Arsenal came into this one off the back of a terrible performance away to West Ham, whilst stop-start Chelsea scraped past Newcastle in their previous Premier League outing.
This was a huge game in the race for the top four and Chelsea were bookies favourites but it was Arsenal that started the strongest Alexandre Lacazette opened the scoring before Laurent Koscielny shouldered home. 2-0, and barely out of breath. So what went right for Arsenal, but so wrong for Maurizio Sarri’s men?
Arsenal began in the midfield diamond their fans were begging for when the team was announced at 4:30pm. Xhaka, being the less mobile of the midfield three, sat at the base, allowing Torreira and Guendouzi to push forward and join the press. Ramsey stuck on Jorginho, making it incredibly difficult for Chelsea to play out the back.
This trapped Chelsea and it was only a matter of time before someone would make a mistake and Arsenal would get a chance. This happened just three minutes in when Bellerín got space on the outside of poorly-positioned Alonso before firing a low ball to the front post where Aubamayang skewed it wide.
The diamond worked so well because of the fullbacks. Hector Bellerín and Sead Kolašinac. They drove forward and put low-crosses into the box for Lacazette and Aubameyang. The real issue is picking up Aaron Ramsey who so often made late runs into the box. This gave Chelsea defenders a nightmare of who to pick up and will often leave one of the three free Arsenal forwards to pick out.
Chelsea began in their usual 4-3-3 formation, Alonso and Azpilicueta designed to overload the wide areas and cause problems for the Arsenal fullbacks. The energetic Mateo Kovačić and N’golo Kanté were meant to go from box-to-box, supporting the architect Jorginho in the heart of the midfield…
Instead, they ended up playing long balls into Eden Hazard and Pedro, just hoping the ball would stick. Light work for Sokratis and Koscielny. This was the case for the entire first half until Sarri evidently gave them a talking to at half time.
They did create one chance in the first half, a fantastic ball from David Luiz to Pedro. The Spaniard lobbed the ball over Bernd Leno but it narrowly missed the far corner. It wasn’t something created from the training ground, rather a long hopeful ball in behind.
You could see that Chelsea are lacking a proper striker. Maurizio Sarri has asked for Gonzalo Higuaín, but I ask another question: What about Olivier Giroud? With Arsenal trapping Chelsea in their own half, Giroud would have been an out-ball, an opportunity to get The Blues up the pitch. It also would’ve allowed Hazard to start on his favoured left side, instead of the ‘£50m’ Willian (laughable, honestly)…
Goals upon goals. A poor cross from Hector Bellerín after a seemingly pointless set-piece routine found the feet of Alexandre Lacazette and once it hit him, it stuck. The Frenchman proceeded to turn sharply, skipping the challenge of Marcos Alonso before firing past Kepa. It’s the kind of goal you get when you have two quality strikers playing up top together.
Unai Emery began the season with just Aubameyang upfront, turning to Lacazette when Arsenal were in trouble. However, after the end to their long unbeaten run and their subsequent slump, the Manager has made a change…
The midfield diamond looks the perfect formation to accommodate both Aubameyang and Lacazette, giving them the freedom to take up dangerous positions in the box, something not possible when Aubameyang was the sole striker in a 4-2-3-1.
Thanks to the investment in their forward players, Arsenal have consistently been outperforming their expected goals (xG), and Lacazette’s was a perfect example of that; a poor cross turned into a marvellous goal.
I’ll start by saying: Eden Hazard is not a number nine, so stop playing him there. Nevertheless, he naturally drifted out wide and still caused Arsenal no issues whatsoever.
Olivier Giroud was fully fit, facing his former club and yet we didn’t see him till the 68th minute. If Hazard had played in his usual position on the left and Giroud as the sole striker, not only would Chelsea have a way out the back via a long, direct ball, but the French forward would’ve brought both Hazard and Pedro more into the game.
Nevertheless, that’s zero goals in the past six games. Not superb for ‘best in the Premier League Eden Hazard’. Please stop comparing him to Salah.
Arsenal now have Manchester United in the FA Cup (Friday 25th Jan) before playing Cardiff at the Emirates and City at the Etihad. An interesting couple of weeks for The Gunners…
Chelsea, meanwhile, have a second leg to overturn as they take on Tottenham in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup; followed by another cup game, at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup. Premier League-wise, they have Bournemouth (away) next, which could prove to be a tricky fixture for a side that simply can’t score.
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