Arsenal’s past results away at Chelsea didn’t bode well for Arsene Wenger’s side, having lost their last four visits to Stamford Bridge. But there was hope that could change as the North Londoners went in search of reining in their capital rivals who started the day nine-points clear at the top. Within 10-minutes of the second-half, however, that hope had disappeared like Wenger amongst a crowd of supporters.
Antonio Conte made just one change from the 1-1 draw at Anfield as the pacey Pedro replaced Willian on the right of the front-three.
Arsenal were suffering from absences in central midfield with Aaron Ramsey (injured), Granit Xhaka (suspended) and Mohammed Elneny (International duty) all unavailable. That led to a rarely tried midfield duo of Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Alexis Sanchez started in the centre-forward role for the first time since the defeat at Man City on 19th December with Olivier Giroud dropping to the bench.
Counter v Possession
Over the last 10+ years, Arsenal have developed a reputation for trying to pass the ball into the net. Playing a style that at full-flow is the epitome of why fans refer to football as the beautiful game. But the Gunners’ supporters get restless when it fails to provide the expected ending. Many of those subsequently appear on Arsenal TV seemingly unaware there’s a camera involved so they can be ridiculed and mocked across social media for being overly tribal, passionate, irrational and/or deluded. But they do satisfy many a guilty pleasure, especially if you’re having a bad day.
Chelsea on the other hand concern themselves with getting from one end of the pitch to the other as quickly as possible rather than provide the type of click-bait that showcases their least philosophical supporters.
The difference between the two approaches is like Titanic vs Titanic in five seconds.
Marcos Alonso’s towering header gave Chelsea a 13th minute lead, which proved to be particularly unlucky for the stranded Hector Bellerin who had to be replaced with someone who knew what the score was.
That goal only increased the home side’s willingness to allow their opponents more of the ball, which as the table below shows, actually works in their favour in terms of shots on goal and shots conceded.
Despite the extra possession, Chelsea were able to restrict Arsenal to just nine attempts at goal – four fewer than the hosts. This was a combination of both Mesut Ozil and Sanchez having off days as neither player provided the moment of magic they’re often associated with. Furthermore, The Blues style of play, which was triggered by their first-half humbling at The Emirates in late-September – if only Arsenal had won 1-0 that day – is based on a narrow five providing the majority of the defensive cover. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante shield the trio of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta who have started the last 18 Premier League games as a back-three.
Crossing against Chelsea
Due to that prominent back five, teams, particularly the rivals amongst the top six, have been getting most joy from crosses against the Blues.
As the table above shows, seven of the 11 goals conceded across eight games were via crosses. Six of the last seven goals conceded by Chelsea in the Premier League have been via crosses into the box be it first or second balls. The remaining one was a low ball which Peter Crouch tapped in during Stoke’s 4-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
It was therefore no coincidence that Arsenal’s best chances came from crosses into the box with Gabriel missing his side’s best opportunity to equalise before half-time. Substitute Danny Welbeck forced Thibaut Courtois into a fine save with a glancing header at 2-0 while Shkodran Mustafi nodded wide when left unmarked on a corner.
Unsurprisingly, Olivier Giroud, grabbed the consolation goal in injury-time with…a header, providing further credibility to the idea that the Frenchman should have started up front instead of replacing Coquelin in the 65th minute.
Of Arsenal’s 34 crosses (13 corners) six were successful, four of which came from the 13 attempted after Giroud had entered the field. That total number of crosses attempted by Arsenal in the Premier League this season broke their previous record of 29 which were amassed during the home stalemate against Middlesbrough.
Hazard v Oxlade-Chamberlain
Chelsea’s star man stole the show with an impressive individual goal that all but sealed what could prove to be a telling victory in the title race.
The former Lille playmaker brushed off the weak attempt at a challenge by Coquelin before putting Laurent Koscielny on his heels and scoring past Petr Cech, albeit with a slightly scuffed shot which didn’t match the dribbling that preceded it.
That run saw three successful take ons, which contributed to the Belgian’s total and game high of 10 without once being dispossessed. Hazard didn’t shy away from his defensive duties either as he recovered nine balls, only two fewer than the game’s top player in this particular metric, Kante.
Hazard’s replacement and former Arsenal midfielder, Cesc Fabregas, rubbed salt in the wound when he coolly capitalised on Cech’s poor clearance having only been on for a minute. The former Chelsea keeper misplaced his pass and allowed the Spaniard to loft the ball into an empty net.
Whilst it was another day to forget for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain can be relatively pleased with his performance in centre-midfield against much stronger opponents.
The former Southampton player had the best pass completion rate amongst his teammates at 93.2% (55/59); created the joint-most chances (two) for Arsenal; had four from four in terms of take ons; was his side’s top player for ball recoveries (eight); joint-top for tackles made (four); top for blocked crosses (three); and finally, second in his team for clearances (four) and fouls suffered (three).
It was a commonly disappointing day and result for Arsenal, but the ‘Ox’ might just have found a position that he can establish himself in and really begin to fulfil his undoubted potential.
Conte has got his side playing clinical football but there are a couple of minor chinks in the armour that next opponents, Burnley, may be able to exploit through Sam Vokes’ aerial ability at the fortress that is Turf Moor.
Fortunately for Chelsea, the challengers are becoming more concerned with a place in the top four than a tilt at the title such has been their dominance, which can allow a slip up or two. But with such a consistent line-up and top players performing to their reputations, the destination of this season’s league title looks all but decided.
EPL Results (Gameweek 24):
Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 4-0 Sunderland
Everton 6-3 Bournemouth
Hull 2-0 Liverpool
Southampton 1-3 West Ham
Watford 2-1 Burnley
West Brom 1-0 Stoke
Tottenham 1-0 Middlesbrough
Man City 2-1 Swansea
Leicester 0-3 Man Utd