Arsenal batter Chelsea in most complete performance in recent memory

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Arsenal's matchweek 6 scouting report: Chelsea

This match should provide an indicator of where we’re at as a squad. Despite having not lost since the opening day of the season, the Watford match was the only one where we looked convincing. We struggled to create chances in the 0-0 draw at champions Leicester, won late at home against a struggling Southampton side courtesy of a controversial last minute penalty, were played off the park in Paris and owed our draw to poor finishing from Edinson Cavani and endured a nervy few second half minutes last weekend against Hull when we allowed them back into the game despite being 2-0 up with a man advantage.

There are certainly positives to draw from those results. Traditionally we haven’t been great at scraping out results when we’re not at our best and we showed some strong character in each of those matches. However it’s difficult to imagine us getting anything from Chelsea if we don’t improve the level of performance. We haven’t beaten Chelsea in the league since the thrilling 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge when they were coached by Andre Villas-Boas and we haven’t scored in our last six league meetings.

Like Arsenal, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have only looked really convincing in one match this season, their 3-0 win over Burnley. In their first two matches, 2-1 wins over West Ham and Watford, they required late winners from Diego Costa. The combative striker was extremely fortunate to have escaped a sending off in both matches prior to getting the winners. Their luck with officials seemed to run out in a 2-2 draw against Swansea. Leroy Fer went through the back of Gary Cahill and ended up scoring to put Swansea in the lead. Costa would again provide the heroics with a late equalizer. Last Friday Conte’s side was made to look toothless and rigid against a dynamic Liverpool side in a 2-1 home defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s charges.

The Blues will be desperate to avoid going three league matches without a win and falling further behind pace setters Manchester City. Does the added motivation of getting the season back on track after a mini-run of poor results win out over the dip in confidence brought about by poor form?


Antonio Conte has started games with a 4-3-3 formation so far this season. David Luiz started alongside Gary Hill in the center of defense against Liverpool with John Terry sidelined with an ankle injury. The Chelsea captain could regain fitness in time to start this weekend however. Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic will almost certainly take up the fullback positions. N’Golo Kante shields the back four at the base of midfield with Nemanja Matic in a slightly more advanced shuttling role to his left and Oscar to his right. Eden Hazard will be on the left wing, Willian on the right wing. The in-form Costa will be up top.

Ball winning midfielders

With a midfield trio of Kante, Matic and Oscar, Chelsea have three players whose strongest qualities are their tackling ability and willingness to contribute energy defensively. British commentators this season have lazily suggested Oscar has just developed a defensive work rate under Conte, that attitude coming solely on the basis that he’s Brazilian and played in advanced positions throughout his career, mainly as a #10 at Chelsea but also in a wider role at times with Brazil. However, his energy in pressing the opposition and winning the ball back high up the pitch has always been one of his biggest attributes. During the first half of the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons Jose Mourinho heaped praise on the Brazilian for the energy he displayed pressing high up the pitch. He fell off in the second half of those seasons, likely due in large part to the fact he hadn’t had a summer break in years after being involved with the Brazil 2012 Olympic team, the 2013 Confederations Cup team and the 2014 World Cup team, but his playing style has always involved defensive discipline and hard work. He currently leads all Chelsea players with an average of 3.6 tackles per game, a touch more than even Kante at 3.4. 

Chelsea defend with a midfield block of five with Oscar dropping in alongside Matic and Kante rather than defending higher up the pitch with Costa as he tended to do under Mourinho. Against three mobile and physical center midfielders we’ll need to move the ball quickly and find gaps between their back four and midfield bank of five. Liverpool had success when their two wide attackers Coutinho and Sadio Mane tucked inside from the channels in the space between the Chelsea fullbacks and Kante. This movement forced Chelsea into difficult decisions defensively. If the fullbacks drifted inside to pick up Mane and Coutinho it left too much space in the channels for the Liverpool fullbacks to overlap into (image 1).

If Cahill or David Luiz stepped forward to pick them up it left a gap in the Chelsea back four and space for Liverpool to run into behind the Chelsea defense (image 2).

If the center midfielders dropped off to get tight to them Chelsea would have been defending too deep and allowing Liverpool’s three center midfielders Henderson, Lallana and Wijnaldum too much time and space on the ball (image 3).

If they did nothing it allowed opportunities for Mane and Coutinho to receive passes between the lines and run at the back four where both are quite dangerous (image 4).

If we can similarly force Chelsea's fullbacks into deciding whether to drift inside to track our wide attackers towards the center of the pitch and open the channels to overlapping fullbacks or to stay put and leave space between the lines we should enjoy some success.

