The derby between Chelsea and Arsenal has grown in significance in recent years, both because it’s now a clash between the two biggest football clubs in London, and because in recent times this fixture has thrown up some pretty interesting results. Chelsea were completely dominant in the Jose Mourinho years, but Arsenal have won three of the four games between them since Antonio Conte took over as Chelsea manager.
The league clash on Sunday was Chelsea’s second this season against a “top six” EPL side, and the third in their run of seven games in three weeks. Yes, they had triumphed over Tottenham in their other top six game, but Arsenal were a very different team and a different kind of test. Conte chose to line up in a 3-4-3, with N’golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas in midfield and Willian and Pedro flanking Alvaro Morata up top. Eden Hazard was still being phased in from his ankle injury, so he started this game on the bench. Having completed his suspension, Gary Cahill went straight back in at left center back, and Antonio Rudiger dropped to the bench.
Arsenal matched Chelsea’s formation, with Nacho Monreal, Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny at the back, and Alex Iwobi, Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck in attack. Mesut Ozil missed the game through injury, and Alexis Sanchez was on the bench after his midweek efforts in their 3 – 1 win over FC Cologne.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7, Alonso 6, Cahill 7, Luiz 6, Azpilicueta 7, Moses 6, Kante 8, Fabregas 5, Willian 5 (Hazard 6), Pedro 5 (Bakayoko 7), Morata 5 (Christensen NR)
Subs Caballero, Rudiger, Christensen, Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Hazard, Batshuayi
Cech 8, Bellerin 7, Koscielny 7, Mustafi 7, Monreal 7, Kolasinac 7, Xhaka 7, Ramsey 6, Iwobi 6 (Elneny NR), Welbeck 7 (Giroud 6), Lacazette 7 (Sanchez 5)
Subs Ospina, Mertesacker, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Walcott, Sanchez, Giroud
Make Yourselves At Home
Most pundits had this down as an easy Chelsea win, probably based on Arsenal’s poor record at Stamford Bridge recently, but the first half was not easy viewing for Chelsea fans by any means. After a few early counterattacks from the home side Arsenal grew into the game, and despite the best efforts of Messrs Kante and Fabregas, easily took control of midfield. Alvaro Morata was isolated in front, and not very effective. By the end of the first half Chelsea were hanging on by their fingernails, and Arsenal looked like they were the home side themselves.
Arsenal’s defence and goalkeeper looked particularly comfortable in the first half. Petr Cech was well protected by his back line, and either Chelsea’s shots were aimed directly at him or his positioning was really good because he didn’t need to really extend himself to make saves. He easily kept out a Pedro shot and a Fabregas cross down the byline, early on. Azpilicueta tried one of his diagonal crosses into the box, but Alvaro Morata was offside and his header was wide anyway.
Hector Bellerin got past Marcos Alonso relatively easily on Chelsea’s left, crossing first to Welbeck, who could not get the accuracy on his header, and then to Lacazette, but Courtois saved the shot. Alonso simply could not deal with Bellerin’s pace, but fortunately the finishing in the center was lacking. Kolasinac also cut inside and struck a low swerving shot from the left wing, but Courtois punched it out to prevent a goal. Granit Xhaka tried his luck with another long shot, but this one was just wide of the post.
Pedro had Chelsea’s best chance of the match when Fabregas released him with a long ball from their defensive third. Although his run was perfectly timed and he beat Arsenal’s offside trap, he could not get the ball past Cech on the one on one.
Aaron Ramsey scored last season’s FA Cup winner against Chelsea, and he was almost responsible for another goal here. After dribbling past Azpilicueta and David Luiz, his chipped shot beat Thibaut Courtois but struck the far post. Lacazette got to the rebound but completely mishit it, putting the ball out for a goal kick.
Chelsea were finding it difficult to make any kind of impact on the game, and early in the second half Conte made the obvious change to remedy the issue. He brought on Bakayoko for Pedro, who had suffered a minor knock in the first half. That one change made a whole lot of difference. Chelsea immediately seized control of the middle third, which frankly, they’d completely abdicated in the first half.
David Luiz attempted an overhead kick off a set piece into Arsenal’s box but Laurent Koscielny interposed himself, and Luiz was booked for reckless play. It was a strange booking, but after Sadio Mane’s red card against Manchester City, it’s not 100% clear whether it’s OK to even try stuff like overhead kicks anymore in the EPL. As Alan Shearer said in studio commentary after the match, we might get to the point where goalkeepers are booked for reckless play for punching the ball, if another player is trying to get to it for a header.
Willian’s contribution this game had been well below his normal standards, and Eden Hazard replaced him on 70 minutes. Once Hazard started making runs and supporting the attack though, it became clear what Chelsea had been missing. It made you wish he had gotten more time to influence the result. Alexis Sanchez also came on around the same time as Hazard, but was less influential for his team. Danny Welbeck was replaced by Olivier Giroud after sustaining a groin injury in a collision with Luiz. Shkodran Mustafi did head the ball in the net from an Arsenal set piece, but the sharp-eyed linesman correctly disallowed the goal for offside.
The game was grinding inexorably to a scoreless draw, but it looked like we might at least be able to complete the first of three games between these sides without a Chelsea player getting sent off. Until in the 87th minute David Luiz went in hard and late on Kolasinac, and earned a second yellow card for himself and an early shower. His first booking might have been disputable but this second one was not, and it made you wonder what exactly he was thinking when he made the tackle. Chelsea subbed on Andreas Christensen to fill the gap at center back, and they managed to hold out the last few minutes for a 0 – 0 draw.
The feeling about this game is that it was missed opportunity for Chelsea. They had home advantage and based on recent form, Arsenal were there for the taking. And even if you draw away games against the top teams, you hope to win the home ties if you’re a big team yourself. Perhaps Mr. Conte might have selected the players he used in the second half right from the start? Maybe Rudiger and Hazard might have strengthened the left side, and Bakayoko anchored midfield a bit better than Fabregas? You’re never guaranteed a win in football, especially in the EPL, but few Chelsea fans would be completely happy with today’s performance or the result.
Final Score Chelsea 0 – 0 Arsenal
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Independent
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