Arsenal’s game at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea was billed as one that could get out of hand, with the Gunners struggling so far this season, taking a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Liverpool earlier in the season. The Blues, since their poor 3-2 defeat at the hands of Burnley, have looked far better taking the scalps of Tottenham and Leicester in the league this season.
However, of the two, it was Arsene Wenger’s side that came out on top. The Gunners looked far more likely to create a game-winning chance as they stifled Chelsea well across 90 minutes. If this is the ‘new Arsenal’ going forward with their defensive solidity and intelligence in the middle, Arsenal fans have a lot more to look forward to in the weeks and months to come.
From their draw with Chelsea, what three things did we learn?
There is life without Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil was ruled out of Arsenal’s game against Chelsea due to a minor strain with the German playmaker unable to take to the pitch. Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi started behind Alexandre Lacazette and they caused Chelsea a lot of problems. All three are very quick forwards, but, crucially, Iwobi and Welbeck are willing to track back and work hard.
This meant that when Chelsea got forward, they were met by a wall of nine outfield-players with Lacazette able to stay in front of the ball.
With Ozil on the pitch, the German often loses the ball in an advanced position, throws his head up and puts his hands on his hips as the ball moves towards his goal. This is clearly not the sort of hardworking mentality that Arsenal need. Indeed, many pundits accused some Arsenal players of lacking fight and grit. Ozil is targeted by many fans as, even though he is supremely talented with the ball at his feet, he is not enough of a team player to become influential in every facet of the game.
Welbeck and Iwobi were able to give Chelsea problems when Arsenal had the ball but, crucially, they were able to help in defence and stifle the Blue’s space. Perhaps Ozil will have been watching the game and admitting to himself that he could afford to work a bit harder in matches.
A new defensive solidity?
Against Liverpool, Arsenal’s defence was abject. They were caught too often napping and they were exposed by the lightning pace of the Red’s attack as they ran out 4-0 winners. Incredible, with three centre-halves on the pitch they were unable to get close to Roberto Firmino for his goal that came from a cross, which was criminal.
Against Chelsea, only one thing changed; Shkodran Mutafi returned. The German defender was vocal in his desire to leave the club recently but, like any good professional should, he has now rolled his sleeves up as his future is put to one side at least until January.
Alongside Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, Mustafi was an integral part of Arsenal’s defence as they halted the Blues in their tracks. Indeed, in the closing stages, they were so compact and organised that whenever Chelsea got on the ball they were halted almost immediately. Eden Hazard had a good chance to counter-attack late on but the defence swarmed around him and took the ball from him before setting Arsenal away again.
Against Liverpool, Arsenal’s defenders allowed themselves to get isolated in one-on-one situations and they were punished for it. Against Chelsea, they were far better at ganging up on the opposition and giving them little time and space to turn.
Perhaps this more aggressive style of defending is the key for the Gunners. In recent times they have been far too passive, happy to wait for the support from midfield that is too slow in coming. Mustafi’s presence was a welcomed one, and he may yet change his mind about leaving if his return is the key to Arsenal regaining some kind of defensive ability.
Petr Cech was right
In the buildup to the game, former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech claimed that Arsenal could beat their opponents. While some did scoff at this due to the manner in which they were beaten by Liverpool recently, it seems the Czech Republic goalkeeper was correct.
Wenger’s side battled their way into the game and started to assert themselves in a far more authoritative way than their hosts and began probing. Lacazette, Iwobi and Welbeck were far more successful in their attacks than their counterparts, while Aaron Ramsey saw an effort hit the post before Lacazette blazed over.
Indeed, as the game wore on Arsenal looked far more likely to get the winner as Chelsea were more than happy to sit deep and break, which was only exemplified following David Luiz’s sending off. Ultimately, Cech’s claim was correct, Arsenal could, and probably should have beaten Chelsea on the day.
While their strong performance will stand them in good stead for their next game, will they get a better chance to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge?