Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal: Victory shows possible title for Arteta, Aubameyang fails, Zinchenko a different dimension
Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, to return to the top premier league in the table and leave their rivals from London in seventh place. The only goal after that was scored by Gabriel Bukayo SakaThe corner was missed by a host of Chelsea players.
Here are the top talking points broken down by our writers…
The title of the Arteta and Arsenal show is possible
This was Mikel Arteta’s 150th game in charge of Arsenal, equaling his number of appearances for them as a player, but the more striking statistic is that this was his 87th win — more than any of his predecessors, including Herbert Chapman, Bertie Mee, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, in the same period.
Such figures can be deceiving; Graham won the Premier League title in his third season and Wenger in his second. It was a different era; when Wenger led Arsenal to the title in 1998, it was with a total of 78 points, while the previous six titles were won with totals of 93, 100, 98, 99, 86 and 93. To put that into context, Arsenal’s legendary Invincibles won with 90.
Arsenal have started at a remarkable pace — they have a point more than the Invincibles at the same stage in 2003-04 — and, if they are to overtake Manchester City, they will need to maintain it.
This was the type of confident, authoritative performance that tells you it’s possible. Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge with a game plan and, despite their lack of penetration in the first half, it’s hard to imagine they could have followed that plan much better. Whatever happens for the rest of this season, their progress under Arteta since the start of 2021 has been hugely impressive.
Aubameyang fails to prove a point to his former club
Chelsea have fond memories of what Didier Drogba does Diego Costa used to work for Arsenal defenders.
Both were key as Chelsea dominated their opponents and this was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s first chance to do the same in a blue shirt.
He did not enter the game in the best form. Purchased from Barcelona for £12m ($13.7m) on deadline day in September, Aubameyang had just three goals to his name. That run came at the start of last month and only one of those was in the Premier League.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal fans to tell the 33-year-old, who left on a free transfer in January after fouling manager Mikel Arteta, what they thought of him now. His first touch was loudly booed even after he was booked for a late tackle Ben White, was the target of a rather unflattering chant. 92 goals in 163 appearances for the north London club are clearly long forgotten.
Chelsea were unable to get Aubameyang into the game in the first half, during which he had just four touches of the ball – and none of them were shots. There were several opportunities Kai Havertz had a chance to cross for him, but he made a mistake.
It spoke volumes for Chelsea as an attacking threat that his first two tackles after the break were clearances from their own area.
There was one unconvincing shot that was blocked soon after, but it was no surprise when he replaced it Armando Broja right after Arsenal took the lead.
Jesus withdraws again into the void
It’s nothing new this season, but today there was a replay Gabriel Jesus’ lack of clinical edge in front of goal.
In the first half, Arsenal built thirds beautifully to dissect Chelsea, finding the ball Gabriel Martinelli whose cross found Jesus for the head. The result? Just wide. Verdict? He should have scored.
As The Athletic have previously reported, this is representative of Jesus’ career when considering his goals scored and expected.
In fact, looking at the 900-minute moving average from 2019-20, there were very few occasions where Jesus made the most of the opportunity he did, regularly falling short of his expected goals.
Of course, the good thing is that Jesus still gets into those lucrative positions to score. Throughout his time in the Premier League, Jesus’ expected goals average of close to 0.5 per 90 minutes means he has the chance to score one goal in two games.
This is not to forget the all-round contribution that Jesus offers – dropping into pockets of space, dropping wide to create for others and a pest out of possession to prevent the opposition from building from the back.
While Arsenal are winning and flying at the top of the table, Jesus’ failure in front of goal can be forgiven. If the titles are on the line and the margins are even bigger towards the end of the season, Jesus might get less sympathy for his lack of clinical edge.
The pressure on Potter will mount
Graham Potter has a tougher task than Thomas Tuchel to win over Chelsea fans
Replacing a popular coach is never going to be easy, especially when the season is already underway and you don’t have a pre-season to work with the players.
Potter’s honeymoon at Chelsea ended against his old club Brighton in humiliating fashion last week in a 4-1 defeat, but this meek surrender to their London rivals at Stamford Bridge will do much more damage.
Chelsea’s players looked hesitant on the ball for most of the game and none of their play was instinctive, unlike their opponents.
That’s understandable. Potter is trying to change the style from the rather rigid football that Tuchel used. Chelsea players are trying to get used to him and him.
Tuchel was adored by Chelsea’s followers for their remarkable Champions League win last year. But let’s not forget that he took over from fan favorite Frank Lampard, but when he tried things, there were no supporters in the stands moaning and groaning about the COVID-19 protocol. The interrogation of the Germans in the first weeks was not as intense as this. By the time the fans returned to the pitch, Tuchel had already justified the decision to replace Lampard.
That should call into question two points from the last four Premier League games and there will be pressure on Potter to produce a much better performance in the two pre-World Cup away games against Manchester City (League Cup) and Newcastle.
Zincenko’s return to roaming
Arteta has kept changes to a minimum this season, understandably reluctant to change what has usually been a winning team, but it was an easy decision to recall Oleksandr Zinchenko to the starting line-up following a calf injury.
It was the Ukrainian’s first appearance in five weeks and only his second in two months, which speaks volumes for how well they coped without a player whose arrival in the opening weeks of the campaign felt transformative.
Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu have provided very different qualities at left-back in recent weeks, but Zinchenko gives Arsenal another dimension in possession. For much of the first half, he wandered upfield in the type of deep-lying midfield role that Pep Guardiola sought from Philipp Lahm at Bayern Munich and Joao Cancelo at Manchester City, or that Jurgen Klopp tried with Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.
Once again, the benefits of this deployment of Zinchenko were obvious. As early as the third minute, Zinchenko found space to receive the ball from Aaron Ramsdale in a central position, playing a pass that released Martin Odegaard and eventually giving Bukayo Saka the opportunity to run into an isolated Marco Cucurello.
As with Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, the approach comes with certain risks. Two of Chelsea’s most promising attacks in the first half probably came from exploiting the space left behind by Zinchenko. Opposition managers will take note. But when a team is controlling games the way Arsenal are right now, that’s easier said than done.
Xhaka is the epitome of a calm, controlled Arsenal
Man of the match? There was no shortage of candidates in red.
The front four — Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli and Jesus — all impressed in different ways, as did Ben White and Zinchenko with their contrasting full-back performances.
In short, it was an outstanding collective performance. But it is difficult to avoid returning to the spine of the team. Saliba and Gabriel excelled in every way, the latter scoring the decisive goal, and Xhaka and Partey controlled the game brilliantly.
Even when it came to that pushing and shoving with Trevoh Chalobah in stoppage time, Xhaka was in control, unlike the red-hot head of the past.
Just think of all the times over the years when Arsenal have shown a soft centre, especially at Stamford Bridge. This was just the opposite.
Chelsea was left behind
With Graham Potter still looking to find his best system and personnel at Chelsea, today’s game showed a real lack of threat on their left flank.
With Aubameyang and Havertz hovering across the front line – particularly in the first half – there were very few options for Cucurello to choose from when Chelsea built down the left, meaning Arsenal could easily close down that flank and force Chelsea to attack bottom right.
Looking at the numbers, 44 per cent of Chelsea’s attacking touches were on their right – the highest proportion on that flank in their Premier League. Raheem Sterling’s natural wide threat — along with Zinchenko’s advanced positions at left-back — also allowed for more activity down that flank, but Chelsea’s attack is almost non-existent down the left.
A long-term injury to striker Ben Chilwell hasn’t helped, but more broadly it’s clear that Potter still hasn’t managed to find the best balance in his squad at the moment.
(Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
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