Elsewhere on this site you can read about the rivalry between West Ham United and Millwall, which is one that isn’t really based on success as much as it is on the geographical location of the two teams involved. In the case of Arsenal and Chelsea, it is a little bit of both that has led to the rivalry between the sides, which are both based in the city of London. It would be untrue to call it the fiercest rivalry in the Premier League, not least because the two teams seem to regularly do business with each other in the transfer market in a way that other sides definitely do not do.
You wouldn’t see Liverpool and Everton selling players to one another, for example, nor do Manchester United and Manchester City allow their players to move between clubs on a regular basis. They very much do between the Gunners and Chelsea, though, which definitely belies the idea of them being major rivals. That being said, they are both London-based and that is enough for plenty of the fans on both sides of the divide to have a strong dislike for the other. There have been some fiery matches between them over the years, with both teams wanting to get the win.
Part of the reason why this isn’t exactly one of the fiercest rivalries in the Premier League is owing to the fact that the supporters of both teams would consider other sides to be more of their business. For Chelsea, the proximity of Fulham mean that they would be considered a rival in a traditional sense, whilst neither of these teams particularly like Tottenham. Of course, such things will often boil down to when the question is asked. In 2008, whilst Liverpool and Chelsea were regularly going up against one another, it was the Merseyside club that Chelsea fans considered their biggest rivals.
The rivalry, such as it is, can be seen as dating back to 1907, which was when the two sides played each other at Stamford Bridge in a match that was actually the first time that two London-based clubs had faced one another in the First Division. Around 65,000 people turned up to watch, whilst 28 years later more than 82,000 people went to the same venue to watch them play each other in a game that holds the record as the second-most attended English league football match. In truth, though, it is in the later years when the rivalry began to become rather more heated.
A More Modern Rivalry
In the 1950s, Arsenal and Chelsea met each other twice in FA Cup semi-finals, with the Gunners shading both of them. In the 1960s, Chelsea lost just twice to Arsenal across 18 matches, winning 14 of them. Yet it is in the modern era that the competition between the two teams was stoked up, not least of all because they were often competing for the Premier League title. The arrival of Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge essentially signalled the end of Arsenal’s title-winning ambitions under Arsène Wenger, with the billionaire changing the face of English football for the worse.
In 2006, Ashley Cole, who had come through Arsenal’s youth ranks, was caught meeting with representatives from Chelsea. What followed was a somewhat protracted transfer saga that eventually saw him join their London rivals in a move worth £5 million plus William Gallas, although Cole himself was fined £100,000 for illegally contacting the club a year earlier. Supporters of Arsenal waved fake £20 notes in his face the next time the two clubs met, dubbing him ‘Cashley’ for what happened. It was the sign of a thoroughly modern rivalry that was more about money than anything else.
The list of players that have moved from one club to the other includes names such as Tommy Docherty, who went on to manage Chelsea, Nicolas Anelka and George Graham, who would go on to manage Arsenal. There was also the decision of Petr Čech to sign for Arsenal from Chelsea, in spite of the fact that he was part of the dominant era of the Stamford Bridge club when they won Premier League and Champions League titles. There is obviously an extent to which this annoys fans of the clubs that expect more loyalty from their players, further stoking rivalries.
Whilst the rivalry itself isn’t exactly the most bitter in the world of English football, there have certainly been some standout moments on the football pitch that are worthy of mentioning thanks to the likes of the the importance of the games or the way things transpired on the pitch. Here’s a look at them:
Chelsea 2 – Arsenal 1 (2007)
Unless the clubs concerned are particularly successful, the chances of them meeting in the final of a cup competition are slim. In many ways, that is what made the 2007 Football League Cup final so special. It saw Arsenal and Chelsea going up against one in another in a match that ended up being dubbed the ‘Snarling Cup Final’ by the press, thanks to a fracas involving several players from both sides. Three players were sent off, whilst Chelsea fans threw celery at Arsenal’s players. Chelsea emerged victorious, but it certainly didn’t help to lower the temperature on the rivalry.
Chelsea 3 – Arsenal 5 (2011)
With the likes of Liverpool and Newcastle playing out back-to-back 4-3 matches and countless other games thrilling and entertaining Premier League audiences, it takes something special for a game to be considered a classic. That is exactly what the two sides served up in 2011, however, thanks to two late goals from Robin van Persie to complete his hat-trick and seal a 5-3 win for the Gunners in the home of their rivals. The match was quickly considered to be one of the best games between the teams, based largely on the fact that it wasn’t about nasty tackles but rather excellent football all-round.
Chelsea 6 – Arsenal 0 (2014)
In the modern game, it is rare for a manager to hit many big milestones in terms of games in charge. Perhaps that is what makes the fact that Chelsea defeated Arsenal 6-0 in Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners quite so upsetting. The Frenchman was a stalwart at Arsenal, but their rivals pulled no punches in spite of the nature of the occasion. They went 3-0 up within the first 15 minutes, all but putting the game to bed before referee Andre Marriner sent off Kieran Gibbs for a handball that had actually been committed by his teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Chelsea 4 – Arsenal 1 (2019)
If it is rare for rivals to face one another in cup finals, it is even rarer for them to do so in European cup finals. Yet 2019 saw exactly that happen, with Arsenal and Chelsea both making it to the final of the Europa League in what would also be Petr Čech’s final match in football. He, of course, had played for both sides but he was helpless to stop Chelsea from scoring four times to Arsenal’s one in a match that saw his former club lift the trophy. A year later and the Gunners would get a small amount of revenge, defeating Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final.