By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Fast & Furious
Wednesday 3rd January, The Emirates – Happy New Year everyone! It was the start of a big month for Chelsea, in which they were scheduled to play Arsenal once in the league, and twice in the Carabao Cup semis.
And then Norwich City in the FA Cup, as well as Leicester, Brighton and Bournemouth in the league. And all the while Liverpool and Tottenham breathing down Chelsea’s neck, just a few points away from them in the league table.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea were unbeaten in their last five league games. But where Chelsea had four wins and a draw, only one goal conceded, Arsenal were on a run of three draws and two wins, with eight goals scored and six conceded.
They were down in sixth place, seven points behind Chelsea in third, six points behind Liverpool in the last Champions League spot – this particular derby was a must win game for them.
Arsenal had a lengthy injury list, as they to tend to do this stage of the season: Mesut Ozil was passed fit for the game, but Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Olivier Giroud, Sead Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey were all unavailable. Santi Cazorla also continued his recovery from an Achilles problem.
Chelsea had David Luiz out, and Baba Rahman was still recovering from a longstanding injury. Andreas Christensen made his first start after returning from an illness. Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas were rested for the 5 – 0 win v Stoke City, but they were in the starting line-up this game.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Cech 8.5, Bellerin 8, Holding 6, Mustafi 6.5, Chambers 6.5 (Walcott 5), Maitland-Niles 7.5, Xhaka 7, Wilshere 8, Ozil 7.5, Sanchez 7.5, Lacazette 8 (Welbeck 5.5)
Subs Ospina, Mertesacker, El Neny, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Courtois 8.5, Moses 7 (Zappacosta 7.5), Azpilicueta 6.5, Christensen 7.5, Cahill 7, Alonso 8, Kante 7.5, Bakayoko 7, Fabregas 8.5 (Drinkwater 6), Hazard 8, Morata 6.5
Subs Caballero, Rudiger, Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Willian, Pedro, Batshuayi
Frantic First Half
The game started at a relatively moderate pace, and Chelsea had the better early chances. But after referee Anthony Taylor wrongly gave a free kick for a Lacazette dive off a Kante tackle, the Arsenal players seemed to gain confidence and started ripping into their visitors at pace.
Chelsea responded with their own counterattacks, and the game devolved into an attacking free-for-all, with both sides creating brilliant chances, and only failing to score in the first half due to the dazzling form of their goalkeepers. Or in Chelsea’s case, finishing so weak, it made you scratch your head.
Alvaro Morata had the first chance, and maybe the best chance of the game, best chances in fact but we’ll come to that. Victor Moses spotted Arsenal’s center backs on the halfway line and Morata in a good position, and played a peach of a long ball that really should have been the assist for Chelsea’s first goal.
Morata raced all the way from the halfway line to pick up the ball in the final third. He’d completely beaten Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi for pace, he was one on one alone with Petr Cech… and then he put his finish far wide of the post. Cech didn’t even have to try and make a save, the finish was so bad.
Moses made another chance for Morata with a driven cross from the right wing into the six-yard box, but Cech’s positioning was perfect, he had Morata’s shot covered.
Hazard dribbled in midfield to create space then passed to Fabregas, who slipped a through ball between Chambers and Mustafi for Tiemoue Bakayoko. Bakayoko was well marked by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but he still got a shot off and Cech saved again.
Arsenal were pouring forward on the fast break when N’golo Kante did what N’golo Kante does – he slid in to recover the ball from Mesut Ozil in the center circle, and Fabregas took possession, hooking in another pass for Eden Hazard on the edge of the box.
Hazard drifted right then right again, dragging the defence out of position, then back-heeled to Fabregas, who had the space and time now to score… but he sailed his shot high over the bar. In Fabregas’ defence though, he might have been trying to clear the ball over Chambers, who had slid in front of him last second to block the shot.
Arsenal also had their own big chances in the frantic first half. While Victor Moses was fantastic going forward and creating chances for the offence, Maitland-Niles gave him plenty of trouble defensively.
Anthony Taylor correctly ignored an Arsenal penalty call when Maitland-Niles appeared to go down under contact from Moses in the box – replays showed the young winger had tripped over his own feet.
