In all those years of playing Chelsea away I almost developed an inferiority complex. I have got used to our visits to Stamford Bridge as write-off games, to the point I thought we can just start the season with -3 and skip the trip to the Blues.
That’s why it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch us get a draw there, especially playing the way we did. What I saw was a spirited, mature performance by a group of players determined to get something out of the game. It was refreshing, surprising and uplifting to witness such a performance.
A glance at the starting line-up told me Wenger either had a tactical masterplan, or has completely lost his marbles. Thankfully it was the former.
As surprised as I was to see Iwobi as part of the front three with Alexis on the bench, I’m willing to chalk it up to the Chilean’s fitness levels. Plus, with Ozil missing the game completely it made sense to play Iwobi. My worry was the Nigerian’s work rate in a distinctly defensive set-up, but we coped just fine.
Apart from that it was interesting to note we still haven’t gone back to a back four. How long it will last and how sorely we’ll miss another body in central midfield is anyone’s guess. I don’t have a problem with that formation per se, and I fully understand it is the only one possible to cater for Koscielny, Monreal, Bellerin and Kolasinac at the same time.
Wenger seems to have his fair share of doubts about Mertesacker, Mustafi, Holding and Chambers as part of the central two. This is why I think he preservers with a back three for now. With a home game against West Brom on the 25th we might well see a return to a back four, however temporary.
We saw an organised, committed performance from the team. Everyone from back to front was switched on positionally, Ramsey standing out especially. The Welshman carefully timed his forward runs to not leave Xhaka on his own, and it showed. Barring one slip-up when Pedro was put through, we displayed exceptional levels of concentration.
My only regret is not getting a win we probably merited. Arsenal outplayed Chelsea in the first half, created a flurry of dangerous moments which culminated in Ramsey hitting the post. I’m more disappointed Lacazette failed to score from the rebound, but what the hell. The Frenchman hasn’t put a foot wrong in the first four games (queue offside jokes) and doesn’t deserve a grilling for missing one chance.
On the upside though we kept our cool till the dying seconds, pulled off a few cynical fouls to cut out Chelsea attacks and even had a late siege after Luiz was sent off. Good stuff all around.
Man of the match: Aaron Ramsey
The Welshman knuckled down and worked hard for the team. He kept his attacking urges in check, so as not to leave Xhaka exposed, he cut out the flashy tricks in favour of efficiency, and his forward runs nearly got us the goal.
It’s as good as I’ve seen the Welshman perform lately. He seems to have cemented his place in central midfield, and it’s probably for the best. Now he just needs to stay fit and continue building up on the current momentum.
Mustafi’s still a bit suspect
While both Koscielny and Monreal have been outstanding in exercising their brand of front-footed defending, Shkodran Mustafi was markedly less so. Morata looked a handful for the German, and some of his distribution was questionable.
Of course had his goal stood (it rightly didn’t) my perspective and that of others would probably be more lenient, however some of the problems I outlined above are not new to Mustafi. He definitely can do better, we saw that in the first half of last season when the German was simply outstanding in a back four.
Is it a confidence issue? Just a blip? Regressing to the mean? Maybe he’s not as good as we initially thought he was? I don’t know. What I do know is that the only central defender Wenger trusts completely (Koscielny aside) is Rob Holding, a young man who needs a break right now. I don’t quite understand why Mertesacker is frowned upon by the gaffer, after all he was a mainstay for five years, but it is what it is.
We can only hope Mustafi gets his act together sooner rather than later, because Arsene doesn’t look like dropping the younger German anytime soon.
Welbeck’s injury is certainly unfortunate
With Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette in the side it was only a matter of time for Welbeck to give way, but his injury robs the player of momentum and us of a genuine option. For all his finishing woes Welbeck was again one of the better players on the pitch.
He worked hard, he pressed defenders in possession, he tracked back. Welbeck’s lightning speed combined with an improved ability to shield the ball offers us a blend of Walcott and Giroud to an extent. Now that the Englishman pulled his groin he is set for a period on sidelines.
It is depressing. Welbeck spent so much time injured at Arsenal you really want him to succeed. He comes back every time, shows flashes of how good he can be, then gets injured again. Fingers crossed it’s nothing long-term.
The last word
We needed a response to a lifeless performance at Stoke and a bashing at Anfield and we got one. A win would have been the icing on the cake, but we had a strong and committed performance. We put in the effort, got a little unlucky not to score, it happens. Certainly there was enough in this game to encourage Gunners that their team can perform in big away games and tickets for Arsenal matches will be as sought-after as ever.
The most important thing is that we showed mental resolve, desire to win and level-headedness not to lose. It was a mature performance from a team with questions marks over its ability to produce one, and you can’t really ask for much more.
The gap between us and third-placed Chelsea is only three points. It’s a non-gap, especially with the start we’ve had. Yesterday’s performance should go some way towards making the players believe in themselves a bit more, and it will make the fans believe in this team a bit more too.