Thursday, April 25, 2024

Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal: Tactical masterclass sees off tepid Pensioners

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There is something very ‘this season’ about Arsenal doing the ‘double’ over Chelsea for the first time since 2003-04 (a fairly decent campaign for us, if I remember correctly), amid some of the other results we’ve had.

I have to say, I found last night’s game perversely enjoyable. Is it the way I want to see Arsenal play? Absolutely not. At the same time, you can’t have watched us of late and thought going to Stamford Bridge to try and play open, expansive football would be a good idea. In short, we embraced our crapness and won. Chelsea lost, Arsenal took all three points, and that’s good.

I suppose there was an element of insignificance to it from an Arsenal perspective, which took away some of the regular pressure you’d feel in a game like this. Had this game really mattered, perhaps the approach would have been something to get a bit more worked up about, but in this context, I just don’t have it in me to get vexed. Not least because, you know, we won, and Chelsea lost.

Mikel Arteta went with a back three, Pablo Mari with Rob Holding and Gabriel either side of him. The big Spaniard made a dreadful mistake early on, dallying on the ball to allow Kai Havertz to go through one on one with Bernd Leno. You could see the keeper thinking ‘Ich Nichten Lichten‘ but his £75m compatriot ballooned the ball over the bar. A lucky escape for Arsenal, and while Mari was poor in that scenario, I don’t think he was helped much by a somewhat iffy Gabriel pass – something that was a feature of the Brazilian’s game all night.

I do wonder if that flaw in his game, something which needs a fair amount of work in my opinion, is why Mari has been preferred to him of late. On a night when the pass completion percentage for some of his teammates was down in the 60s/70s, he ended up at 93%. Gabriel, meanwhile, made 10 clearances and blocked two shots. Maybe Arteta needs to build a contraption to smoosh them together, like some kind of central defensive Brundlefly.

Our goal came after we pressed Chelsea quite well high up the pitch, Mr Tumnus hit a back pass to the goalkeeper which almost went in. Kepa clawed it off the line, Aubameyang was sharp and while Emile Smith Rowe’s finish was a bit scuffy, it went in off the post. Frankly, although most of the game hadn’t been played yet, it was no less than he deserved. He is fast becoming one of my favourite players. Unencumbered by system and structure, he plays with an effervescence and bravery that is just lovely to watch. If the rest of the team can resemble a stagnant pool at times, Smith Rowe is a fizzy glass of sparkling water with ice and a slice. Mmmm, refreshing.

Just to make it clear: his goal meant we won and Chelsea lost. What a lad.

I suppose, when you look at how effective that pressing thing turned out to be, it’s a bit of a shame we didn’t try a bit more of it, but from there Chelsea dominated possession and did have chances. Saka at right wing-back wasn’t great – not unexpectedly given the manager expressed some concern about his defensive awareness in the much more natural for him position on the other side – and the home side had some joy. Shots were blocked, Leno was very good, assured and solid, and whatever else you can say about the performance last night, we worked really hard. This didn’t look like a group of players who had given up and were thinking about their summer holidays or anything.

Chelsea brought on Oliver Giroud whose first touch was a wild swipe at the ball which made me laugh. Hector Bellerin came on, played a lovely deft touch to Odegaard, had a shot on goal, made an acrobatic clearance and then had to come off after landing awkwardly. Those who dismiss Mikel Arteta’s tactical genius could only eat the biggest slice of humble pie available after his decision to fill the substitutes bench with right backs.

Late on, Leno made a brilliant save from Zouma, tipping a looping header onto the bar, and Giroud impressed with me with his continued suppleness as he hooked the rebound back onto the bar with his right foot. Nevertheless, when we did get the ball clear, I had a bit of a laugh about that too. Six minutes of injury time? No problem. Chelsea became something else, a BrundleStoke if you will, lumping the ball towards our box, but our indefatigable defensive heroes would simply nut the ball away like a photographer loafing Jamiroquai. Meat and drink.

Too little too late? Well, maybe, but more like just enough too late, and look, I know what this season has been. I know the problems, I’m not blind to the issues. I’ve seen the games. I can read the results. I’ve written about it, and talked about it from first whistle almost through to the last, and today I don’t think we learned anything new, and it doesn’t put everything right. All the same we’ve lost some games through poxy bad luck this season, and if we got a bit lucky last night, it feels overdue. I’m simply going to enjoy beating Chelsea, because that means Arsenal won and Chelsea lost and regardless of how it happens, that is a good thing in my world.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta was pleased with the win but unhappy with the press coverage of some his pre-game comments. To be honest, that’s something which requires a blog post of its own or, better yet, a discussion for tomorrow’s Arsecast, so that’s the way I’ll cover those. As I said earlier though, we can all see when a team is going through the motions, and despite the fact this game was essentially meaningless for us, I didn’t see that last night. Were we good? Of course not, but there was effort, and despite the fact it’s not something you can quantify, it’s still important.

We now have a bit of time off. In order to allow all clubs have a home game with some fans, the fixtures scheduled for this weekend have been moved to midweek, and we go to Selhurst Park on Wednesday. So, I’ll leave it there for now, we’ll have an Arsecast tomorrow and more here on the blog.

Until then, take it easy. Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal. HA and indeed HA.

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