It’s been a catastrophic season so far. But perhaps yesterdays performance may just be a catalyst for change. In this piece, I provide an in-depth match review, discussing the formations/tactics deployed by Mikel Arteta, a general review of the game followed by highlighting individual performances.
Initially, it seemed that the hybrid 3-4-3 would be retained by the Arsenal manager when looking at the players selected. But it quickly became clear that Arteta opted for a system that was reminiscent to the one utilised pre lockdown, a 4-2-3-1 with Xhaka/Elneny playing in front of the two centre backs.
Out of possession, the Gunners would shift into a different shape as expected. When Chelsea were within their own third, a 4-4-2 was utilised. And as Lampard’s men moved forward, it became a 4-5-1, with the wide attackers supporting the two full-backs, looking to prevent numerical superiorities.
As Arsenal transitioned forward with the ball, Arteta clearly wanted both Tierney and Bellerin to build offensive partnerships with the inside forwards, but with caution in a 2-3-5. When one overlapped, the other would drift infield/invert and help prevent transitions if possession was lost.
The game started with the home side displaying great intensity, and the energy young Martinelli provided in particular certainly resonated across his fellow teammates. Chelsea struggled to build anything substantial when playing out from the back, and this is down to the press deployed by the Gunners. Passing lanes eliminated, create anxiety amongst the back four along with the goalkeeper, forcing them to go long. These were the principles and fundamentals implemented, which played a huge part in why the side from west London looked ordinary in possession. Tierney, in particular, provided the team with a serious outlet. The partnership he and Gabi were developing was one that created plenty of issues for Chelsea’s promising young right-back Reece James.
Very early on in this fierce encounter, Bellerin’s cross wasn’t dealt by the Chelsea backline and Martinelli, by his high standards, should have at least hit the target. The away team, however, did grow into the game and developed much-needed control between the 10th and 20th minute, with Mount rattling the bar following a free-kick conceded by Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal’s tempo did increase, with Emile Smith Row inches away from converting Hector Bellerin’s cutback. But in the 32nd minute, the home side’s endeavours were rewarded with a penalty, won by the ever-present Tierney. Xhaka’s pass is brilliant, and the Scottsman cleverly wins the spot-kick, which Arsenal’s No.9. goes onto convert calmly.
Goals didn’t stop there and Arteta would have felt more at ease after his side doubled their advantage in the 42nd minute. Saka brilliantly carries the ball inside, into the half-spaces, and draws the foul. But then it’s all about Xhaka. The Swiss international has received plenty of criticism following his rash moment against Burnely. But he showed his quality from the dead ball situation, exquisitely firing the free-kick past Mendy. 2-0 going into the break, and certainly, Arsenal deserved their lead.
A slight change out of possession after the interval was Martinelli playing up top with Laca, rather than Smith Rowe operating as one of the two up top.
2-0 is a dangerous scoreline, and the next goal was always going to be vital. Thankfully, it went to the home side. Smith Rowe, gliding in between the lines, releases the hungry Saka who showcases his quality, who nets in his 2nd in the League this season. Chances continued to arise, with Martinelli testing the palms of Mendy, after great work from Tierney. Elneny, following a corner, had his attempt denied by the bar along with Holding forcing a smart stop from Chelsea’s new man in between the sticks.
The Gunners certainly didn’t make life easy for themselves and Chelsea finally started to pose the back four problems from the 85th minute. Callum Hudson Odoi was a bright spark throughout the second half, and his assist for Abraham kickstarted a potential comeback for the visitors.
Moments later, a fatigued Pablo Mari coming in for the ill Gabriel brings down Mason Mount, and Jorginho had the chance to create a very anxious ending. But despite having very little to do, Bernd Leno denied the Italian, making a terrific stop to his left and made sure that the three points would stay in North London.
A fantastic win and one Mikel Arteta desperately needed. The Spanish tactician resorted back to old principles system-wise, opted for profiles rather than forcing senior players into the 11, and it paid off. It’s now down to the Gunners to use this as a catalyst and salvage what has been a very poor season so far.
Surprisingly Leno had a quiet game. But when called upon, he shone through. The German’s quality on the ball has improved as well as looking a lot more assured in possession. Made some crucial claims, demonstrating authority and his penalty save was a key moment in the game.
Holding, playing at right centre back had arguably his best performance of the campaign so far. Commanding, showed excellent defensive awareness on numerous occasions and maintained concentration levels throughout the 90. A few loose passes, but overall a convincing display.
His partner Mari also impressed. Playing with a yellow card for a significant portion of the game, the Spaniard showed great maturity, along with playing some tidy line-breaking passes. A sloppy penalty was given away by himself and fatigue may have been the cause for this. But analysing his overall performance, it was encouraging.
Bellerin who has received his fair share of critics didn’t disappoint. The Spaniard showed his quality going forward but also made some crucial defensive headers to ease pressure. Werner was quiet and Arsenal’s captain on the night was a big reason for this.
His partner on the opposite flank was the flying Scottsman, Tierney who was simply outstanding. Playing as an out and out left-back, rather than shifting into a back three out of possession, he provided his side with excellent width and endeavour going forward. Some great deliveries through the wide areas, a vital penalty won along with maintaining defensive qualities.
Xhaka was also superb. His skill set revolves around passing, and the clear change in this game was that the Swiss international operated more centrally, rather than predominantly hovering around the left. With Granit being very left-footed, this opened up more passing option for him and Emile Smith Rowe playing in the whole, frequently gave him an option in between the lines.
Elneny also quality impressed in the double pivot. The Egyptian had a fairly shaky opening 45 minutes, but he certainly complimented Granit when the Gunners didn’t have the ball, minimising his defensive responsibilities.
Arteta handed Smith Rowe his first start of the season in League, giving the talented English midfielder the chance to showcase his talent. Out of possession, the 20-year-old worked extremely hard. And on the ball, the youngster showed how important it is to have someone who can operate in central areas, and open up space for others. His productivity continued with an assist for Saka.
On the left was the lively Martinelli. A player who has been sorely missed and regarding yesterdays display, he continued to provide an influence. Continuously hunting opposing players down, work rate incredible as always and the only criticism the young Brazillian could receive was the fact he should have had his name on the scoresheet, along with being more accurate with his passing.
Saka, playing as an inside forward on the right, was a standout. Similar levels of work rate to Martinelli on the opposite flank, but showed great quality on the ball. So intelligent in that Bukayo knows when to pass it and when to hold onto the ball. His strike was sensational.
Leading the line was the Frenchman, Lacazette. Effective when he dropped into deeper positions, sharper hold up play, and continuously brought others into the game, helping kickstart opportunities to transition forward. Silva/Zouma made it difficult for the centre forward, but he showed fight and converted a crucial penalty.
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25-year-old Gooner who loves talking and writing about football
Really enjoyed it.
I hope Arteta sticks with this personnel and formation from now on