Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal
17th September 2017
Stamford Bridge – Premier League
That was better.
Better than Anfield. Better than..well most other top teams in recent years.
Conte is supposedly the tactical master but Wenger, the supposed tactical dinosaur, “out-tacticed” Conte. And I’m sure all the pundits, who like us fans rightly dismiss the team, will be shocked.
The line-up raised eyebrows, with Alexis on the bench and no Ozil in the squad whatsoever. The team was naturally different to the Europa League game, with Ramsey, Koscielny, Cech, Mustafi, Welbeck, and Lacazette all returning.
Is Wenger changing? Can he turn the fans around? We will see. But then it was a surprisingly resolute performance. It was as if the Invincibles or the 1998 Double team were shapeshifters and come to the present via time travel. This was a performance of discipline, resoluteness, and sharpness that the best of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Vieira, or Campbell, would have revelled in.
Chelsea had some initial chances, but Arsenal matched them in midfield. Ramsey, Xhaka, and Iwobi were key in closing down Kante and Fabregas, and allowed Lacazette, Ramsey, and the wing-backs to break when required. Pedro missed a great chance for them, but then we came into it via golden opportunities for Ramsey and Kolasinac.
We looked very sound defensively, and towards the end of the ball, they ran out of ideas.
This followed a similar pattern. Hazard came on for Chelsea, and looked lively, but they didn’t threaten to a greater extent.
Arsenal looked bright with Bellerin, Kolasinac, and the midfield pairing, with Iwobi looking good going forward. Alexis was brought on, but didn’t contribute as much as he could have. Though as always he sought to contribute when he could, and despite his apparent and self-evident desire to leave the club.
A major negative was the injury of Welbeck, who also looked sharp, though it seemed like a presumed groin injury. Giroud came on in his place, but didn’t really get the service, nor affected the link-up play.
But Luiz was sent off due to a rash challenge on Kolasinac, in which he caught him with his studs near the touchline.
Overall, Chelsea lacked ideas, and Arsenal were matching them tactically, physically, and psychologically.
This is a highly creditable draw. I did believe we could get a draw, though IF we got it right tactically. And we did. I guess I should become a soothsayer or something… Though in seriousness, it’s about time we had this kind of performance. For too long, we’ve capitulated and been demolished at the grounds of our top-table rivals. Had we played like this at Liverpool, then we would not have lost as pathetically as we did. We may still have lost, who knows. But not without a fight, nor without ensuring Liverpool worked hard for their win.
I believe everybody played a decent game, with appropriate and defined tactical discipline.
Cech was strong, and at his old haunt no less. He didn’t have many taxing saves to execute, though it’s another clean-sheet to add on his already bountiful Premier League record.
Mustafi and Koscielny (nay BOSScielny) were outstanding. They managed to contain their forwards, and were adept in their interceptions. Monreal also assisted in containing their forwards, with the wing-backs looking strong and essentially stifling Moses and Alonso.
Xhaka and Ramsey both hindered the Chelsea midfield, and managed to institute the primary objective here. Kante/Bakayoko was matched physically and tactically, and given their attributes, this is what we needed to accomplish from the start. With this midfield dominance, they were unable to create chances, and resorted long-balls which Mustafi and Koscielny were able to disperse.
Welbeck was his usual agile self, with Iwobi also stretching the defence on occasion. Lacazette was a bit slow, and possibly could have scored in the first half. Alexis and Giroud didn’t impact much, but were able to join in the collective pressing and harrying of Chelsea.
But this is overdue. A performance in which we can rough it, and not seek to outplay or outperform another rival. If we have more of these performances, then numerous Gooners would hold less cause to be upset, angry, or vexed. There would be more love on Arsenal Fan TV, and less rants, that’s for sure, if we can maintain this nature of performance.
Has Wenger actually changed? Is his new-found tactical flexibility bearing evident fruit? We will see. However, today was a pleasing and unexpected change, and he needs to sustain this to be aligned with the reality of the contemporary Premier League. It’s not 1998 nor 2004, and playing sexy football all the time, with some changes in attitude to do having boss players is not enough. Meticulousness is the orthodoxy now, and we will see if Wenger can adapt with this new paradigm. So far, it seems he is at the very least willing to do so.
Man of the Match – Koscielny. Mustafi and Ramsey were good, but Kos is an underrated defender. He controlled their attackers capably, and was excellent for his continual interceptions, physicality, pace, and nimbleness. Surely one of the most consistent Premier League defenders over the past four to give years, and a player who could grace any other top team. He is the equal of Alderweireld, Bailly, Kompany, or Luiz. An Arsenal legend? I’m not sure. But without question one of our top ten defenders in our history, though Adams, Campbell, O’Leary, and McLintock surpass him.