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Arsenal shock Chelsea with 3-1 defeat

We came to bury Mikel Arteta not to praise him.

But just when it looked as though the Spaniard could be heading for the Emirates exit, he conjured up the kind of result which might just save his neck and Arsenal’s season.

So instead of heading into the New Year talking about relegation, Gunners fans are suddenly believing that their struggling team has finally turned the corner.

And it is Chelsea supporters who are now wondering where their team is heading as they threaten to lose contact with the title race.

For this was a performance which absolutely nobody had seen coming from an Arsenal team without a win in their previous seven Premier League games.

And they did it all without the help of so-called superstars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, David Luiz, Willian, Gabriel and Thomas Partey.

They kicked off just three points clear of the drop zone and seriously fretting over the prospect of a relegation dogfight.

And though they are still not out of the woods by a long way, at least they have put a bit of daylight between themselves and the teams at the wrong end of the table.

And Arteta will take so much heart from the efforts of his youngsters after this bold throw of the dice

The moment the team-sheets dropped it became apparent that he had reached the end of his tether as he made six changes to the team beaten at Everton last week.

That meant first Premier League starts this season for Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe and Pablo Mari as Arteta opted to give his team the shake-up it so badly needed.

Martinelli had scored a famous goal against Chelsea last season when he ran from his own half and his recovery from a nasty midweek kick on the shin was a much-needed boost for the beleaguered Arteta.

The Brazilian teenager could have been on target again just a minute into proceedings but shanked a volley wide from Hector Bellerin’s cross.

But at least it was a positive start against a full-strength Chelsea who had arrived at the Emirates with a squad of 20 senior internationals.

Of course it didn’t last long and they were soon back on the defensive when Granit Xhaka brought down Christian Pulisic on the edge of the area.

Mason Mount’s resulting free-kick clipped the outside of the post with keeper Bernd Leno not even close to getting a hand to the ball.

But at least Arsenal were showing a bit of resilience and Smith Rowe was only inches away from connecting with Bellerin’s pass right in front of goal.

Yet it still came as something of a surprise when they snatched the lead through Alexandre Lacazette’s 35th minute penalty.

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Reece James found himself on the wrong side of Kieran Tierney in his own area and although there was only minimal contact with the Scotsman’s trailing boot it was enough to convince Michael Oliver to point to the spot.

It was the first time in eight weeks that Arsenal had been ahead in the League and an even bigger shock was waiting when Xhaka doubled their lead a minute before half-time.

Arteta was unhappy that there was no yellow card for N’Golo Kante when he tripped Bukayo Saka 30 yards out from goal.

But he soon stopped complaining when Xhaka stepped forward to send a left-footed exocet past keeper Edouard Mendy and into the top corner.

It was reminiscent of the goal he scored at Crystal Palace a couple of years ago but that was so long ago that everyone had forgotten it was something he had in his locker.

The Swiss midfielder has made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra and every time it looks like he is finished at Arsenal he somehow comes up with another lifeline.

Nobody divides opinion at the Emirates more than the hot-headed 28-year-old who always wears his heart on his sleeve.

He thought his Premier League career was over when he told baying Arsenal fans to eff off last year.

And he didn’t do himself or Arteta any favours when he received a straight red card for throttling Ashley Westwood during the recent home defeat by Burnley.

But in his first game back from suspension, he provided just the kind of fighting spirit which his manager had been demanding.

And it was Chelsea who were once again left feeling sorry for themselves just as they were after last season’s FA Cup final defeat.

Frank Lampard tried to turn things around by sending on Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jorginho at half-time for Mateo Kovacic and the worryingly out of touch Timo Werner.

It is now ten games since the £47million German last found the net and he never looked like ending that barren run before being hooked.

Yet the change of personnel could not produce a change of direction and Chelsea’s fate was sealed when Saka’s 56th minute cross-shot drifted in at the far post.

Tammy Abraham pulled one back in the 86th minute after his effort had initially been ruled out for offside and fears of a late Arsenal collapse were intensified when they conceded a 90th minute penalty for Mari’s foul on Mount.

But Jorginho’s tame spot-kick was saved by Leno and Arsenal were just about to hold their nerve for the remaining five minutes of stoppage time.

The fightback starts here.

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