Chelsea’s £97.5million decision reaps rewards as Romelu Lukaku evokes memories of Didier Drogba
Lo and behold – Chelsea’s missing piece came up with the goods on Sunday and if anyone needed reminding of their title credentials this season, they won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
It took all of 15 minutes for Romelu Lukaku to demonstrate exactly why Chelsea shelled out a club-record £97.5million fee to sign their former frontman back from Inter Milan to fix what was was in fact broken.
Lukaku held off Arsenal centre back Pablo Mari before offloading, then spinning the Gunners defender and shrugging him to the floor before getting on the end of Reece James’ perfect cross to put the visitors ahead.
When James made it 2-0 later in the half, you feared for Arsenal. Devoid of nine players through injury and COVID, Lukaku was at his bullying best on his second debut for the club. James had the freedom of the right side as he smashed home a second.
Arsenal rallied for 15 minutes in the second half but couldn’t find a breakthrough and Chelsea strolled to a 2-0 win, which should have been more had Lukaku and Kai Havertz not spurned late chances to make the victory even more emphatic. Lukaku finally got off the mark for the Blues nine years and 360 days after making his first debut for the club.
The differences in quality between Chelsea and Arsenal were very evident. Arsenal paraded new signing and attacking midfielder Martin Odegaard on the pitch before kick off and new keeper Aaron Ramsdale was named among the substitutes as Mikel Arteta attempts to steady what is becoming a very rocky ship.
Chelsea have made only one signing this summer and that is Lukaku. They paid a vast fee for him but what were Chelsea desperately lacking last season under Thomas Tuchel? A goalscorer. What is Lukaku known for? Scoring goals.
Point to Chelsea spending almost £100million on a new striker if you must, but the Blues have almost recouped that money from selling fringe and unwanted players this summer, plus a few promising youngsters.
What Chelsea have got is an elite centre-forward, bang in his prime, at a club he supported since he was ten, keen to prove doubters wrong after he first left the club.
He gave poor Mari an absolute hammering a times, which culminated in Arsenal’s centre back lunging in from behind in the 35th minute and handed a booking by Paul Tierney. It was the closest he had got to Lukaku to that point.
The Belgian striker was at his strong, bullish and bullying best. But there were a few times where he wasn’t on the same wavelength as his teammates. That will come, he’s only been training at Cobham for a week.
Lukaku was often directing traffic, pointing to the likes of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz where to give him the ball. Be it into his feet with his back to goal, or down the channel so he could run in behind, or into his chest or head so he could flick the ball on or sideways. Chelsea have a new conductor to go along with the metronomic Jorginho.
Tuchel refused to get carried away post-match as he said of Lukaku’s display: “It was a very good start. Of course, it’s the best thing when your striker scores straight away an important goal to give us the lead.
“On top of that, he linked up very well with Mason Mount and Kai Havertz and gave something to our game that we can play directly to the front line.
“He was also dangerous throughout the game because he’s always dangerous on counter-attacks and we brought him into the game very well already. So now it’s about details.
“There is stuff to improve, but it’s the beginning of the season. He almost scored a second one but which was a fantastic save from Bernd Leno. But it was a very good debut and he linked up very well. Now is the moment to continue and improve.”
But the German surely can’t help but get carried away – when he’s not in front of the media – and be enthused about what he has seen from Lukaku and also, his team, so far this season. Lukaku brought back memories of the performances Didier Drogba used to terrorise Arsenal with.
A comfortable opening win against Crystal Palace set the tone. Chelsea allowed Arsenal to get back into Sunday’s game as they took their foot off the gas a tad, Holding coming closest of all for the Gunners as his header went inches wide with the game at 2-0.
Storm clouds had gathered over the Emirates at half time and for the first time in more than 500 days, it was packed for a Premier League game. They made their feelings known.
But for the jubilant Chelsea fans packed into a small corner of the ground, complete with their brilliant “Champions of Europe Section” flag in tow, it was a very different story. Tuchel has been an enormous force for change since he arrived back in January and it’s a lot more than just winning the Champions League.
Premier League titles can’t be won in August but they can certainly be lost. It’s an early battle of the top two after Sunday’s games in the Premier League next weekend when Chelsea make the trip to the north west to take on Liverpool at Anfield in what is already being looked at as a very, very mouthwatering clash indeed.
Romelu Lukaku versus Virgil Van Dijk could be a battle for the ages. Whoever comes out on top in that duel could go a long way to deciding how the match as a whole pans out.