Chelsea turned in a display akin to the woeful performance away at Tottenham in the league against our other north London rivals on Saturday evening. It was reminiscent of our debacle at Wembley in terms of the players not showing up, but also worryingly because of a carbon copy tactical performance. Chelsea were quite simply out thought, out played and out fought.
To begin with we’ll look at the players and formations selected by both sides, as this was obviously key to what would unfold. Arsenal copied Tottenham’s tactical approach against us exactly. Emery selecting a back four with a diamond midfield. At the top of the diamond was Aaron Ramsey. He carried out a textbook man-marking job on Jorginho. Sarri obviously went 4-3-3, again using Hazard as centre forward. With Ramsey effectively marking Jorginho out of the match, and Arsenal pressing high up the pitch to stop us playing out, we were on the back foot for the first twenty minutes. This wasn’t helped by any of our players being able to string passes together. It took us five minutes to get out of our own half. The poor usage of the ball was exacerbated by players being caught out of position as well. Luiz the culprit early on, bailed out by Azpilicuata after giving the ball away, he then rashly raced out to clatter Bellerin on the right wing. Alonso was next on the list. He was caught the wrong side of Lacazette who had pulled wide down the right flank, his low ball in was put wide by Aubameyang.
It was already clear to see how things were going to play out. With our backline not able to play into Jorginho, we needed another out ball in order to get up the pitch. The other Arsenal midfielders behind Ramsey pressed onto Kovacic and Kante, and with poor passing, were unable to retain possession. Our only saving grace was that we looked dangerous down the flanks. Arsenal’s diamond midfield meant that they were narrow and struggled to cover the full backs overlapping. A diagonal ball out from the back to our full backs was our key. This worked successfully, but only exposed another problem. Alonso put a fantastic cross in from the left but no one was in the box. Hazard drops off or pulls wide to try to get on the ball, but when he does this we have no striker. Our first proper chance came when he was in the box to receive an Azpilicueta ball in from the right, he got across his marker but could only turn it wide.
The marking from our centre backs was woeful at times, and we looked exposed from balls into the box. Socratis should have scored from a corner. A free kick in from the right saw Rudiger and Luiz both lose Koscielny and Aubameyang respectively. Koscielny had his header somehow saved by Kepa. A corner from the other side provided the opening goal that had been looking likely since the first minute. A short corner to Bellerin was then played into Lacazette. He turned Alonso and fired in high at the near post.
The calamities continued. Even Azpilicueta wasn’t immune from mistakes. He lost the ball in our own half on the right wing, and Aubameyang raced in behind, twisting and turning past Rudiger in the box, but Kepa saved at the near post.
We nearly found an equaliser in the fashion that we had found the opener against Newcastle. A long ball over the top from Luiz picking out an out to in diagonal run from Pedro. He lifted it over Leno, but it dropped just wide of the far post.
We were still finding space wide as the Arsenal midfielders couldn’t get out quick enough to cover our full backs. Alonso picked out Kante with a low cross in, but it hit the unsuspecting midfielder. We needed a centre forward on the pitch. Willian picked up the rebound and fed Jorginho on the edge of the box but he blazed over.
At the other end Aubameyang was picked out in the box with a cross and his spectacular overhead kick just fell wide.
Arsenal went two clear seven minutes before half time. Another ball in from wide created it. The initial free kick was cleared to the corner of the box, but the volleyed ball back in found Koscielny who somehow had evaded the whole Chelsea backline to score past Kepa with his shoulder.
We nearly pulled one back at the end of the half as Alonso’s header from a corner on the right hit the far post. Huge improvements would be needed to get anything out of this in the second half.
We had most of the ball in the second period but continued to look blunt, and in truth never looked like scoring. We didn’t even register a shot on target in the half. Most of the time our furthest forward players were Alonso or Kante. Pedro had fired over from a Willian pull back to the edge of the area, but we were clutching at straws. The match remained the same tactically. Giroud was introduced with twenty-two minutes remaining, but had little to feed from. Barkley had come on five minutes previously and had a shot from the edge of the box well blocked by Koscielny.
The damage had been done. If we continue to struggle against sides that ape the Tottenham tactical shape then we are in trouble, and need other options to turn to tactically. It just isn’t working with Hazard as our centre forward. The areas he gets into to create mean that he needs someone ahead of him to link up with. If Higuain does ever sign then hopefully he is the answer. Failing that a run in the side for Giroud may help matters, as his link play with our wingers and midfield is already a proven entity.
Arsenal (4-4-2 diamond midfield) 2 (Lacazette 14, Koscielny 39)
Leno; Bellerin, (Elneny 72), Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac;
Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Ramsey, (Maitland-Niles 68);
Aubameyang, Lacazette, (Iwobi 67).
Chelsea (4-3-3) 0
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso;
Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, (Barkley 63);
Pedro, (Hudson-Odoi 80) Hazard, Willian, (Giroud 68).