Romelu Lukaku on target as Chelsea expose gulf in class with Arsenal

Belgian striker opens account for club while future looks bleak for struggling Gunners

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It is rare that something novel is as utterly predictable. A decade after his first Chelsea debut, Romelu Lukaku belatedly opened his account for the club he supported as a boy on his second.

In the meantime, he has become the most expensive player in history, in cumulative transfer fees, but Chelsea paid for a guarantee of goals. They got a first repayment on his £97.5 million ($138.5m) price. It was utterly unsurprising both how and how quickly Lukaku got off the mark and that was an indictment of Arsenal.

Their dreadful start to the season brought a second London derby defeat. Lukaku exploited their soft underbelly ruthlessly, scoring the opener and playing a part when Reece James doubled Chelsea’s lead. Arsenal could not cope with him. But then who, realistically, thought they would be able to?

Mikel Arteta’s team had had won their three previous games against Chelsea but this was an emphatic defeat. Arsenal looked callow, Chelsea the side with the stature, the strategy and the solidity to win such games.

The one glaring vacancy in their side last season, when Jorginho top-scored with seven penalties, was for a finisher. Symbolically, Timo Werner, who was so wasteful last season, made way for Lukaku. There was a contrast with Arsenal: Alexandre Lacazette was absent altogether and their other experienced striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was only able to play for the final half-hour. In different ways, they had no answer to Lukaku.

With Kieran Tierney limping off, Arsenal’s problems with injury and illness continue. They have been depleted and defeated.

Chelsea had the costliest striker in their history while Arsenal lacked the most expensive defender in theirs, with Ben White contracting coronavirus. He has had an unfortunate start to his Arsenal career while Pablo Mari’s August remains wretched. He was bullied by Lukaku, stopping him only with a foul that brought a booking.

It felt an act of desperation. Lukaku had first held him off in the build-up to the first goal, then shrugged him off, Mari tumbling to leave the Belgian utterly unmarked as he tapped in James’ low cross. Lukaku, who had not scored in 15 games in his first spell at Chelsea, had a goal in the 15th minute of the second.

Further proof he is the penalty-box poacher they have lacked came when Bernd Leno made a brilliant save to stop Lukaku from doubling his tally, with a bullet header from Mason Mount’s cross. The German excelled, too, to deny Kai Havertz when he was found by Lukaku.

Both Lukaku and Mount figured when Chelsea did score their second. Arsenal’s defence was again too narrow, with Tierney sucked infield, perhaps in a vain bid to shield Mari, James was afforded too much room when Lukaku again acting as the attacking pivot. He supplied Mount. He rolled the ball into the path of the advancing James, who lofted a shot over Leno. The scorer justified his recall as Thomas Tuchel again showed a golden touch.

James was hugely influential, even if he may have been relieved when a collision with Bukayo Saka did not result in an Arsenal penalty. The Gunners’ home-grown hero got a rousing reception after the trauma of his Euro 2020 penalty miss. He tested Edouard Mendy with a long-range shot, while Emile Smith Rowe had drawn a save with a second-minute drive.

Yet while Rob Holding spurned the best chance, heading wide from six yards, and while Saka could be faulted for failing to protect Tierney, it felt familiar that it was left to the youngsters to rouse Arsenal while Tuchel’s Chelsea again looked a seasoned team with the nous of serial winners.

They were able to pass the ball around comfortably, finding space with ease and, while Arsenal improved in the second half, they are yet to score this season and Chelsea yet to concede in the league. There is a gulf in class between sides found near either end of the embryonic table.

Updated: August 22, 2021, 5:31 PM