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Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal | If watching a London derby, with the two top teams from the capital wasn’t enough for anyone, the fact that there is so much history between the two warriors, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, had to attract eyeballs to this mouth watering fixture. However, all talk of Christmas cards, specialists in failure and all else were cast aside as soon as the players were on the pitch. Coming into the game, Wenger had never picked up a win against his big rival Mourinho, and the pressure was on him to deliver after a few sluggish results in the league. The hat-trick from Welbeck in midweek did a lot for them in terms of confidence. Chelsea as a team have been near unstoppable this season, with 2 draws aside from all their wins. Both sides were unbeaten, and something had to give.
Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic; Terry; Cahill; Azpilicueta; Matic; Cesc; Schurrle; Oscar; Hazard; Costa.
Arsenal: Sczcesny; Chambers; Koscielny; Mertesacker; Gibbs; Flamini; Wilshere; Cazorla; Sanchez; Ozil; Welbeck.
Goals: Hazard (p) 27′, Costa 78′
As a coach, Wenger is someone who has earned the respect of the football fraternity for a number of reasons, not least his ability to take youngsters and transform them into world class footballers. He has, at times though, been criticised for his stubbornness with respect to his tactics, and inability/ unwillingness to adapt his team’s game to the situation and opposition.
This game was a rare exception, as it saw Arsene Wenger adapt his tactics to the opposition, and take an approach that some might consider slightly defensive. His side usually lines up in a 4-2-3-1, or a close variant of that formation. Regardless, there is always a man playing just behind the striker, and 2 deeper midfielders. However, keeping Chelsea’s midfield power, coupled with their excellent technical ability in mind, Wenger opted to put 3 people in that deeper midfield zone. Flamini sat deeper, just in front of the back 4, and Wilshere and Cazorla played just ahead of him. The 4-3-3 would help him fight the midfield battle, and crowd the midfield a little.
As you can see above, the trio was looking to create that triangle in midfield, in order to try and stifle Chelsea’s rhythm going forward. For the first half especially, it worked quite well, as Chelsea found it tough to break through the Arsenal midfield at times, often struggling to shift play into the final third effectively. However, it backfired to an extent, as Welbeck was too often short of support, and it left them a little bereft of players in advanced positions during build up play, which wasn’t a problem Chelsea faced at all.
What it also caused was a role reversal of sorts. Usually, these fixtures see Arsenal taking the initiative and dominating possession, with Chelsea very happy to sit deep, absorb pressure and play on the break. However, with more bodies in deeper zones, Arsenal ended up getting a lot deeper than usual, and the Chelsea defence and midfield had a lot of time on the ball, especially in the early phases of the match. It allowed them to settle quickly, and dominate possession.
With Arsenal more or less blocking the middle area of the pitch with their 3 midfielders, Chelsea looked wide for their initial build up play. It must be noted, that they did not resort to hitting balls into the box at Diego Costa, but only the middle phase of the build up took place in the wide areas. This took a lot of co-operation from the full backs, and the wider midfielders. While the full backs pushed up to serve as auxillary midfielders and received the ball, the attacking midfielders pushed forward, and on occasion, tucked in in order to create space/ add options in the middle respectively. Chelsea tended to begin the final phase of build up in these areas of the field, and targeted it as a weak one.
In a 4-3-3, there is often a space in front of the full backs, and next to the holding midfielder. This is one which can be exploited by inside forwards, and Chelsea sought to expose this area. A lot of the play came through this portion, and even Petr Cech, the keeper for the majority of the match, looked to hit his goal kicks to this portion of the field. As you can see in the image above, a lot of his passes are directed to this region. Hazard too, picked up the ball in such an area and ran at the Arsenal players to win his penalty.
Aside from the goal kicks too, we’ve seen in the past that Chelsea tend to play a lot of direct football against these particular opponents, but this Chelsea side were quite happy and confident to keep the ball, and build up with it. In the first half, especially the first half of the first half, Chelsea kept a hold of it. Throughout the game as well, Chelsea almost always stuck to a short passing game, building up slowly through midfield. In the image above, we see how Chelsea play a series of short passes to get the ball into a wide area, avoid the crowded Arsenal midfield, and move the ball forward while holding the ball.
While Chelsea’s build up play was very effective, mixing up short passing to bring out the best in their individual stars with a few long passes, Arsenal really struggled to put together anything threatening. They failed to register a single shot on target through the game, which is a stunning indictment of their attack. Over the 90 minutes, you’d have to say that the Gunners dominated ball possession, but they failed to create any clear cut chances. This can be attributed to 2 causes.
1) The poor build up play– While Chelsea had a lot players quite close to each other while building up, Arsenal didn’t really do this. The forwards, especially Welbeck, seemed quite isolated at times. Arsenal are normally used to playing with 1 man linking the midfield and the forward, and this man’s absence was felt. Moreover, they seemed to run out of ideas every time they were faced by an organised Chelsea backline. The likes of Cazorla, Wilshere and Ozil failed to make any telling passes, and on most occasions, they took the ball out wide. Why they did this is beyond logic. Not only does someone like Ozil (who was wide) not have the kind of pace it takes to battle a full back, did they really expect the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck to win headers against players like Ivanovic, Terry and Cahill? In this respect, Olivier Giroud was missed, but frankly, one expected more from a team with the quality of Arsenal.
2) The hard working Chelsea midfield– Clearly, the defence and midfield did sit deep on a lot of occasions, but they did so only after Arsenal were in the second phase of build up. As mentioned above, Arsenal really struggled to break down Chelsea when they were in the defensive shape, but when they weren’t, the midfield worked extremely hard to close down their opposition. Wenger was relying on the likes of Wilshere and Cazorla to help his side create chances, but they failed to do so, and due in no small part to the pressing job that the Chelsea midfielders did. Oscar in particular was in good form, proving his worth to the team, and defending with his heart and soul. The midfielder made 4 tackles and 3 interceptions over the course of the game
Chelsea and Mourinho have now picked up their now customary win over Arsenal and Wenger, and they will go home very satisfied with the 3 points they got. It keeps them on top of the table, and keeps their lead at an impressive 5 points. Arsenal will say that this is only the first loss of the season, but really, it’s been a poor start for the club. 2 wins in 7 games isn’t really where you expect them to be, and they will need to find a way to pick up wins from somewhere. Wenger will also have to work with his team on this sort of mental block that has crept in every time they play Chelsea. Arsenal didn’t have a single shot on target, and never really looked dangerous.
Written by Vishal Patel