EPL

Lukaku emulates Chelsea hero Drogba and puts sorry Arsenal to the sword

By Sports Desk August 22, 2021

"Dream? I'm not dreaming. One day I'll play here, you'll see."

One cannot have escaped the viral clip shared by former club Anderlecht, as he completed his £97.5million transfer, of Romelu Lukaku visiting Chelsea's Stamford Bridge as a child.

Of course, Lukaku kept that promise in 2011 when he replaced Fernando Torres for the final seven minutes of a 3-1 home win over Norwich City. That was among eight outings at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea blue, but few could blame the forward for feeling a little unfulfilled.

One of the world's best strikers left the club he supported as a boy after 15 games, 466 minutes, 19 shots and zero goals.

There was more to Lukaku's desire to turn out for Chelsea than the badge on the chest, though; he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Didier Drogba, the Blues legend whose shirt he wore in that Anderlecht clip.

That second Stamford Bridge bow is still to come, but Lukaku needed only 15 minutes of his Chelsea return to emulate Drogba.

Of the 164 goals Drogba scored as a Chelsea player, 13 came against Arsenal – four more than he mustered against any other side. There were braces in triumphs in the 2005 Community Shield and 2007 EFL Cup final, as well as a winner in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final, on top of his eight Premier League strikes.

Drogba bullied Arsenal; therefore on Sunday, determined this time to take his chance at Chelsea, so did Lukaku.

Nine years and 360 days after that debut against Norwich, Lukaku made up for lost time with an opener that displayed many of the talents that look set to make Chelsea genuine challengers for the Premier League title.

The 28-year-old was allowed to face the goal at Inter far more often than during an ultimately frustrating spell at Manchester United, carrying the ball 3,040 metres in Serie A last season, but he also continued to link the play, involved in 34 goal-ending open play sequences. He was the beneficiary this time.

Mateo Kovacic fired a pass into Lukaku's feet 30 yards from goal and he held on to the ball just long enough to have four Arsenal players around him by the time he offloaded it back to the former Real Madrid midfielder.

Thomas Tuchel had spoken of how Chelsea wanted a replacement for Olivier Giroud with "the kind of profile who likes to play with his back to goal, who likes to hold up balls, who creates space for Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic, who is ready to fight physically with defenders". It was Reece James, rather than Werner, Havertz or Pulisic, who found himself all alone thanks to Lukaku's distraction.

When Kovacic snapped a pass outside to James, the race was on in the middle and there was only going to be one winner. After Arsenal's awful defeat at Brentford, there had been debate about how Ben White would deal with Lukaku's physical presence. With White laid low by COVID-19, it was Pablo Mari who was swatted aside by Lukaku to leave a simple finish.

Arsenal sought to learn their lesson, challenging Lukaku as quickly as possible thereafter, but even that went against them. Granit Xhaka's lunge on Lukaku 10 minutes before half-time saw the ball run instead for Mount, who found James unmarked again to score himself.

As with Drogba, Arsenal never looked comfortable attempting to contain Lukaku, who did not add to his early goal but created three chances, contested 15 duels, won two fouls and counted a 77th-minute header that Bernd Leno instinctively touched onto the crossbar among eight efforts.

The last Chelsea forward to have seven or more shots against Arsenal in a league encounter was, of course, Drogba (in 2006).

Tuchel has spoken at length about how Lukaku's signing can benefit Werner. Up first was a lesson from the sidelines, however, with the much-maligned Germany attacker dropped for the new man and only introduced in the final minute of the 90, providing just a fleeting glimpse of a fearsome front two.

For Arsenal, meanwhile, the scant positives largely came from the same men as last season – Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney, at least in an attacking sense before his injury – when they stunned Chelsea 3-1 on Boxing Day, having entered the game 15th in the table and winless in seven.

That result inspired a vastly improved run of form, but their progress pales next to Chelsea's under Tuchel. Their signings do not compare to Lukaku either.

"We are trying to bring the players that we can afford, that in this moment can help us to achieve what we want," Mikel Arteta said this week, asked if Arsenal were operating on a "lower level". "Chelsea would have a different plan," he added.

The goal was Lukaku's fourth against Arsenal, but he will back himself to add to that total based on the apparent trajectory of the two teams.

Only two years older than Drogba was when he arrived in England, there is plenty of time to close on his idol's tally in a fixture he dominated.

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