Even though there was a gap of six points separating Chelsea and Arsenal, both the teams were in slightly similar circumstances. An unimaginable start to the season for Chelsea, and regular ups and downs in terms of the results for Arsenal forced both the teams into a “must-win” situation in a match that was more than just a derby.
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal
Both the teams played with 4-2-3-1 formations but for Chelsea, Oscar was getting involved by dropping into the deep zones in defensive and build-up phases.
Chelsea: 1. Begovic; 2. Ivanovic, 5. Zouma, 24. Cahill, 28. Azpilicueta; 4. Fabregas, 21. Matic; 17. Pedro, 8. Oscar, 10. Hazard; 19. Costa
Arsenal: 33. Cech; 24. Bellerin, 5. Paulista, 6. Koscielny, 18. Monreal; 34. Coquelin, 19. Cazorla; 16. Ramsey, 11. Ozil, 17. Sanchez; 14. Walcott
Arsenal use various methods to target Chelsea’s weak links
- Alexis Sanchez as the left-winger for Arsenal: With the situation in which Ivanovic finds himself, it is common for any other opposition manager to field a quick winger with good dribbling abilities facing the Serb. Wenger, too, tried to pull the common trick of putting more pressure on Ivanovic by starting Sanchez on the left wing. His intentions were clear – to hassle Chelsea’s right-back and try to get a goal or an assist from Sanchez. Had Ivanovic conceded a goal, then the match would’ve turned in Arsenal’s favor.
- Theo Walcott as striker: The reason behind playing Walcott as the striker was because of the pace he offers and was the main asset of Arsenal in unsettling Chelsea’s shaky defense.
Chelsea press well where needed the most but not efficiently
Comparing the way Chelsea pressed against Everton last weekend and against Arsenal, one can find a stark contrast. Chelsea were lackluster in the organization and co-ordination during pressing high at Goodison Park. But at Stamford Bridge, they used a strategy to press only under certain situations and regions of the pitch – mainly when Arsenal were defending deep and when Arsenal were attacking in the midfield.
The reason for Chelsea pressing with aggression in the final third was due to the co-operation received by the forwards from the defensive midfielders and defenders – both the central midfielders were getting involved. In addition to this, the back line was also moving upwards to support and minimize the gap between the lines.
High pressing was done for the fast recovery of the ball when in Arsenal’s defensive third – to sum up, Chelsea counter-pressed Arsenal. But Chelsea were not always efficient in executing it.
Suppose the ball was lost exactly in the middle of the Chelsea’s attacking third, then the wingers were closing down the sideways passing options while Costa tried to to nick the ball back. Fabregas and Matic were closing down from the front.
Chelsea’s pressing region and the number of players in it against Arsenal – six players in a narrow space and in this case the pressing can be done quite effectively since the region of pressing is somewhat balanced.
Compare this with the picture below – against Crystal Palace a few weeks ago. Willian and Hazard are passive. Only Pedro and Azpilicueta are pressing the player on the ball. Matic is behind them. The Crystal Palace player has at least three passing options. When you look at this scene from another perspective it seems as if he has dragged three Chelsea players to a narrow space around him and has opened up passing lanes for his team mates and also a huge space for Crystal Palace to attack.
Chelsea were a bit more reserved when Arsenal were building the attacks through their defenders. Most of the times one of the four – Costa, Hazard, Oscar or Pedro – was moving towards the player on the ball to disturb the ball movements.
But there was a problem for Chelsea in containing Arsenal in the middle zones – more likely a confusion than a problem which needed a firm decision to be resolved. Chelsea were unsure of the positioning of their defensive line while pressing the middle – whether to leave a gap in front of them or to close it down by pushing or staying higher up the pitch. If staying higher up the pitch was the case, then Walcott was the problem. With Arsenal attacking the midfield, it was not a good thing to let a pacey forward run into space. A though ball and a dodged offside trap could have resulted in a goal for Wenger’s team. If moving back towards the 18-yard box was a better option, then it was leaving space for the likes of Ozil, Sanchez and Ramsey to exploit.
Chelsea target Bellerin’s region and breakdown Arsenal by overloading the left wing
Chelsea attacked mostly through their left side. It seemed as if they had planned to target the right-back of Arsenal or was it just accidental sometimes?
Arsenal were targeting Ivanovic through Sanchez. Ozil too was drifting towards the left wing of Arsenal. With Walcott also joining them, Arsenal were concentrating their play on the left wing and the corresponding half space. This meant that Chelsea players were also trying to congest this region and block Arsenal’s moves. This was resulting in a 2 v 2 or similar situations of numerical equality on the other side of the pitch. So, it was obvious that Chelsea were trying to get behind Arsenal’s defense though this side.
