clearly cannot be bothered today. Cole is in acres yet again down the left; his pull back into the centre is aimless, though, and hacked clear.
5 min: Arsenal are playing a 2-0-8 formation. Now Sturridge zips away down the right. Torres is in the middle screaming for the pass, a tap-in a certainty should the ball get to him, but the low cross is too near Szczesny.
8 min: The game's settled down a bit now. What a strange start that was. How we're still goalless, I'll never know. Chelsea enjoying most of the possession at the moment, but doing very little with it.
11 min: Arsenal can't get much of the ball at the moment. Mata is clipped to the floor in the middle of the park, 35 yards from goal. Lampard hits a hopeless free kick straight at the wall.
12 min: After Lampard's free kick shame, Walcott tears Cole a new one down the right. He's clear along the touchline. When he's level with the area, he slides a low cross into the centre. Gervinho must score from eight yards, but gets his legs into all sorts of shapes, and screws a hopelessly weak and confused effort wide left.
13 min: Walcott looks in the mood. He works himself more space down the right, and stands a ball up to the far post. Van Persie blazes over the bar from close range. Another terrible miss.
14 min: GOAL!!! Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal. A goal had been coming all right - it could have been 2-2 at the very least already - and finally the scoreboard ticks over. Mata swings a peach of a cross into the area from tight on the right touchline. Lampard is racing in, and stoops eight yards out to guide a clever header into the bottom-right corner past a flat-footed Szczesny, who was following the flight of Mata's ball.
16 min: Van Persie skitters down the left and sends a low ball across towards Walcott, but the wee man was rocking back on his heels and can't get to the ball. This is highly entertaining end-to-end stuff.
18 min: Sturridge whips down the right again, sending a ball in towards Torres. Arsenal clear, but only just. They are getting ripped to shreds down both flanks. Even so, they could easily be level: Van Persie breaks clear down the inside-left channel, but over-runs the ball on the edge of the area and can't get a shot on target.
20 min: Both sides have looked competent in defence for over 180 seconds now.
22 min: Chelsea are first to most balls. They're attempting again and again to break Arsenal down along the right wing. Santos spends half the time spinning around like a top. He's getting plenty of help at the moment from Koscielny and Mertesacker, who take turns to come over and double up on Sturridge and Torres, but there'll be more incident down this flank this afternoon I'll be bound.
25 min: Torres zips clear down the left, but his cross is aimless. It's all very well Mertesacker getting his head to most of the balls that are being whipped into the centre, but Arsenal can't keep going like this. At some point, they're going to come a cropper. "To allow me to catch up with the play," begins Ian Copestake, "is there a word in the language that adequately sums the character of the game so far? I won't accept frenetic." Leaky? Hapless? English?
28 min: Arsenal still have the moxie up front, mind you. Ramsey sprays the ball left to Van Persie, who makes ground before looping a ball to the far post, where Walcott can't quite get enough power to his header. The ball's cleared, but soon coming back at Chelsea, Song thinking about having a dig from distance before unwisely deciding against it; the move breaks down soon after.
30 min: Lampard strokes a lovely pass down the inside-right channel to set Sturridge free. The striker's faced with a tight angle, but it's far from impossible and he should at least get a shot on target; he's probably favourite to score, tell the truth. But he prods an uncertain shot wide left. That really isn't good. Szczesny would be within his rights to emit one crisp guffaw, but he's a sporting man and keeps a straight face.
32 min: A brilliant change of feet by Van Persie just outside the area. He can't quite get a shot in, though nearly sets Walcott free down the right. The move's broken up; down the other end, Sturridge gives Santos another torrid time. Koscielny comes across on his white charger. Ian Copestake emails back; he's accepted leaky. Glad to have helped.
34 min: This is a very entertaining battle. But a shapeless mess.
35 min: Santos wins a tackle! Well done! He dispossesses Torres. Sadly, he's soon lost the ball, and Bosingwa is tearing past him and into space down that right wing. Szczesny claims the low cross.
36 min: GOAL!!! Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal. Van Persie wins a loose ball in the middle and lays off to Ramsey, who slides a ball between Ivanovic and Terry, setting an onside Gervinho free. He draws Cech and rolls the ball wide for... Van Persie, who had been bowling forward after setting the move off, and rolls into an empty net. Some pretty passing there, beautiful in its simplicity. Not quite sure how Arsenal are level, but here we are.
39 min: Santos is having a nightmare. He's diddled by Ramires down the right with a drop of the shoulder. You'll not see a more embarrassingly easy defeat of a full back all season. The ball's slipped low into the centre, Sturridge guiding home. But the striker's a yard offside, and the goal's rightly chalked off. Arsenal are all over the shop at the back.
