As Arsenal celebrated with gusto on the Stamford Bridge turf, anyone who only knew the scoreline might have found themselves confused. A big win always deserves celebration, but 1-0 is the scoreline of a hard-fought, gritty win. It’s a “shake hands, clap fans, walk down the tunnel, job done” scoreline. Anyone who watched the game, will know that the scoreline was the closest part of the whole match.
I don’t care if I am called biased, Arsenal dominated that game from the first whistle to the final whistle. And if you find “dominated” too strong, I think it’s hard to argue that, at the very least, Arsenal controlled the whole match. Chelsea got nothing from their possession while Arsenal dictated the the areas of place, the pace of place, and prevented Chelsea from finding any real foothold in their own home.
Sure, it wasn’t my “dream match script of “Arsenal win 3-0, 70% of the possession, 22 shots, Jesus scores. Sterile domination. Potter dumbfounded. Arsenal again assert themselves clear top 3 candidates, pundits scramble to say otherwise.” But it was actually a lot closer than I would have guessed it would be.
Arsenal had 56% of the ball (61% in the first half), 14 shots, they produced 2.25 xG, they conceded only 5 shots and .29 xGA, and they managed to play 37% of the match in Chelsea’s final third. 37%! That’s 33.3 minutes of this match in their attacking area. The problem of course was the lack of concrete chances or shots converted to efforts on goal (2 SOG) and the 1-0 scoreline will always bring a nervy finish, but Arsenal felt composed, confident, and in control all the way through.
In my prematch blog, I talked about four keys to the game that would allow them, in Mikel’s words, to “earn the right to win”:
- A fast start that put them on the front foot
- Possession comparable to Arsenal’s numbers at Old Trafford
- Clean technical security that eliminated easy opportunities, especially from the back
- Score more than one goal
I’ll admit, I didn’t swing for the fences with these. There’s no historic “calling of shots” and Babe Ruth won’t be concerned I’m threatening his legacy, but when you’re on the road, these fundamental concepts can be hard. Look at Arsenal’s performance versus Southampton, how many of those things did Arenal check off? It’s important to do the little things right that guarantee, at the very least, you have a shot at winning. And while the Gunners could only achieve 3 of 4, they were superb at them.
From the opening minutes, Martinelli was trying his luck to find space behind on the left side and taking on defenders; Arsenal were into Chelsea’s half, the possession was composed; the press was darn near immaculate; and Potter’s side didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t being converted into chances, but Chelsea were penned into their area and plugging players behind the ball as if it were Conte on the sidelines.
When Chelsea did push out, almost everything was dealt with and the few moments Chelsea tried to press Arsenal into mistakes saw some of the most fluid moments from Arsenal’s build-up play all year. Like a hot knife through butter. No play embodied that success like the movement that nearly lead to Jesus’ goal (:37).
That composure around the box, that full team movement to go from back to front and right to left in a matter of seconds is scintillating stuff. The ball in from Martinelli is a peach; it’s just such a shame that Jesus can’t quite get that touch on it.
Inability to convert chances was the story of the whole game, as frustrating as that is to admit, but I guess a penned in Big 6 team has the talent to defend like that. Finally, the walls broke and pressure got through when Saka’s corner leaked through the 6 yard box untouched until Gabriel tapped it home. Ironically, it wasn’t the best day for set pieces up to that point.
But in a match where Arsenal were knocking on the door for the 62 minutes leading up to it, it was impossible not to feel like it was a matter of time. And the best part was, after the goal, it didn’t feel like Arsenal pulled their foot off Chelsea’s throats until their final substitutes brought on the defensive barricade.
It was a one-nill hammering. It was a statement win. It was an away match in which Arsenal played Chelsea off their own park. So many teams and people have been living for the moment that proves this success to be a farce, but it could not be any more clearer that Arsenal aren’t going away.
We. Aren’t. Going. Anywhere. Not this season and maybe not for the next decade with the foundations put in place. Get used to it Premier League.
In a match like this you could list almost the whole starting eleven. It was a team win and it felt like it. Up and down the lineup, everyone played their role superbly. And even though the attack wasn’t getting their shots away, they still accumulated over 2.00 xG. and put on one of their best pressing performances.
Still, I wanted to call out a few real standouts.
Saliba and Partey
Both these players probably deserve their own section in this article, but I wanted to put them together for a specific reason: composure. This Arsenal side is young — heck Saliba is one of the youngest players out there — but when everything it firing, this side is playing like a team of experienced veterans.
If there was one major takeaway from yesterday, it was just how composed this side can be. Composed on the ball, composed in hostile territories, composed when pressed in their own box, even composed with the pressure of people believing yesterday was the day Manchester City would end in first place and never give it up.
Everything yesterday looked calm and easy. Every thing. And these two were the embodiment and models of this concept on both sides of the ball. If Arsenal intend to continue this form and make the title charge they are demonstrating themselves capable of, they need to have these reliable rocks that are phased by nothing. When Saliba and Partey are at their best, Arsenal have a chance to beat anyone. They were outstanding.
Ben White and Zinchenko
Pairing with the composure element brought by Saliba and Partey, it only feels right to talk about these two and a fullback pairing.
