Havertz and White run riot for Arsenal to crush Chelsea in boost to title hopes

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kai Havertz;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kai Havertz</a> celebrates scoring one of his goals against former club Chelsea.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>

All that Arsenal can do is win, turn up the heat, ask the question of Manchester City, the defending Premier League champions, who retain control of their destiny in terms of this season’s thrilling title race. But how Mikel Arteta’s team won here and its message could not have been clearer. If City are to slip, Arsenal will be there to capitalise.

One of the images of the evening was provided by a young Chelsea fan, who held up a cardboard sign towards the end. “I don’t want your shirt. I want you to fight for ours,” it read. That stung. Then again, Chelsea’s players had stunk out the stadium.

Related: Arsenal v Chelsea: Premier League – live

Arsenal’s intensity was breathtaking from the first action and they maintained it for the opening 30 minutes. They threatened to blow Chelsea away before dipping slightly and taking only a 1-0 lead into half-time. And so they went again, Arteta having sent his players out early for the second half, and this time they reduced Chelsea to rubble.

When the Arsenal substitute Gabriel Martinelli ran through in the seventh minute of stoppage time, he was denied in a one-on-one by Chelsea’s overworked goalkeeper, Djordje Petrovic. That could have been 6-0, which would have equalled Chelsea’s biggest ever Premier League defeat – the 6-0 against City in 2019.

There was no consolation for anyone in blue, no hiding place, only embarrassment at their heaviest loss to Arsenal, worse than the 5-1 defeat to Herbert Chapman’s team in 1930.

Kai Havertz, Chelsea’s Champions League winning goalscorer in 2021, was impressive, scoring two during the rush after the interval and he was ably supported by Leandro Trossard, who had scored the opener, and the monstrous Declan Rice. Ben White popped up with the other two and then there was Martin Ødegaard, possibly the best of the lot. A couple of assists felt like scant reward for the captain on a night when he drove the team with the vision and precision of his passing.

In the closing stages, the Arsenal crowd brought out the olés for a period of possession but it was from Chelsea and entirely sarcastic. The visiting enclosure was practically deserted at full time; nobody connected to the club could get out of there fast enough. Arsenal eyes now turn to second-placed Liverpool’s visit to Everton on Wednesday before City’s trip to Brighton on Thursday.

Mauricio Pochettino was without his talisman, Cole Palmer, who was ill, and he had expressed a simple hope – that Chelsea could show they were not the “Cole Palmer football club”. The comment did not age well.

Arsenal scored early and it was too easy, Rice surging up the inside left after a slick passing move to play in the overlapping Trossard, who beat Petrovic at the near post.

Pochettino had seen White open up his back four after just 30 seconds, giving Havertz a clear run on goal, although the centre-forward had strayed marginally offside. By the 10th minute, the Chelsea manager was on a war footing, adopting an aggressive stance, raging at the efforts of his players. Moments earlier, Havertz had tried and failed to find Rice when gloriously placed inside the area to shoot. The pass was on; Havertz just did not execute it.

Arsenal had a spell leading up to the half-hour mark that was dizzying to watch so goodness knows how the Chelsea backline must have lived it. Somehow they survived. Rice banged one shot high after a wonderful spin away from Enzo Fernández while Havertz extended Petrovic. Havertz also had a shot deflect off Axel Disasi and slam into Petrovic’s face.

It should be said that Chelsea had their moments in the first half. Disasi almost got a touch to a Benoît Badiashile flick-on following a corner; Nicolas Jackson stormed up the left and saw his cut-back hit Gabriel Magalhães and kiss the post.

Jackson asked a few questions with his searing pace but the less said about his end product the better. When Conor Gallagher crossed on 42 minutes, Jackson made such a mess of the header that he seemed to handle. Moments earlier, White had blocked from Marc Cucurella, Fernández guiding the rebound wide.

Arteta was booked at the end of the first half for complaining too strongly about Trossard’s yellow card challenge on Cucurella but his players channelled their emotions to destructive effect after the restart, Ødegaard behind the burst that overwhelmed Chelsea.

Rice shot too close to Petrovic; Havertz was denied by the goalkeeper after a sumptuous Ødegaard pass. But Arsenal did not panic. They knew that their destiny was to win.

The second goal followed a short corner, worked between Bukayo Saka and Ødegaard and, when Rice’s shot hit Gallagher, White guided the breaking ball into the far corner. Enter Havertz. Chelsea had legitimate claims for a foul by Gabriel on Noni Madueke but there was no decision, Ødegaard releasing Havertz, who brushed aside Cucurella to slam home.

At which point, Chelsea seemed to give up. Arsenal did not stop. Havertz languidly rolled home the fourth under no challenge shortly after Jackson had missed from point-blank range. And if White’s goal for 5-0 carried an element of fortune – it looked more like a cross for the far corner – Arsenal richly deserved it.