The first big game of 2018 kept all his promises. In a vibrant Emirates Stadium, like it never been, confrontation between Arsenal and Chelsea has finished with a draw (2-2).
With Gunners playing well, coming game after game closer to their “real” gameplan, made of ball possession and quick pass pattern in the last yards, Arsenal come closer to what everybody expect from them. At the other side, Chelsea, far from their champions-selves in terms of tactics, are still efficient with a team mainly composed by player with strong defensive skills and not helped with injuries.
Arsenal began this game with its 3-4-2-1 – we don’t know if it’s a choice from Arsene Wenger or a default choice with Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny injured in defence. Therefore it’s with a surprising defence that Arsenal planned to face Chelsea, composed by Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers. The rest of the team was the same as from the beginning of boxing day with Jack Wilshere and Granit Xhaka in the midfield, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette ahead.
For Chelsea, it was a very defensive lineup, with almost two lines for defence with a midfield composed by Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante helped by Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses on the wings. In front of them it was Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, almost playing in duo though the Belgian literally played everywhere, Cesc Fabregas as playmaker as usual.
War in the midfield
In reality Chelsea midfield was essentially composed by Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas who push forward to the wingbacks, N’Golo Kante playing lower on the pitch to cover in case the pressing was inefficient.
Meanwhile Arsenal tried to build up their usual possession game but the midfield set up by Antonio Conte was very efficient to block either Xhaka or Wilshere passes. This good pressing from Chelsea allow them to create good solutions in attack, especially when Eden Hazard went forward with the ball in his feets. But very quickly, solutions were found thanks to Mesut Ozil’s movement and some troubles in Antonio Conte lineup.
The German was very potent this night, with cutting movement either into the midfield to create overloads or able to gather good balls in space, allow Arsenal go ahead.
As the passmaps below can demonstrate, Mesut Ozil was positioned in his favourite position – playmaker – letting Alexandre Lacazette take sometimes the right side to equilibrate the attack
Nevertheless, this ability to Arsenal to find good space was very facilitate by a poor right side from Chelsea. Victor Moses – not helped by a Tiemoue Bakayoko too much focused on the attack and a little bit rough in his decisions – was very bad and Antonio Conte was sometimes really angry with the Nigerian who was substituted by Davide Zappacosta after an hour. Furthermore, he was in trouble with an incredible Ainsley Maitland-Niles, positioned as left back which is not his academic position (he is more used to play as a right midfielder).
Come back to basic: defence
Despite these good setup, Arsenal defence was very febrile with Mustafi flanked by two young centre backs with a lot of communication issues. Thanks to Alvaro Morata failures and low accuracy in shots positions, Chelsea didn’t score while keeping Arsenal attacks ineffective thanks to good centre backs, with special note to Andreas Christensen who was very strong as centre back for his young age at a such high level.
Highlighting recent criticisms, Arsenal defense begin to be very problematic, while the attack start to regain its original shape.
Thanks to a very defensive setup and a fantastic Eden Hazard, Chelsea reached to perform very well despite not playing as well as they did last year.
The last thirty minutes were really disjointed, bringing many counterattacks for both teams. With two goals in the last ten minutes (84’ and 91’), the game could have finished without all that spectacle, but the two London teams want as much points as possible to get the count at the end of the season to get involved in UEFA Champions League.
A last word about transfer window : With Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere out of contract by the end of the season, Arsene Wenger will have to be convincing to at least keep his creators while the future of the Chilean seems to be outside Arsenal. With the arrival of Ross Barkley, Antonio Conte reinforce his attacking choices, maybe not to playing him in the midfield but more likely to let breath Fabregas or bring more offensive shape whenever it’s needed.