With many suggesting this would be a game where Arsenal would be the proverbial ‘lambs to the slaughter’, it was quite a surprise when the London derby ended goalless. A plethora of chances were squandered by both sides as the deadlock lasted the full 90 minutes. Antonio Conte may well have been taken a back by Arsenal’s defensive stability on the day but it provides nowhere near an excuse as to why the hosts were so poor in attack.
Chelsea’s wing backs meet their match
One of Chelsea’s recent successes has been their use of wing backs Marcos Alonso & Victor Moses. More often they not they stick to the touchline to bomb up & down the pitch. They regularly do this with success as they peg back their opposite numbers but today it was a harder job than expected. Kolasinac’s strength made it hard for Moses to hold off his man whilst Bellerin’s blistering pace had Alonso back peddling for a majority of the afternoon. Arsenal’s wing backs had physical characteristics that made it easy for them to recover, making it vital that Chelsea’s wing backs made use of the times they beat their men. It could be argued that Arsenal’s wing backs had more success thus forcing Chelsea to play centrally, something they’d prefer to avoid until the final third.
As Eden Hazard could only start from the bench, Willian took responsibility as Chelsea’s final third creator in chief. Drifting inwards from the right, Willian came centrally to give Chelsea an asymmetric 4-3-3 shape. This allowed Chelsea to overload the midfield & force Ramsey to be restricted when going forward as he had to keep Willian’s positioning in mind. This drew Mustafi (Willian’s original marker) closer to the Brazilian thus causing Kolasinac to come inwards in an attempt to cover his teammate, all this did was open up space for Victor Moses out on the wing. This was an intelligent idea from Conte but it would’ve been more effective with a more productive creator such as Eden Hazard or Cesc Fabregas (who performed such a role against Leicester).
Problems in transition
Chelsea’s 2 man midfield axis of Kante & Fabregas did okay defensively but struggled to do enough to allow Chelsea to dominate the centre of the pitch. Whenever Chelsea’s centre backs were on the ball they struggled to connect to their midfielders. If Kante dropped deep, his passing range & accuracy weren’t good enough to find a teammate higher up the pitch & whenever Fabregas dropped deep, he was poor when it came to playing on the half-turn. To make matters even more complicated, Lacazette dropped deeper to allow Cahill & Luiz time on the ball knowing they couldn’t make an easy vertical pass. Apart from the obvious solution of adding an extra midfielder, Chelsea’s centre backs could’ve been braver on the ball, pushing forward on the ball to find a pass to one of Chelsea’s front three. The Kante-Fabregas pairing may not be the best when facing sustained pressure, as it has shown well to play in games where they dominate possession (Leicester City away) or games where they must be more alert defensively (Manchester City away last season).
It isn’t the end of the world for Chelsea but with the Manchester clubs storming away so early, lost ground now may be hard to recover from later on in the season. Next up in the league for the Blues is a trip to Stoke followed by a visit from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. It is still early doors, but those doors may not stay so open.