There are times when you just get an instinct of how a game is going to turn out, when you can confidently predict the final score because everything is going precisely to plan.
Not so at the Bridge at the weekend when Chelsea and Arsenal – each with a new manager – clashed in one of the most open and inducible matches of 2018.
Neither side wanted to close down the other, with the result that waves of attack were followed by equally sweeping waves of counter-attack… creating a glorious spectacle in the muggy warmth, but one which could have resulted in any of a dozen scorelines.
In the end, the Blues triumphed 3-2 after sub Eden Hazard – still getting back to full match fitness after a truncated summer break – fed Marcos Alonso, who nutmegged Petr Cech for the winner with barely nine minutes remaining.
Even then, it was touch and go whether Chelsea, who were displaying remarkable generosity to their north London opponents, would cling on for three points.
They did, and now the Blues have six and the Gunners none.
Alonso excelled in this free-flowing encounter, and it was industry which ensured the Blues were two-up after 20 minutes; Pedro scoring the first on nine minutes, and Alvaro Morata adding a confidence-boosting second 11 minutes later, fed forward by a well-judged ball from Cesar Azpilicueta.
Everything looked rosy until the 37th minute when, in a chaotic two-minute spell, the Gunners scored twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi.
After the break, Morrie Sarri introduced Hazard and Mateo Kovacic for Willian and Ross Barkley (who had a sparkling game, and looks to be back to full fitness), and – despite the Arsenal chants of ‘He’s off to Madrid’ ringing around the stadium – the No10 came up trumps, evading capture and providing the perfect lay-off for Alonso to dispatch.
Arsenal squandered chance after chance, and could easily have won this game. As it is, Chelsea are growing in confidence in Sarri’s new system, and just need to sort out the ease with which the Gunners opened them up during what the new Chelsea manager described as 15 “orrible” minutes, in post-match interviews.
The Blues visit Newcastle next weekend, in optimistic mood and determined to continue this winning run for as long as they can.