A Dignified Draw, Stabilizing the Back Line, and the Blues’ New Bogey: Talking Points from Arsenal v Chelsea

A Dignified Draw, Stabilizing the Back Line, and the Blues’ New Bogey: Talking Points from Arsenal v Chelsea

Another London Derby, another great match. Despite arriving at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to little expectation of success, Arsenal put in a strong performance against the hosts and left having played rivals Chelsea to a goalless draw. The match contained both the usual (some botched referee decisions and lots of bookings) and some unusual (Arsenal going 90 minutes without conceding to a good team) moments that make up a typical match between the two London rivals.
Arsenal came out flying in this match, quickly looking to establish themselves on the Ballard get into the danger areas. Without their two star men, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to start the match, Arsenal struggled with their final product, but easily had the balance of goal scoring chances in the first half. The second half featured a far more even balance to play and a much less threatening Gunner attack, but the defence was able to hold on in the end to take a much needed point out of a very difficult place to play.
Let’s take a look at the talking Points from Sunday’s match:
A Stabilized Back Line
After finishing last season in a high note using a 3 man back line and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at wingback, Arsene Wenger decided to continue with the 3-4-2-1 formation for this season. With a whole summer to tinker and assess, what Wenger and his coaching staff tried to do was to add some of that classic Arsenal spontaneity in attack to their newer, more solid defensive foundation. As a result, the team began to fall back into old habits that had precipitated the formation shift in the first place: terrible spacing in the midfield and fullbacks that push so far forward that if the team lose possession, the opponent has a chance to take off the other way on the counter.
Since the embarrassing loss to Liverpool and the closing of the transfer window that saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain move to that same rival, Arsenal have gone back to basics on defence, both tactically and in their team selection. Without trying to shoehorn an attacking player into the back line, the defence has looked 100% better, allowing just 1 goal from 3 matches after allowing 5 in their previous 2. The addition of Sead Kolasinac at left wing back, Shkodran Mustafi in the centre of the back 3 and the shift of Laurent Koscielny to the right of the 3 has yielded instantly better results from the Arsenal defence. The wingbacks have also taken up more traditional positions on the pitch, which has left them in much better position to track back with numbers. Mustafi is allowed to be an aerial presence in the centre and focus less on driving forward with his passes while Koscielny and Nacho Monreal can offer better protection in the channels from runners coming on to defence-splitting passes.
The Blues’ New Bogey?
By the end of the 2015/16 season, it would have been hard for most fans to imagine that Chelsea’s recent dominance over their North London rivals would have subsided by now. With Jose Mourinho as their manager, Chelsea always seemed to bring out the worst in the Gunners and their manager. Arsene Wenger, normally so stoic and respectful, could not avoid getting dragged into repeated, media-fueled feuds with his counterpart. Meanwhile, his team crumbled in much the same way against Mourinho’s teams, often carrying a fragile confidence right up until the Blues either scored first or an Arsenal player was sent off. The headlining story each time the teams played would centre around Wenger’s inability to beat a Mourinho coached side.
Since Antonio Conte became the Chelsea manager, however, things have changed. Since the start of last season, Arsenal have each of a win, loss and draw in their last 3 league matches against each other, while the Gunners were able to beat the Blues in both the FA Cup Final last season and the Community Shield to open this season. Despite being considered a tactical genius, Antonio Conte has seen has favorite formation matched by his rivals, and at least in recent head to head matches, done better than his own team. Even with many discounting Arsenal’s chances yesterday at the Bridge, Antonio Conte knew that his team would face a tough challenge from a team determined not to fall off the pace so early in the season. Fans will now start to wonder, incredulously, whether or not Arsenal now have some sort of mental edge over last season’s champions,
Quieting the Critics
The Gunners’ struggles to open the season have been well documented. From former players like Paul Merson to famous fans like Piers Morgan, many expected Arsenal to go into Stamford Bridge and get crushed by the defending champions. Not only were Arsenal able to hold Chelsea to a goalless draw, but the controlled large portions of the match, looking like a far more threatening team than the Blues did for much of the first half.
When Arsenal are struggling for results, there is seldom an sympathy from the media, who have wasted no time with their shouting headlines about a club in terminal decay, a manager that has forgotten how football is played and coached and players who don’t even want to be there. As is often the case in the sensational world of sports ‘journalism’, sensationalism generates interest, so when Arsenal lose a match, it is no longer a bump in the road, but a full blown crisis, and young players are simply not good enough to wear the shirt rather than inexperienced and still improving. Having been around the club for as long as he has, Arsene Wenger knows that the highs and lows are never as extreme as they first seem, and based on the way he has his team answering the criticism with solid performances on the pitch, he still has their attention.
The Injury Bug Bites Again
Poor Danny Welbeck. Recently, the former Manchester United academy product has been impressing so much on the left flank that some fans were beginning to wonder if he and his tireless work for the team, with or without the ball, is perhaps a better fit for the current starting XI as Alexis Sanchez struggles to regain his incredible form from last season. When the Chilean is frustrated, he has the potential to disrupt the Gunner’s attacking rhythm with his selfishness and repeated speculative balls into the danger areas that often fall harmlessly to the opposition. Never a great defender at the best of times, Alexis is inconsistent with his work rate tracking back which has at times cause problems for the Gunner defence, particularly in counter attacks.
By contrast, Danny Welbeck is a tireless worker, often leading the charge whenever Arsenal try and press the opposition from the front. He has as much pace as any Arsenal forward not named Theo Walcott and his physical presence can cause disruptions for many defenders. His injury troubles are well documented, so it was a disheartening scene to most Arsenal fans to watch Welbeck go down in the second half with an apparent groin injury. Judging by his reaction, in which he seemed to know something had gone as soon as he went down, Welbeck could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
To make matters worse for the Gunners, news had broken before kickoff that Mesut Ozil had picked up a muscular injury and would miss the match. Coming just one week after Francis Coquelin went down with a hamstring injury, there is a worrying trend developing for the Gunners in which players seem to be getting struck down by non-contact muscular injuries. No matter how deep the Arsenal squad is, should the team suffer injury woes as they have in past seasons, the title race could quickly be put out of reach for the hopeful Gunners.
Tactical Roulette
After finishing out the match against Cologne on Thursday looking way more threatening in a 4-2-3-1 than at any point in the first half, many thought that Wenger would be open to a permanent change back to his favorite formation. However, after coming out against Chelsea in their newer 3-4-2-1, it appears that Wenger will continue to use both as is necessary within a match. For some, this is a detriment to his side, never allowing them the time or the faith to fully master a given set up, but for others it could be seen as a master stroke from the old manager. There is no doubt that a formation switch can energize a team and create opportunities that may not have been there previously, but it can also destabilize an opponent, who may not be as effective as they were against the previous formation that they have a week of preparations for stopping. Eventually, the Frenchman may decide on 1 formation and stick to it, but until then, he seems perfectly satisfied keeping both his opponents and the media guessing.
 

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know