Good start – bad finish.
Mikel Arteta said there was a difference in the fitness of the two teams – which was telling – particularly in the last ten minutes. And particularly the way that he wants the team to play.
“We are asking them to do something different, to play at a different pace and be much more aggressive, and at the moment they suffer.”
Like a lot of Premiership games this weekend, this game hung on refereeing decisions be it on the pitch or Stockley Park. Arsenal had a four-on-three when Jorginho – already yellow-carded for a professional foul, hauled back Guendouzi who was breaking away down the middle. Referee Pawson gave a foul – but booked Lacazette for protesting. Chelsea fans could argue that Guendouzi on Abraham and Lacazette on Jorginho should have been second yellows – but weren’t as blatant.
And a few minutes later it was the Brazilian, winning a foul and then hauling Torriera to the ground from a free-kick who found himself unmarked to tap into an empty net.
Chelsea, like Manchester City use fouls and professional fouls to their great advantage. Arsenal – still with a post-Wenger aura of niceness don’t execute them as well or not at all. And some teams get more bookings than others come what may. Chelsea racked up more fouls in this match – but had less yellows.
It was also the Chelsea number five who changed the game, coming on after 35 minutes, as Chelsea were being battered. Lampard changed shape from three to four at the back, with an extra body in midfield. Arsenal had been flooding that area with advanced full backs – and this new Chelsea system pushed them back and evened up the numbers where it mattered.
But Arsenal showed what they could become – with a compact shape, aggressive pressing and one and two touch attacking play.
Nelson ran down the right and won a corner which Luiz bicycled kicked wide.
Guendouzi felled Willian on the left of the Arsenal area – a bit impetuous. Willian passed to Mount from the free kick who fired at Leno.
Aubameyang won a corner which Chambers flicked on and the Gabonese headed past Arrizabalaga and into the net.
Lacazette was nearly through but stumbled under Zouma’s challenge. Pawson nearly blew but played advantage. Disadvantage as it turned out.
Nelson sped down the right and crossed for Aubameyang who cushioned it for Lacazette, but his first touch let him down and a great chance was cleared.
Chambers right leg buckled under a challenge and he was substituted by Mustafi.
The rhythm changed after the long break and Chelsea came into it. Zouma had a chance to equalise from a corner but missed his shot.
At the start of the second, Lacazette ran past Jorginho and the Chelsea player pulled him down cynically – for his first yellow.
Mount and Willian started to find spaces and a dangerous cut back was cleared by Luiz. Abraham had a clear header from the resultant corner but it went straight to Leno.
Guendouzi broke in the middle, was held by Jorginho but Pawson ignored the yellow – instead booking Lacazette for protests.
Willock came on for Ozil, who went off to a semi-standing ovation and “We’ve got Ozil” (two weeks is a long time in football) and soon had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 following good defensive work from Aubameyang, but fired just wide.
Jorginho was felled by a tired looking Lacazette on the left. And then popped up after more dark arts at the free kick to tap home.
Guendouzi set up an attack from a turnover and Lacazette who had a shooting chance, passed to Pepe (on for Nelson) who ran into a cul-de-sac.
But the young Frenchman lost a header near the Chelsea 18 yard line and Arsenal reverted to peak-Emery in defence – losing shape and chasing after lost causes. Willian passed centrally to Abraham. Mustafi and Luiz backed off, instead of attempting a tackle or foul, the ball went to Willian who took it near to the byline and cut it back. Mustafi was standing far too far off Abraham who had time to turn and slot it through Leno’s legs.
Arsenal had one more chance to equalise when Willock hooked the ball into the Chelsea area but Torriera fired a volley just wide of the post.
Frank Lampard said: “We were awful for 30 minutes – slow, lethargic and nervous. They had a new manager and a new feeling in the stadium. We made the change early and in the second half we dominated.
“They made us into a back five, not a back three, pushed wingers up high, waited for us a little bit, didn’t allow us time on the ball and pressured the middle of pitch. They were on top. The sub came on to give us another body in midfield and more urgency up the pitch. And they did it.”
Mikel Arteta said: “It was emotional, special and there was lots of energy. We created a good connection with the fans. They could see what we were trying to do. We had more chances to create a bigger margin.”
But then: “Physically we suffered. We are not same level as Chelsea at the moment.”
Critics of Arteta’s appointment will point to the result as evidence. Arsenal were unlucky. The Chambers’ injury changed the dynamic and weakened the defence, and with a different referee, things could have been very different. But managers need luck. And that’s probably the most worrying thing.
So the decade finishes. Arsenal won three major trophies – three FA Cups to Chelsea’s ten which includes three FA Cups but one Champions League, two Europa League and three Premiership successes, along with a League Cup. Say what you will about the Chelsea owner (some Arsenal fans understandably wouldn’t countenance his background, values and philosophy) and although unlike Arsenal hasn’t had to fork out for a new stadium, he has put his money consistently where his mouth is and is prepared to be ruthless in pursuit of success, rather than primarily in pursuit of profit and maintaining the status quo.
Someone going by the name of BEC commented about Arsenal on the BBC: “A decade of mismanagement, mediocrity and a board living in fantasy land. A club not quite on its knees, but getting there. All of this was entirely predictable. Wenger foolishly assigned deity status, a board focused on profit and forgetting victories equals revenue. Awful player acquisitions and dreadful attitude. Arsenal the new Leeds United – watch and wait. Arsenal a cautionary tale.”
Apart from the last two and a half sentences and the one about knees – there is hope in Arteta’s new methods – it is hard to argue against the other sentences in the cold light of day.
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles (Booked 90), Chambers (Substituted for Mustafi 23),David Luiz (Booked 47), Saka, Torreira (Booked at 73), Guendouzi (Booked at 10), Nelson (Substituted for Pépé 86), Özil (Substituted for Willock 76), Aubameyang, Lacazette (Booked at 77)
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Rüdiger (Booked 34), Zouma, Tomori (Substituted for Lamptey 59), Azpilicueta, Kanté (Booked at 30), Kovacic (Substituted for Hudson-Odoi 70), Emerson (Substituted for Jorginho 34, Booked 55), Mount (Booked at 30), Willian, Abraham.