Chelsea capitalised on an inexplicably poor Arsenal strategy, with apparently the completely wrong personnel, formation, and instructions. Similarly to Anfield last month, Arsenal found themselves 3-0 down in under 20 minutes, crucified by high pressing Chelsea, who robbed them on the half-way line and broke quickly on several occasions.
Starting with Chelsea’s set up, things were very straight forward for them, despite the lack of Ramires (with him in the middle I think the damage could have doubled). Mourinho sensibly went with 2 holders in midfield instead of Matic on his own, and started David Luiz alongside him.
I always end up using the same words to describe Chelsea, robust, powerful and machine-like, because that’s exactly what they were, and the contrast was there for all to see against Arsenal, who can sometimes be rash, instinctive and fragile.
For Arsenal, this is what their line-up was supposed to be:
Perhaps some occasional spaces in behind Chamberlain if he decided to push forward, but predominantly Arteta would have a midfield partner, and two experienced wide men in Podolski and Rosicky, with Cazorla in the hole. Instead, this is how Arsenal looked in the opening minutes when in possession:
Arteta appeared to be completely alone at the base of the midfield, Oxlade-Chamberlain was high up the field, alongside Cazorla and chasing every ball available, while Rosicky spent a lot of time central with no apparent worry for the right hand side.
It has to be stressed that this was suicidal from Wenger, who rested Flamini, his only strong, experienced tackler in a deep position (the decision not to start him against perhaps the best ball-winning midfield in the league seemed like a poor one). Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla are both very good, hard-working attacking central midfielders, and are crucial to Arsenal’s season. However a midfield at Stamford Bridge has got to be strong and experienced. Chamberlain is strong but not experienced, and Arteta and Cazorla are both experienced, but not strong.
So with Arteta (a ball player, not a ball winner) alone in defensive midfield against a high press, what happened next was a tragedy waiting to happen. Instead of describing it, a few images from the opening exchanges should paint a thousand words:
The most incredible thing about these pictures is that they are all separate attacks, despite looking like carbon copies. Each counter leaves Arsenal desperately short of cover, Arteta isolated and easily played around, with the two centre-backs left to do the rest on their own. Rest assured with Flamini alongside Arteta, this story would have been slightly different.
There is an eager naivety about Arsenal, who play arguably the best football in the league, but like a group of academy players, don’t seem to grasp the consequences of what will happen if they send all-bar-3 of their players ahead of the ball and lose it. Wenger took the blame for this on his 1000th game in charge, but the question will be whether the Gunners can learn from these mistakes, which may be single handedly crushing their title hopes.
Despite Chelsea’s dominance in this game, they were happy to allow Arsenal 47.1% possession in total. Very similarly to the way they started the game, they mainly looked to press in the right areas and then counter into the spaces behind Arsenal. This philosophy didn’t really change when Arsenal went down to ten men. Of course they were likely to have lengthy spells where they dominated the ball with the man advantage, but when Arsenal did win the ball they didn’t always need to press.
Chelsea only created 12 chances, however 5 of these were clear cut chances and they scored three of them, compared to Arsenal who couldn’t create a clear chance in their circumstances. Despite Chelsea’s ‘ball-winning’ ability in midfield, Arsenal actually won the higher percentage of aerial duels and ground duels, with 59% and 58% respectively.
However the following stat is the most revealing. Arsenal made an incredible 5 individual errors, and 4 of these lead to a goal – compare this to the 5-1 defeat at Liverpool where they only made 2 individual errors, and you can see just how bad a day the Gooners had.
Not necessarily the end of the title race for Arsenal, but a massive blow to their confidence and a question to the club and their credentials. They remain in the FA Cup, and face two big hurdles in Everton and Manchester City before the season closes, however they will feel confident looking at their run in that they can pick up some valuable points.
Chelsea look back to business after last weeks slip up, and continue to be talked down by Mourinho as the favourites to win the league.
All to play for!