At what point does a run of poor results against your closest rivals constitute a crisis and trigger a change in the way the club is run? Arsenal entered this match against top of the table Chelsea in the midst of a run of poor league from that has seen them lose to Everton and Manchester City in December and more worryingly suffer a loss to Watford on their last outing.
These results have caused the fanbase to turn again to the question of the long standing French manager Arsene Wenger with more and more fans of the club questioning whether the methods employed at the club are now outdated and calling for a change of management.
These concerns of course have to be placed in the context of the legendary status enjoyed by Wenger who came in to the club more than two decades ago and revolutionised the club and English football in the process. Recent weeks have seen signs that Wenger is willing to make necessary changes to the tactical structure of the club with an orthodox 4-3-3 being used as the side demolished Southampton 5-0 in the FA cup as they moved away from the normal 4-2-3-1.
This switch of system led to questions in itself as there seemed to be no natural fit in the structure for the mercurial attacking talents of the German international Mesut Ozil.
Chelsea may well be the side that you want to face least in the middle of a poor run of form as the league leaders have gone from strength to strength since they switched to a 3-4-3 system under Italian coach Antonio Conte.
The flexibility offered by a system that has wing backs in conjunction with wide attackers has proved difficult for the opposition to contain in their defensive phase. Coupled with the drive from the centre of the midfield provided by N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic we would see the Arsenal defensive structure tested to its full.
We saw Arsenal line up in the aforementioned 4-3-3 structure to begin the match with a central midfield consisting of Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with French midfielder Francis Coquelin retaining his holding role.
The question regarding the role of Mesut Ozil in this system was answered as he played as a wide attacker opposite Theo Walcott with Alexis Sanchez as the lone striker.
In defence Arsenal had Hector Bellerin fit at right back with Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal making up the rest of the back four.
Chelsea lined up as expected in a 3-4-3 system with Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Cahill in the defensive line and N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in the centre of the midfield. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses were in constant motion as wingbacks and Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa made up the front line.
Poor defensive rotation from Arsenal
The first goal in any game has the potential to change the entire complexion of a match and on this occasion it was no different. The opening goal was hotly debated both on television and over social media with some under the impression that Marcos Alonso fouled his fellow Spaniard Hector Bellerin in leaping to head the ball past a static Peter Cech.
That debate however misses the key point as to why Hector Bellerin was left in a central zone defending a cross against the Chelsea striker Diego Costa – one of the best headers of the ball in the game today.
The defensive rotations from Arsenal in the lead up to the goal were poor to say the least.
Here Laurent Koscielny has already been drawn in to the wide areas as the Arsenal left back Monreal has over committed in the initial build up and been caught out of position.
As Koscielny moves over he stretches the connection between him and his central defensive partner Mustafi. The issue is compounded as Eden Hazard moves quickly in to the gap that has been created.
The thing that will concern Arsene Wenger the most from this example is that the defensive midfielder Coquelin is aware of the movement from Hazard and has left his run for his defenders to cover.
Now as the move progresses Mustafi has moved over to cover the run of Hazard at the near post and as such Bellerin has been pulled across to mark Diego Costa in the centre of the goal.
Note as well the position of Theo Walcott who has drifted centrally instead of covering the eventual goal scorer Marcos Alonso at the edge of the penalty area.
This goal could have been avoided altogether had the Arsenal midfield worked back effectively to bolster the defensive structure.
I am not in the habit of purely looking at the movements and structures that led up to goals within a match but again the defensive structure from Arsenal before the second goal left a lot to be desired.
As Hazard broke in to the Arsenal half of the field in possession of the ball the first thing to note is the positioning of the two centre backs who are effectively on top of one another and failing to provide any sort of cover across the pitch.
Secondly we have the attempt from midfielder Coquelin to get back and challenge Hazard for possession of the ball as he is shrugged off so easily that he fails to even slow the Belgian international down on his route to goal.
Arsenal press is weak and isolated
Pressing is a huge buzz word within the world of football at the moment with the obvious focus on coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Jorge Sampaoli and their methods to force the opposition to turnover possession.
There is a danger however in adopting a pressing structure and not doing so properly. Without layers within the pressing movement for your team you can be played though with ease and this is what we saw as Chelsea looked to play through the Arsenal press time and time again.
Here Arsenal are pressing the ball high up the field with Courtois in possession and two defensive players split wide.
The issue is that there is not a second tier to the press and Courtois is able to play vertical passes in to the midfield area and through the pressing line time and time again leaving Arsenal unbalanced in their defensive structure.
Strong structure from Chelsea in defence and midfield
If the Arsenal defensive structure was poor with little connections between the defence and the midfield, then the same can certainly not be said for the Chelsea structure in what has emerged as one of the sides strengths under Conte.
In previous weeks we have seen some sides try to exploit a weak point in the Chelsea structure where the two central midfielders are pulled out of position easily by sides moving in to the central areas. This occurred as a result of the lack of cover alongside Matic and Kante. In this match however we saw the two wide forwards work back to fill in the spaces alongside the central midfielders.
This made it difficult for Arsenal to enjoy comfortable possession in the final third of the pitch.
In this example as Alex Iwobi moves out of the wide areas and looks to cut centrally it is the positioning of Kante in the centre of the field that disrupts the Arsenal attack.
Kante uses his body shape and positioning to cut off the option to play in to an advanced position and the only option that Iwobi has to move the ball forwards is to drive it himself and be closed down quickly or play the ball along to the free attacking player.
As this ball is played though David Luiz, Moses and Kante all move in to trap the man in possession.
3-1 was a score line that flattered Arsenal if anything and that does not tell the full story of the comfortable domination that Chelsea enjoyed throughout this match.
Arsenal were disjointed and weak defensively whilst Chelsea were imaginative and strong in their attacking movements.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Arsenal will move to change their manager during the season with the club hierarchy respecting Arsene Wenger and seemingly willing to allow the French coach to decide his own fate. That said something needs to be done to convince the fan base that the club is still moving with the times and that they want to compete with the very best.
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