Presence of Hazard on Chelsea’s left wing also boosted their attacking strength through the left. In the picture attached above, Coquelin has no passing option as he is being closed down by Hazard and Matic. Also note that, Hazard is free to run into the channel after winning the ball back (but he doesn’t – will be explained).
Not just by quick counter-attacks, but also during regular build-ups of attacks Chelsea players were attacking mostly through their left. In order to maintain the pressure on Arsenal and keep the ball, the home side was outnumbering Arsenal in the left wing.
Chelsea attacked for longer periods of time. But that said, it would be unfair to declare that Chelsea were superior in attacking compared to Arsenal.
Arsenal defend the central zones and force Chelsea to attack from the sides
Arsenal, with Coquelin and Cazorla sitting in the middle and just ahead of the defenders while in the defensive phase, denied Chelsea the chances to trying through balls to Costa. Even when such an attempt was made Costa was either pushed away from the danger zone to the wider areas or dispossessed.
Chelsea players, were picking out the players in wide positions even when they could’ve played a pass through the middle – because of bad decision making and lack of clever movement of the forwards in the final third. Most of the times the passing options of a player were just static. Movements that open up spaces, stretch the defense and create superiorities are very necessary and Chelsea were missing this.
Here, Fabregas has space to run into. But he has no passing outlets to use the space to full extent. The three players in yellow marks are not moving with the movement of the ball. Also, there is no staggering and it means less passing options or passing options in ineffectual positions. Hazard’s case (mention earlier) is a similar case. Hazard didn’t find a passing option ahead and passed the ball backwards.
This is a case of poor decision making by Pedro. Having Hazard free in the space between the lines, Pedro should have passed the ball to the Belgian. It could’ve resulted in at least one of the three possible actions. That is, the home team’s attack could’ve been more unpredictable. But Pedro picked out Costa.
And in both these pictures, Arsenal are trying to maintain a compact defensive structure, with Coquelin or Cazorla breaking down Chelsea’s moves in the middle or by shutting down the passing options to force them to play the ball to the wings.
Arsenal targeting Ivanovic and opening the left half-space
As mentioned earlier, Arsenal focused on unsettling Ivanovic. Wenger tried to do this by deploying Sanchez as the left winger. It was not just through the dribbling and the speed of the Chilean but also through his ability to make clever movements. Arsenal were leveraging on the defensive weakness of Fabregas as well in such situations.
Fabregas, the right sided central midfielder in Chelsea 4-2-3-1, had the job of covering the space in the left channel of Arsenal when the visitors were attacking through the left. But his low work rate and poor defensive skills meant that he was getting caught out of possession by Arsenal players.
Ozil was shifting towards the left. Monreal and Sanchez were dragging Pedro and Ivanovic towards the touchline. Both Walcott and Ramsey were positioned in the center. This forced Zouma, Cahill and Matic to stay central as well. At the same time, it was opening the left half space of Arsenal.
Walcott was able to open it once. Fabregas was way out of his position in the defensive structure.
In the picture attached below, Sanchez drags Fabregas and Ivanovic out from the defensive setup and stretches Chelsea’s defensive line. He then wastes a great opportunity of passing the ball into the half-space (decided to have a go at the goal).
The post-red card game
After Paulista’s sending off, Wenger brought on Calum Chambers in place of Coquelin. Cazorla was partnered by Ramsey and this changed Arsenal’s formation to 4-2-3.
Arsenal were defending narrowly and were happy to sit back and launch counter-attacks. Chelsea had numerical advantage over Arsenal and tried to open up spaces in the middle by stretching the play.
Chelsea’s first goal from Fabregas’ free kick was due to poor marking by Arsenal. Up until the whistle from the referee, none of the Arsenal players were marking Zouma. In the end, Sanchez – who moved close to him just before the kick – lost completely in holding onto Zouma.
After the first goal, Arsenal started to play openly and Chelsea started to press more aggressively than in the first half.
This resulted in good chances for Chelsea but due to the narrow positioning of Arsenal’s defenders, the ball was usually being shifted to the wide zones thus giving time for rest of the Arsenal players to settle down in their defensive positioning.
Chelsea could’ve done much better in the second half when Arsenal were down to 10 men initially and down to nine in the final stages of the match. Chelsea need to find a way to unlock the defenses that sit deep and narrow. In the first half, Arsenal acted well and executed their plan of defending the central regions. In terms of attacking, Arsenal should have been actively seeking a goal in the first half but missed chances due to bad decisions.
Written by Nachiketh Ramesh
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