Arsenal got back to winning ways at last, with a 3-1 win over Chelsea that was, for the most part, quite impressive. It’s hard to quantify exactly because they are a hilarious shambles right now, managed by a man who has one win his last twenty games and who thought it would be a good idea to start a clearly washed-up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang against us because of the old ‘former player hurts old club’ trope.
Still, as much as their woefulness amuses me to no end and I want Lampard to be their manager until the end of time, I don’t want to take away from what we did too much. I wrote yesterday about Mikel Arteta changing things, and he did just that with Jakub Kiwior, Jorginho and Leandro Trossard coming in for Rob Holding, Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli.
The deployment of two left-footed centre-halves is unusual, but he really didn’t have much choice due to injuries. I thought Kiwior had a good game, ending up with more clearances and interceptions than any other Arsenal player, and he didn’t demonstrate any of the nervousness that was evident in his previous performances. His first Premier League can be considered a successful one, even if Aubameyang could probably have been safely marshaled by Mr McGreg, with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg.
We started well, got on top and stayed there throughout the first half. Gabriel Jesus was effervescent, and not dropping too deep this time, while Granit Xhaka caused them problems with his movement into dangerous channels. From there, the first goal arrived. We worked it down the left, Xhaka pulled it across the box, and Martin Odegaard finished beautifully off the underside of the crossbar.
We did need Aaron Ramsdale to make a good save when Ben Chilwell got in behind, a sign of our defensive wobbles, but that was basically it for the first half from their point of view. I thought we should have had a penalty when a Trossard cross hit Fofana’s hand, but it’s hard to know what handball is these days. It wasn’t much different from the one we got against West Ham, but each ref/VAR seems to see it differently.
No matter, we just scored another one, and it was that Xhaka/Odegaard combo again. The Swiss played the ball across, Raheem Sterling was standing there thinking ‘What the hell am I doing here [here being Chelsea, not our stadium]?!’, allowing the Arsenal skipper to nick in front of him and score his second of the night. 2-0 – ‘The most dangerous lead in football!’ – especially if you’re Arsenal of late, so I was glad when we got another one.
I’ve watched this back a few times, and quite what Chelsea are trying to do is beyond me. It’s not defending. More like some kind of performance art. Players spinning and tumbling like ballerinas with inner-ear problems. They have even made Thiago Silva, a genuinely outstanding footballer and at 38 their best player by some distance, look like he’s just come back from an intensive weekend course at Camp Mustafi. When Xhaka didn’t quite make contact from close range, they all fell over and Jesus slotted home to make it 3-0.
If there’s a criticism to be made after a 3-1 win, it’s that it wasn’t more comprehensive. It’s something Arteta spoke about after the game, and Granit Xhaka said on Sky it was something they had spoken about at half-time. To get the fourth and the fifth, and maybe more. I feel like that is another step that this team can take, to really turn the screw on the opposition when we’re on top. To be fair, there were chances. In the opening period of the second half we had one cleared off the line, Xhaka and Jesus had decent chances, Saka drilled one just wide, and we were well on top.
Then, a defensive lapse from Oleksandr Zinchenko allowed Chelsea to get one back, and from there I think we felt a bit nervous. It’s a bit weird to feel that way when it’s 3-1 at home against a team who are clearly an absolute mess, but that’s because of what we’ve been through in the last few weeks. It feels like we need absolute security, but the nervousness wasn’t really backed up by much Chelsea threat. They brought Mudryk on to have a few runs, but that was really it.
That goal, sloppy as it was, wouldn’t have made any difference to anything if we’d had the kind of lead our performance merited. I do like how Arteta continually talks about things that have to improve and that aren’t acceptable. Conceding against this Chelsea team will be one of them, but ensuring his team is better able to convert dominance into goals will be part of how we continue to build in the future.
Afterwards, the Arsenal boss said:
I’m really pleased with the first 60 minutes. The way we approached the game, the way we started, our energy. There was a lot of movement, we played forward, scored some great goals and really connected with our supporters and created the atmosphere we wanted. After 60 minutes we should have scored four or five, we didn’t do that and after conceding the goal there is still a long period to play and we should have managed the game a little better.
If we want to have any chance to win this league we had to win today. There was something there, we wanted to be back on top, after tonight we are and our job was done today and there are still four more to go.
I thought the players he brought in did well, and helped change our focus a little bit. Jorginho was secure in midfield, Kiwior looked solid as I said, and Trossard buzzed around well – replaced a little early by Martinelli perhaps. We also got a fantastic captain’s contribution from Martin Odegaard who now has 14 goals and 8 assists to his name in the Premier League this season. Excellent numbers, and you know he’s got the ability to get better.
More than anything though, we just needed to win, and we did that very well. There are always going to be things we could have done better, but working on those with three points in the back pocket is much easier than doing it while trying to come to terms with more points dropped. We have a difficult game on Sunday, there’s a defensive worry over Gabriel who seemed to go through the wars with his own body in the second half, but for now we can relax and breathe a little.
We got the job done, and Chelsea aren’t safe from relegation yet. Maybe they could get Big Sam in before he commits to Leeds. Oh please ..