Arsenal regained possession though, and came in again from the left wing. Ozil dribbled past Kante and into the box. Christensen hooked possession off him and the ball went to Alexis Sanchez, who whipped in a shot from just a few yards out… but Thibaut Courtois pulled off a completely world-class reaction save to palm the ball onto the post. The ball went square behind him and came off the opposite post, before he gathered it up under more pressure from Ozil.
Ozil made another great chance when he passed in the ball from the left wing to Lacazette right on the penalty spot. The French striker rolled Gary Cahill and shot for the bottom corner, but Courtois pulled off another world-class save to put the ball out for a corner.
All the first half lacked was goals. And then we got four of them in the second half.
Jack Wilshere has had a difficult few years at Arsenal, with injuries, in and out on loan, playing in the reserves. But his performance today made it all seem irrelevant. He started and finished the move for the opening goal.
Wilshere passed wide from the edge of the box to Ozil on the left wing, who drifted inside past him, and laid off to Granit Xhaka centrally. Xhaka put a through pass into the box, and it got a lucky deflection off Morata to Wilshere again – he did well to hold off a challenge from Kante and slam the ball in off the post for the first goal 1 – 0.
To be fair though, Wilshere might not even have been on the pitch if Taylor had given him a second booking for clear simulation earlier in the game, but the refereeing standards were less than ideal overall – not much you can do about that.
Was It A Penalty
Chelsea needed an immediate reaction, and they got one, of sorts. Just four minutes after Wilshere’s goal, Eden Hazard dribbled into the box from the left wing and attempted a cross. The ball came back towards him off Chambers, and Hector Bellerin stretched to kick the ball away, but kicked Hazard’s foot instead. Hazard went down and the ref pointed to the spot.
It might have been a slightly soft penalty from some perspectives, but there was enough contact from Bellerin to justify the referee’s decision, and no contact with the ball. Hazard took the penalty himself: Cech dived right and Hazard shot left past his former teammate for 1 – 1.
Wing Back to Wing Back
And then on to a player who’s slowly becoming Chelsea’s go to guy in the big games, Marcos Alonso.
Eleven minutes into the second half Davide Zappacosta came in for Moses. Perhaps Mr. Conte didn’t like all the trouble Maitland-Niles was causing at Chelsea’s right back position. Unfortunately, it was Zappacosta who was left trailing by Jack Wilshere when he came in from the left to score Arsenal’s first goal.
But Zappacosta made amends – he was instrumental for Chelsea’s second. Willian played a long diagonal ball across the pitch for Zappacosta out right. Zappacosta turned Maitland-Niles, then got to the by-line to put a low cross into the six-yard box, and Marcos Alonso stole in ahead of Mustafi for an easy finish from point-blank range 2 – 1.
Not Able To Hold On
Chelsea were goal up away to Arsenal with just six minutes of normal time left to play. You might think they would manage the game, hang on to possession in harmless areas, wind the clock down for a statement win. But they could not, at least not today. They ceded possession to the opposition too many times, and they paid for it at the end.
Three minutes into injury time Wilshere passed the ball from a central position outside the box, out to the left wing again. Mustafi put a cross past Zappacosta for Danny Welbeck, but Christensen beat him in the air and headed the ball on to Alonso, who headed it out, but unfortunately, only as far as Hector Bellerin. The Spanish international curled a superb half volley past Kante, across Thibaut Courtois and into the net for the equalizer 2 – 2.
Chelsea still had two chances to win it in the final minute – another superb long ball over the top put Morata one-on-one again with Petr Cech, but this time he volleyed straight at the keeper. Cech knocked it out to Zappacosta, who rocketed the ball off the crossbar – the last two chances gone.
Arsenal fought hard enough to deserve a point from this game. And frankly, Chelsea got what they deserved for not finishing off a good opponent. They did all the hard work but simply did not complete the job at the end.
Morata had three great opportunities to score – he also put the ball narrowly over the bar on an earlier one-on-one. His movement was class, and the creativity behind him almost flawless, but you have to finish what you’ve started, and he and other players couldn’t quite do that today.
Great game from a neutral perspective, but a disappointing result for Chelsea. But as Antonio Conte said after the game, we win together, and we also draw together. Next up, Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in ten days’ time.
Final Score Arsenal 2 – 2 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: ESPN
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