Both sides entered the game with an unbeaten record in this year’s Premier League but after a tight affair the west of London emerged victorious at the Emirates against Arsenal.
After Diaby’s early injury and substitution for Oxlade Chamberlain (with Ramsey moving centrally), the sides lined up largely as expected in a rough 4-2-3-1 formation for both sides. However, to describe Arsenal as a 4-2-3-1 is a touch simplitic because whilst they resembled this formation largely when they were in possession but moved to a strict 4-4-1-1 when defending. The wingers tucked in and let Cazorla and Gervinho buzz around Chelsea’s back four and hassle. This is a change to the high pressing Arsenal of yesteryear, as the side were by en large happy with Chelsea to have the ball in their own half, but strike swiftly on the counter once they had the ball.
Battle at the back
Though both sides played with very fluid attacking fours (by this I mean plenty of intelligent movement and constant switching of positions), in the first half it really was a battle of which defence was able to hold up against the respective attacks. Whilst Chelsea had a lot of the ball in the first half, Arsenal were by far the most creative of the sides, applying the tactic used so effectively earlier in the season against Liverpool of attempting to dominate the game without the ball. However, for the majority of the first half the danger never turned into clear threats on Petr Cech’s goal as Arsenal failed to capitalise until Gervinho stabbed home in the 42nd minute. By this time they were already one nil down (will come onto this later). The main reason Arsenal looked more threatening on the attack than a muted Chelsea was that whereas Arsenal moved into a 4-4-1-1 when defending to nullify the threat of attacking full backs, Mata and Hazard never truly tracked back effectively enough. Jenkinson enjoyed a lot of space on the right hand side and Gibbs was his usual self getting forward often whilst Cole and Ivanovic were never afforded this luxury and were likely wary of an Arsenal counter attack. This is epitomised by rewatching Gervinho’s goal for Arsenal and looking at the space Oxlade Chamberlain was afforded through Jenkinson attacking and occupying Ashley Cole. The graph below emphasises the point, as Arsenal were allowed to deliver over twice as many crosses as Chelsea, with many of Chelsea’s attempted crosses coming from deeper and more central positions.
The type of game is truly shown when you analyse the best performers. Gibbs and Jenkinson were the standout players for Arsenal, and all the players who had good games weren’t praised for their on ball ability, but rather their ability to stifle their direct opponent on the pitch. The Arsenal full backs got praise for effectively shutting down the threat of Mata and Hazard which often left Torres stranded alone up top (which he dealt with very well, taking advantage of an off day from Vermaelan and Koscielny). For Chelsea, Oscar was able to successfully hassle Arteta out of his usual composed dictation of a game from deep, and was pushing so far up the pitch sometimes that he was left by Arteta to be picked up by the Arsenal Centre backs. Similarly, plenty of credit must go to Mikel, who was able to mute Cazorla into his quietest game of the season (despite the diminutive Spaniard still creating four chances throughout the game).
Arsenal weren’t to be broken down from open play, with Chelsea creating few chances despite good possession.
After the first few games, many pundits were quick to praise the introduction of Steve Bould as assistant manager, and accredited the lack of goals conceded in the opening encounters largely to the former Arsenal defender. To a large extent, I believe this credit is deserved. The switch to two banks of four whilst defending means that we haven’t seen Arsenal get caught on the break like last season, and when combined with Arsenal’s 3 second rule of pressing, proves an incredibly effective way to defend. Arsenal have still only conceded one goal from open play this season in the league and in Europe, and that was due to Wojciech Szczesny patting down a cross into Southampton’s Fox. The reinvention of Mikel Arteta must also be praised, as he has moved into a deeper role left by the departure of Alex Song – and though he has not tried to emulate the Cameroonian’s creative ability, he has provided a more stable base for the Arsenal midfield, his positional awareness and ball keeping abilities have helped create an air of security among the Arsenal back four in recent weeks.
However, the glaring weakness at the Emirates still appears to be from set pieces. Having already conceded three goals from set pieces this season, each brings up its own individual flaws. Koscielny will surely receive most of the blame for both goals on Saturday, but in the build up to the first goal we can see Oxlade Chamberlain completely abandon David Luiz in the box, who himself is only a couple of inches of crazy hair away from scoring the first goal. Though Koscielny shouldn’t be occupied with the young Englishman’s mistake it can be understood, and emphasises the lack of coordination when Arsenal approach a set piece. And speaking of lack of coordination, that second goal. Jeeze. Again Koscielny will get the blame for the faintest of touches, but no Chelsea player was close to attacking the ball.
Because of this, I feel Mannone has managed to demonstrate his lack of presence off his line once more on the biggest of stages, as after the ball goes past the first Arsenal defender it should be his priority to get across to his far post and cover the cross/shot. We have seen such a goal countless times before, but usually an attacker has been close to the ball, leaving the goalkeeper with little time to react once said attacker has failed to make a connection, but this instance was different. Mannone had plenty of time to deal with the situation and should do a lot better. To conclude, whilst Arsenal definitely looked a lot more promising defending in open play as Chelsea failed to consistently test Mannone, I don’t think we should get too carried away with the ‘Bould effect’ just yet. Arsenal evidently need to settle into their new defensive tactics off of set pieces, and after their last three goals have been conceded from set pieces, for Arsenal’s sake I hope the are able to adapt quickly. Get to work Bouldy.
Arsenal push, open up game
As Arsenal strived to grab a late equaliser we entered the most exciting period of the game, if not the best to analyse tactically. It was a strange circumstance as Arsenal abandoned their strict defensive philosophy and regularly left four players further up the pitch instead of the usual two. This meant that whilst Chelsea could have easily defended the lead, they also enjoyed more space than they were able to find all game leading the natural attackers in the side to try and push for a third. This, in turn, lead to Arsenal trying to force counter attacks of their own, but force is definitely the operative word. Whilst leaving four further up the pitch seems like a positive move by Wenger, it meant that the other six outfield players were rarely able to support the attacking four with the same fluidity that brought along the first goal. In a similar way to Torres being stranded alone for Chelsea throughout much of the game, the Arsenal attackers found themselves isolated. With Giroud, Walcott and Gervinho all more comfortable working the channels and running in behind the Chelsea back line – this left Cazorla unable to maintain the ball in areas further up the pitch resulting in the Arsenal push for a second equaliser being relatively easily dealt with. That being said, after a rare lapse in concentration from Mikel, Cazorla combined with Giroud to give Arsenal a chance to equalise, the former Montpellier man firing wide after rounding Petr Cech.
In a rare lapse of concentration, the solid Chelsea midfield were all drew towards Oxlade-Chamberlain, leaving Santi Cazorla in plenty of space in the bottom to left to go on and feed Giroud for Arsenal’s best chance.
Whilst the defeat will be annoying for Arsenal, as they were afforded the chance to equalise, such sloppy defending from set pieces will rarely go unpunished by one of the best attacking sides in Europe. Also, whilst Chelsea have maintained their unbeaten start to the season, their performance was far from inspiring, having to rely on Arsenal’s sloppiness from Vermaelan (who gave away both freekicks unnecessarily) and Koscielny. The game was exciting in its caginess, and whilst the game had the potential to be one of the games of the season with the attacking talent on display one has to give credit to both teams defences who played a solid game from open play.
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