41 min: And yet in this very strange game, they could now be ahead, Van Persie sending a free kick from 30 yards only just clear of Cech's right-hand top corner. "Djourou's not a full-back, which goes some to explaining his positional weakness, but what's Santos' excuse?" splutters Chris Sturrock. "Bearing in mind that being overweight doesn't count as an excuse if you're professional footballer. He should have been subbed after 15 mins." He does indeed look absolutely appalling. There'll be more trouble down that flank this afternoon for Arsenal, it's a cast-iron Guardian MBM Guarantee*!
*Note: a cast-iron Guardian MBM Guarantee is worth nothing and has no cash value.
45 min: JOHN TERRY SCORES!!! Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal. "The question is not how are they level," corrects Ian Little, "it's how is it not 3-3?" You could be right. I may have been blinded by Santos's quite spectacular haplessness. Arsenal have certainly had plenty of chances to score; Chelsea have definitely been the stronger team on the whole, mind. Maybe only just. Let's not fall out. But look here! A corner for Chelsea down the left. The ball's dropped onto the edge of the six-yard box. Szxzesny should claim, but doesn't. Mertesacker should hack clear, but falls on his buttocks in the 1920s Hollywood style. Terry ghosts in to guide a slow-motion effort into the bottom-left corner. What on earth was the Arsenal defence up to there? The gap Terry ran through was huge. At least it's not poor old Santos's fault, picking on him's already getting old.
AND THAT'S HALF TIME: Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal. Great entertainment. I wonder if either team will bother sending out a defence for the next 45 minutes?
HALF-TIME ADVERTISEMENT for those thinking about a day trip to London to source a hat or some casual slacks:
Less than a fiver to get in from Basingstoke. That's £27 now. I miss British Rail.
And we're off again! Arsenal get the whole shebang under way once more. Santos hasn't been subbed. "There must be a word that describes the swing from the sublime to the ridiculous in practically the same moment," sighs Tony Reekie. "Arsenal's defending would make a thirteen year old swear, and I should know as I've just had to tell my son to watch his language, no matter how badly Santos and co. are." Gary Neville has just spent the half-time interval riffing on the appalling standard of defending in this year's Premier League, citing these two sets of chancers, and, yes, Manchester United last weekend. He's shaping up to be a great pundit, Neville, and despite all the knee-jerk criticism he gets, a very even-handed one too. He knows what he's talking about, offers us simple folk decent insight, but most importantly is in a constant state of apoplexy, bordering on rage, having taken all defensive blunders he's witnessed as a personal insult.
45 min 27 sec: Van Persie skates clear down the right, but his shot from a tight angle is against Cech's legs.
45 min 52 sec: Gervinho twists and turns down the left. He reaches the byline, pulls the ball back, and Ramsey scoops a strange effort over the bar. This is already shaping up to be as preposterous as the first half.
47 min: Torres looks for the bottom-left corner from distance. Szczesny is down to claim well.
48 min: GOAL!!! Chelsea 2-2 Arsenal. Arsenal should probably play Santos up front, out of the road of danger. He suddenly finds himself with half the pitch in front of him down the left, the nearest man Sturridge - Sturridge! - miles away. He draws Cech, and slips the ball under him from the equaliser! What a player this Santos is, eh?
50 min: This is sheer lunacy. Cole nearly rounds Szczesny just outside the Arsenal area on the left. The keeper clips the Chelsea man. It's only a yellow, a decent decision as there were covering players. Lampard takes the free kick, which is arrowing into the top right corner until Szczesny palms clear. This could possibly finish 8-8, or 9-3 to either side.
53 min: Santos is a new player now. He gets in another defensive tackle. That's two he's made now. He was probably aware that his personal goals to tackle ratio looked a bit weird, and acted accordingly.
56 min: THIS IS BEYOND LOGIC NOW. Chelsea 2-3 Arsenal. What abject defending by Chelsea. Walcott, coming down the inside-right channel, slips and skids along the ground on his nipples. Three blue shirts stand around looking at the ball as it sits stationary on the turf, 30 yards out. Walcott gets up and saunters in off with it, sashaying between the onloookers with a swivel of the hips, advancing on the box, and hammering a shot through Cech and into the net. Not a single player on the pitch appears bothered about defence today. But who's complaining? This is making for brilliant viewing.
58 min: Cole cuts inside from the left and unleashes a lovely strike, the ball only just rising over the Arsenal bar.
59 min: Gervinho, near the centre circle, draws Ivanovic and Terry to him. Ramsey is waiting to break clear through the huge gap, but Gervinho can't find the pass. The defending here is beyond abysmal, and also past humourous, well into the realms of the surreal.
61 min: Walcott slips a ball down the inside-right for Ramsey, who turns a confused Cole through 360 degrees and makes for the byline. Just before he gets there, he shoots from a tight angle, but Cech smothers.
