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By the time this contest erupted three minutes from time it is safe to assume both managers might actually have accepted the whole occasion fizzling out as a goalless non-event. Chelsea had been surprised by the visitors’ tenacity and refusal to wilt, and had only generated the upbeat tempo which can set them apart in sporadic bursts. A point almost felt like a bonus. Arsenal, saddled with that wretched recent record both against the recent top six and here in particular, would have been delighted merely to check a five-match losing streak in this corner of the capital. A draw represented progress.
And yet, given the rather frazzled nature of the latter stages, this game was never likely to pass off entirely without incident. Frustration had been mounting all afternoon, with David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac’s duels increasingly spiky and played out all over the field. Alexis Sánchez’s introduction seemed to raise the locals’ heckles even more. Then, three minutes from time, the Brazilian centre-back became preoccupied trying to shield the loose ball from the Chilean as Sánchez grappled at him from behind. In darted Kolasinac to thump the ball in-field, with David Luiz, flustered, diving in and catching the Bosnian on the base of his left shin.
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Antonio Conte had entered September wary of a treacherous and cluttered schedule, Chelsea’s head coach braced to chop and change his lineup in the hope of negotiating successful passage through seven games in 21 days. That work-load, he feared, would stretch his squad to the limit. As it transpired, his team’s return to European competition will not have sapped energy levels in the slightest. Their reunion with the Champions League was a stroll.
Qarabag were dismissed here, the home side easing back into life at this level with six goals to savour. Atletico Madrid and AS Roma will offer far sterner tests than this, but Conte must have rejoiced in the ability to rest Alvaro Morata and David Luiz, and haul off Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro and N’Golo Kanté, while his team ran riot. Life will be tougher from now on in.
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Chelsea enter the final week of the transfer window with much to do in the market but momentum well and truly regained out on the pitch. Contests against Everton have tended to bring the best out of Antonio Conte’s charges in recent times and the visitors, even with their ranks strengthened over the summer, were swept aside here almost at will by a team the Italian is desperate to reinforce. Indeed, performances this dominant arguably undermine the head coach’s argument that strengthening is still required.
Yet all would recognise the champions will not be treated to afternoons this comfortable too often this term. Everton’s display was a huge anticlimax, the visitors succumbing far too meekly with Thibaut Courtois utterly untroubled until compelled to tip over a wild shot from the substitute Aaron Lennon three minutes from time.
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