In my predicted lineup I hoped we would see Zinchenko. It felt like match Arsenal needed possession and technical security and that’s what he brings. That’s what he BROUGHT, for that matter. While we didn’t see quite that same level of attacking presence and distribution in the final third that wowed everyone at the start of the season, Zinchenko’s ability to aid Arsenal’s progression out of the back made the whole game easy. He supported the switch of play, he creates the overload centrally, and his ability to offer midfield-levels of technical security have been missed — as good as Tierney and Tomiyasu have been in his stead.
On the other side, Ben White has been an under-the-radar standout this whole season and he was once more. He’s just an all-around solid player. He brings defensive quality, quality on the ball, size, athleticism, and I have to constantly remind myself this is still him learning to be a right back.
One of the most impressive parts of Arsenal’s performance was their counter press and ability keep Chelsea locked in their own half of the pitch. Both of these players, playing alongside Partey were invaluable to this success. Together they combined for: 2 interceptions, 9 recoveries, and 10/13 duels won. Today we will get the stats surrounding pressures, especially in the middle of the third, and I am confident these two will rank well in that regard as well.
Arsenal like to progress into that 2-3-5, sometimes 2-2-6, attacking shape and having a mobile and defensively effective “3” consisting of Zinchenko, Partey, and Ben White bring Arsenal to elite levels. It may not have even been Zinchenko’s best performance but both fullbacks were great. Together they are critical to Arsenal reaching their ceiling of potential this season.
Gabriel and the composed back four
I just complimented the entirety of Arsenal’s backline, but Gabriel cannot go unaccounted for. He gets the game-winning goal on the heads-up tap in, but I was more impressed with his clean, secure play and the balanced partnership that he and Saliba continue to develop each game.
Arsenal have only conceded 11 goals in 13 games (.84 per game) and a lot of that comes down to the comparisons and differences that are making Gabriel and Saliba a wonderful pairing. Gabriel was physical and imposing; Saliba smart, composed, and excellent at reading the game. Both are incredibly athletic and present a physical challenge for any attacker, but nothing will have made Arsenal fans prouder than them holding Aubameyang to just 8 touches.
With 4 clearances, 1 interception, 7 recoveries, and 4 duels won, Gabriel completed the puzzle in back and helped lead Arsenal to one of the most impressive wins of the season. The whole backline takes the honors today, along with Ramsdale, as they collect their 6th clean sheet of the season. SIX!… in just 13 matches. It’s incredibly impressive and they were the highlight of the entire match.
When you hammer a Big 6 team like Chelsea, on their own turf, there are never going to be a lot of worries. It take a complete team to get the job done and the whole team rose to the occasion. However, I do want to flag one thing:
Jesus’ frustrations with himself
At this point, everyone and their brother is aware that Jesus is in a goalscoring slump. To me, that’s not yet a worry. Yes, Arsenal will need him to score, but I still see a striker contributing to a lot of attacking moments, working shooting opportunities, and working tirelessly on and off the ball. He’s immense in our press, he floats around the attacking third to keep defenses guessing, he has changed the levels of fluidity our attack can offer, and I have to believe that sooner or later these are going to lead to goals. In fact, I have every reason to believe that he will score, re-find that confidence, and go on a tear to produce the numbers we saw at the start of the year.
My faith in him is unwavering, but I’m less confident his faith in himself is. There have been multiple occasions in the last few games, and in yesterday’s match, in which Jesus’ shots go wide or are saved and Gabriel slumps in frustration. His face sinks as if he is silently pleading for that moment of respite. It’s heartbreaking to see a human go through the “bargaining” stage of grief 4 times a match. He knows the burden he carries and the responsibility that falls on his shoulders. Even when he fired into Mendy from a tight angle, the type of angle you would expect your keeper to save, he seemed depressed that another shot didn’t find the net.
There’s never a problem with a striker feeling as though they should have done better or scored, but given the length of this slump and the heightened displays of frustration post-shot in the last few, my concern is that he begins to shy away from being THE guy. He begins to pass up opportunities to shoot or run at defenders and instead looks to pass the opportunity on to someone else. Frankly, Arsenal can’t afford that. Yes, our scoring has been evenly split and that remains one of the best aspects of this team — good riddance to the days where Aubameyang out scored the rest of the side by 10-15 goals — but Arsenal need him to keep shooting.
There’s no takeaway as of now, but if we start to see Gabriel passing up shots or see his shot attempts dwindle, Arsenal will have a real problem on their hands.
Arsenal return to their comfortable perch at the top of the league after making their latest massive statement in seasons filled with them. Their intent is clear, their capabilities are becoming unquestionable, and deny it as much as some people may want — this team is the real deal.
After another lackluster performance against Zurich saw Arsenal claim the group lead many, myself included, to question the depth, the response as immense. Arteta nailed it on the head, as he often does, when he said:
“It’s another step as a team, to come here against a top opponent, top manager, top world-class players around the pitch, and dominate the game and actually win it, it’s very meaningful and hopefully will give the boys more belief.”
EFL Cup campaign kicks off against Brighton midweek. It would be excellent to see Arsenal test themselves this year by keeping their schedule busy and make a few deep runs toward silverware. Enjoy the win, Gooners!