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).