This is a very late report on the game and many readers must be satiated by all the coverage the game has received. So I will try to cover points that at least I haven’t seen elsewhere.
First off I want to look at the positions of the tackles and interceptions. The following image has been created using the Guardian Chalkboards.
It is interesting to look at the tackles made by Chelsea in the attacking half and those by the Gunners in their own area. For the Blues the right side is starkly overpopulated when compared to the left of the roughly drawn line down the middle. Not surprisingly, there were an exceptional number of duels on the left side of Arsenal’s defence.
It is also interesting to note that Arsenal won most of the tackles on the right side of defence. Ashley Cole got in behind the Gunners backline with frightening ease but those were errors due to positioning that was sorted after an on-pitch conversation between Djourou and Walcott. It seemed to me that Theo was dropping inwards and Djourou was pushing out wide in the first five minutes. This took the full back away from the direction of the ball and the runs by Cole. Once the Swiss defender told Theo to cover the wider channels while he stayed narrow, this option was closed.
On the other hand, Arsenal’s left side was very open and Chelsea were able to get in behind all through the first half and created some chances even in the second half despite an improved performance from Santos and overall tighter defending by Arsenal. Both their goals from open play had assists from the wide areas on the left.
Arsenal did cover for one another in that part of the pitch and the number of interceptions made by the Gunners provides an excellent indication of the effort. Koscielny was outstanding with 8 interceptions.
At this point it is also worth noting that Daniel Sturridge was playing for Chelsea on the left and didn’t really provide enough quality with his final ball or finish, after getting into excellent positions. With Mata on the left, and preferring to drift in frequently, it is understandable that there were fewer duels and opportunities on Arsenal’s right side. One can only wonder whether Chelsea would have capitalised on Arsenal’s weakness a lot more if Mata had been playing on the right instead of Sturridge as the quality of his delivery and finish was certainly much better in the game.
This might have been a subtle tactical move that Villas-Boas missed out on but could be one of the adjustments he could make in future games.
For Arsenal the division in the number of tackles is not that significant but some of the tackles on the left side in the attacking half are further up the pitch, in and around the penalty box. Gervinho was menacing when he ran with the ball but on most occasions Bosingwa, Ramires, and Ivanovic did a good job of tackling him, often by double-teaming, or intercepting/clearing his passes.
The Portuguese full back was successful with 7 of his ten tackles in general and all three in the defensive half. He also made 5 interception at the back. Similarly, Ramires succeeded with 7 of his 9 tackles, three of which came wide on his right flank. In contrast, Gervinho lost 7 of his 10 tackles. However, that in itself does not reflect poorly on the winger as he was pushing Chelsea back and forcing mistakes.
Keen observers would have seen a black square around a couple of unsuccessful tackles by the Blues in their own half. The one on the right side of the line was an attempted tackle by Mikel on Gervinho when he was cutting in. The ball went straight to Santos who passed it quickly to Ramsey. Gervinho continued his run and was instrumental in the goal. Similarly, the one on the left is a tackle by Lampard on Djourou in the build up to the second goal. The ball went straight to Song who switched it rapidly to the advancing Santos on the left.
There has been a lot of criticism of Chelsea’s attacking tactics and the high line but, interestingly, none of Arsenal’s first three goals came against a high defensive line. In all those cases the Blues’ back four were just outside their box with the midfielders in support.
In fact, if you think back to the game, both teams missed a number of chances when the players broke in behind the high line at pace. Think of the early chances for Chelsea or the ones missed by Gervinho and Van Persie. The calibre of these players cannot be doubted. The only explanation can be that when running at such pace, finding the right pass or finish isn’t as easy as fans sometimes wish it to be. With that in mind, it would seem the real difference in this game was the quality of the Gunners in tight spaces.
Arsenal deserve immense credit for exploiting small gaps by moving the ball fast. That results from an excellent understanding and individual skills developed through hard work on the training ground. It’s no coincidence that few teams are able to perform at such a level in the attacking areas. From an Arsenal point of view it was heartening to see so many players involved in the goals and chances as the rebuilding process continues.
Villas-Boas must be envious of the quality of the final ball and finish from the Gunners. Chelsea made 68 entries into the final third compared to Arsenal’s 43. They also got 6 of their 12 through balls accurate with the visitors only succeeding in 2 of their 10 attempts. But in terms of chances created both teams were fairly close and the Gunners created more clear cut chances (4 against Chelsea’s 2).
Corresponding with their entries in the final third, Chelsea attempted more passes in that area. Arsenal made 139 while the Blues logged 147. But the Gunners had more success with their passes in the attacking zone as they completed 83 as against 78 by Chelsea. This means Arsenal made more passes per entry into the final third, which is obviously also linked with the accuracy of those passes. This somewhat corroborates the earlier point that the Gunners did better in tighter areas. Chelsea’s relatively lower chance creation, once Arsenal dropped back after scoring the third goal, is another indication of the same.
After the game Arsene said,
It depends on the games because up until now Chelsea didn’t look completely open at all. They looked very secure defensively in the games they have played up until now. It is our quality today that opened them up and we kept throwing absolutely everything forward.
After all the analysis though, it is hard to blame either side that produced such a fascinating game. Even though both teams will have to do much better defensively to achieve their respective targets, producing such attacking quality is the toughest part of the game and fans should applaud the effort being put in by the managers and the players.