Arsenal put in one of their best performances at the Emirates Stadium in an electrifying 3-0 win over Chelsea that ended a run of 9 competitive matches without a win over our West London rivals. This match was similar to the 3-0 home win over Manchester United last season- we destroyed them in the first half then put in a composed, professional second half performance to cruise to the three points.
I was admittedly skeptical of Wenger’s starting 11. In the preview to the match I discussed how I thought Alexis would be best deployed on the left where he’d be matched up against the aging and increasingly slow Branislav Ivanovic. However, the decision proved to be the right one. Alexis’s tireless energy closing the ball down as the highest man up the pitch set the tone for how we defended behind him. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an Arsenal side close down the ball as quickly as we did Saturday. More than anything tactically I think it was this difference in energy levels between the sides that led to our dominant performance.
It’s a clear sign of a committed performance when Walcott ties for the team leader in tackles (Walcott, Mustafi, Xhaka and Koscielny all had 3). I thought we maybe should have let him go in the summer but he’s proved his doubters wrong, already pitching in with 3 goals and an assist. Equally importantly he’s putting more effort into the defensive side of his game. Over the summer Wenger suggested he’d struggle to play on the right wing because of his defensive weakness and it appears he’s been motivated by the managers comments. He’s averaging 2 tackles per game this season, more than four times as many as last season when he averaged under half. He’s also averaging over a foul a game (1.2 per game). In the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 season he averaged 0.1 tackles per game. You of course don’t want players committing fouls in dangerous areas but those numbers show that he’s added some bite and is willing to get tight to the opposition in defense.
We had 19 total tackles as a team and 24 interceptions, double Chelsea’s total. After getting physically dominated Conte may regret selecting Fabregas in midfield over Oscar. Conte has expressed that he thinks his side is most balanced with the Brazilian in midfield over Fabregas, but after Fabregas scored twice midweek in the EFL Cup he kept his place in the side. Oscar leads Chelsea in tackles per game and has the energy and pace to close down the opposition then make driving runs forward when Chelsea win the ball back.
With Chelsea pinned back defending us with a midfield bank of five, Diego Costa was left isolated up front. He worked hard to provide the visitors with an outlet but had to hold the ball on his own against our two center backs waiting for midfield runners to get forward in support. Neither Matic nor Fabregas, Chelsea’s two midfield shuttlers, are particularly quick and therefore couldn’t get up the pitch quickly enough to provide their striker a passing option. Costa grew increasingly frustrated as Mustafi and Koscielny physically bullied him in a way he’s not used to. Oscar may have provided the legs to apply more pressure on us in midfield then break forward to get close to Costa in possession and provide a pass.
Our individual performances were superlative across the pitch. The center back partnership was particularly promising. After steady but unspectacular performances in his first three appearances, Mustafi was different class. He led all players in both tackles (3) and interceptions (6). Together he and Koscelny led all players in interceptions (6 for Mustafi, 4 for Koscielny), clearances (6 for Koscielny, 4 for Mustafi) and headed clearances (4 for Koscielny and 3 for Mustafi). Koscielny also led all players in blocks (2) and defensive aerial duels won (5). For the one mistake they made, a mixup near midfield that allowed Pedro through on goal, Bellerin made one of those recovery runs only Hector Bellerin is capable of. He made Pedro look like Ivanovic.
The Spaniard was spectacular in his own right. The vision and technique he displayed for the assist to Walcott on our second goal was maybe my favorite bit of play in the entire game.
Ozil’s performance should quiet some of those who have said he’s not a player for the big occasions. The way he spun last season’s best defensive midfielder in the buildup to his goal was excellent and the move itself illustrated the advantages of playing Alexis over Giroud up front. Ozil and Alexis seem to have a telepathic understanding of one another and it’s difficult to imagine Giroud making the same perfectly timed diagonal run between the two Chelsea center backs that Sanchez made. Alexis’s mobility makes us a far more dangerous side on the counter.
Ozil has above a 90% pass success rate at the moment (90.3%), a ridiculous percentage for a #10 who plays high up the pitch and therefore attempts more risky passes that are less likely to come off. By comparison Kevin De Bruyne has an 83.4% pass success rate, David Silva is at 87.8%, Wayne Rooney is at 86.5%, Philippe Coutinho is at 85.5% and Delle Ali is at 83.3%.
I was seriously concerned when we were forced to replace Coquelin early. With Elneny not even making the subs bench it was clear that Xhaka would be the replacement and although I’m really excited about him and want to see him play more than he has, my fear was that a Xhaka-Santi partnership at the base of midfield wouldn’t provide enough defensive cover for the Chelsea onslaught to get back in the game that I figured would come at some point. Our midfield bank of four looked a bit stretched during a couple moments in the second half but overall I thought Xhaka filled in brilliantly, contributing 3 tackles and completing 94% of his passes, higher than any player on the pitch but Monreal. Thankfully Coquelin’s injury sounds like it’s less serious than initially feared but his temporary absence should give Xhaka an opportunity to get a consistent run of games in and gel into the squad.
Too often when we win I nitpick at the performance and fail to really enjoy it. Saturday’s performance was a welcome reminder of how much fun supporting a football team can occasionally be. Yes this is only one game. No we shouldn’t get carried away with the result. Yes we’ll be judged by our consistency at the end of the season, something we’ve struggled with for years. But you may only get to watch a performance as comprehensively dominant as Saturday was against another top side once a season (if that). If you can’t delight in that then it’s probably not worth tuning in every week. A memorable performance made better because of who it was against. Four wins on the trot and four very winnable league fixtures against Burnley, Swansea, Middlesborough and Sunderland in the month of October mean we have a real chance to build some momentum ahead of Tottenham’s visit to the Emirates in early November.