62 min: Malouda replaces Sturridge. Gervinho is this close to being set clear straight down the middle. "I think the only thing that would increase the comedy ante is for Boas to bring on David Luiz," writes Mark Judd. "Please let it happen."
65 min: Neither team can string more than two passes together. This is just a complete nonsense. A beautiful nonsense. "I've turned off the commentary and have the Laurel and Hardy intro music on a loop," writes Tony Reekie. "Perfect."
68 min: Ramieres and Ramsey get involved in a shoving match. The free kick's sent towards the left-hand post. There's a scramble, but Arsenal eventually clear. Gervinho races up the other end down the left. Bosingwa's turned inside out like an old sock, but he recovers well to get his body in the way and make off with the ball.
71 min: It's just slap, hack and hoof by both teams at the moment. Malouda tries to race past Santos down the right, but the full back's a new man this half, and battles well to get in the way and clear. "I was just wondering if, when Roman Abramovich sacked Jose Mourinho because he wanted exciting football, this is what he was after?" asks Mark Guthrie, rhetorically I'll be bound.
73 min: Ramires is replaced by Lukaku.
74 min: Ramsey hoicks a delightful pass down the middle to set Van Persie free, but the striker miscontrols and is pushed out wide right. The ball's worked back to the aforementioned Ramsey, who tries to guide home but sees his effort blocked wide right. That's a corner, from which nothing comes.
76 min: Changes. Meireles replaces Mikel for Chelsea. Meanwhile for Arsenal, Djourou is replaced by Jenkinson. That's not guaranteed to tighten things up, now, is it.
78 min: Van Persie and Ivanovic are both booked for handbaggery.
79 min: The excellent Walcott is replaced by Rosicky. "As you say, things have got a bit surreal on the pitch, but did I just see, during a crowd shot of Chelsea supporters biting their nails, supporter viewing the on-field events through a spy glass?" writes Tim Murray. Let's hope so, a lovely old-school touch if true. Should Chelsea manage to turn this around, and set the seal on a modern classic, no doubt he'll be in the club shop afterwards trying to get a copy of this game on zoetrope.
81 min: WHAT A GOAL!!! Chelsea 3-3 Arsenal. They could turn this round, too! From out of nothing, an equaliser! The ball drops to Mata, 25 yards out, just to the right of goal. With Song diving in front of him, Mata takes a touch, and sends the ball swinging into the top-left corner. Szczesny had no chance.
83 min: Lukaku may have blocked off Santos in the build up to that goal; Arsene Wenger is dancing around on the touchline accordingly. The two players collide again a moment later, Santos this time the aggressor. Again the referee is having none of it, and Arsenal clear their lines. This has been an amazing game of football.
85 min: OH DEAR, JOHN TERRY! OH DEAR! Chelsea 3-4 Arsenal. Terry has a proper face on after this ignominious debacle. What a cock-up, the tin lid on an afternoon of defensive hilarity. The ball's passed back towards the Chelsea captain. He turns and falls, skittering hysterically along the turf on his nipples. Van Persie makes off with the ball, rounds the advancing Cech on the right, and rolls the ball into an empty net. We've had the entire history of comedy packed into 85 minutes. Amazing.
88 min: Gervinho is replaced by Vermaelen.
89 min: Chelsea press forward. The ball's flung into the box. Someone's needlessly caught offside. Naturally, it's John Terry.
90 min: There will be four added minutes of this. Why can't there be 44? Song is booked for taking down... eh... someone or other down the left.
90 min +1: The free kick's sent into the area. Szczesny comes out to flap. Mata is faced with an open goal, but Cole comes across to cover.
90 min +2: A SECOND TIN LID ON IT! Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal. Chelsea press forward. Arsenal break, five on the two men constituting Chelsea's defence. The ball's slipped out down the inside-left to Van Persie, who completes his hat-trick by skelping a shot high into the top-left corner.
90 min +4: Torres tries to break down the middle, but is crowded out and ends up punting the ball aimlessly forward to Szczesny. That's probably the best example of defending by either side all afternoon.
FULL TIME: Chelsea Attacking VI 3-5 Arsenal Attacking VI. What was that we were saying before the match? "John Terry leads Chelsea onto the Stamford Bridge pitch. He's got that determined face on. The last time he wore that look was ahead of the Wayne Bridge Dignity Match, and look what happened there."
APPROPRIATE CLOSING MUSIC:
"The scores in games so far this season between last season's top 4: 8-2, 3-1, 1-6, 3-5. Ridiculous!" writes Mark Coward. Here, after that hopeless start, Arsenal are the Premier League form team all of a sudden, aren't they?
A sad, and slightly eerie, footnote to the game, given this MBM's half-time advertisement: Sir Jimmy Savile has died. This is no longer the age of the train.