Chelsea counter

The ball-winning capabilities of Chelsea’s midfield three mean we’ll have to be really diligent in possession in midfield. If we allow them to make interceptions or win tackles off us cheaply it’ll create counter-attacking opportunities for them. In Willian and Hazard the Blues have two players that are excellent in transition. There are few players better at dribbling past opposition defenders in space than Hazard and after enduring a poor campaign last season he is getting back to his best. He has completed more successful dribbles than any player in the Premier League with 4.8 per game and has already found the net twice after scoring just 4 in the league last season. On the opposite channel Willian has completed 4.3 key passes per game, tied with Dimitri Payet for most in the league. I've included Alexis's successful take ons and key pass stats in the graphic below for comparison.

In Diego Costa they have a striker returning to form and capable of putting away chances created by Hazard and Willian. He’s averaging a goal per game and isn’t a player we’ve particularly enjoyed playing in the past(insert Squawka comparison here). Few Arsenal fans will forget our two meetings last season when he got Gabriel sent off in September and forced Mertesacker into a last ditch tackle in January that resulted in a red card. We went on to lose both of those matches. Maintaining our discipline will therefore be key. You can count on Costa to look to wind us up into doing something stupid. Mertesacker and Gabriel are of course out through injury this time around but I worry about Mustafi in what I believe will be his first meeting against Costa (he arrived in Spain at Valencia just as Costa was leaving Atletico Madrid for Chelsea). Mustafi has only been sent off twice in his career and hopefully Wenger will be reminding the players this week of the importance of keeping 11 men on the pitch.

Midfield balance

Following the draw at Swansea and defeat to Liverpool some Chelsea fans are suggesting Conte doesn’t have the midfield balance right. I’ve seen some suggest Matic should be playing at the base of midfield, with Kante in more of the box-to-box role and either Oscar or Cesc Fabregas in the #10 role. Swapping Kante and Matic is an interesting one because when you look at their statistics both have performed quite well in the roles given to them by Conte. Kante has the highest pass success rate of any player in the league at 94.1% and has done fine circulating possession in an Arteta-like role when Chelsea have the ball. Matic already has two assists in the more advanced box-to-box role.

However, I can see where Chelsea fans are coming from. Their midfield did look a bit static and toothless against Liverpool. In Matic, Kante and Oscar they have three active, disciplined players but none offer a consistently expansive range of passing. Fabregas certainly does (and can offer a goal threat as well as he scored two in the League Cup Tuesday) and Conte has options for getting him on the pitch. I think the issue Conte sees with the Spanish midfielder is that his presence in the squad compromises the really strong spine he likes from his sides.

At Juventus he was happy playing Andrea Pirlo in a regista deep lying creator role because he was playing with three brilliant center backs behind him and two extremely physical, athletic ball winners either side of him in Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. At Chelsea he’s playing with only two center backs so replacing one of the current center midfielders with the much slower, less physical Fabregas means compromising some defensive solidity.

I’m curious if the signing of David Luiz means Conte may at some point in the near future switch to the 3-5-2 he preferred at Juventus. This shape would more easily allow for Fabregas’s inclusion in the starting eleven. He could then operate in his best deep lying creator position with two of Kante, Oscar or Matic in the box-to-box roles. Alternatively if Conte felt he was needed higher up the pitch they could flip the triangle and play two of Kante, Matic or Oscar as a double pivot with Fabregas higher up the pitch in a #10 role.

I don’t envision Conte throwing his side out in a 3-5-2 for the first time in a game of this magnitude but you never know.

Conte not afraid to change approach

Conte is celebrated for his tactical acumen- his performance with an underwhelming group of Italian players in the Euros this summer was as impressive a display as any player- and has shown early this season he isn’t afraid to alter his approach in-game when chasing a result. In both the Watford and West Ham games his side scored game winners after bringing on Michy Batshuayi and switching to a more direct 4-4-2 with crosses coming into the box from the channels.

Batshuayi provided a cushioned headed knock down from a 50 yard Matic long ball for Costa to collect and shoot past Adrian for the winner against West Ham. The following weekend he provided the leveler against Watford before fellow second half substitute Fabregas played a perfectly weighted through ball to Costa for the winner.

Where Wenger is reluctant to make anything but like-for-like substitutions, Conte takes a more proactive approach in looking to influence the game from the technical area. It was strange then that against Liverpool he waited until the 84th minute before making a triple change that included Victor Moses for Willian, who I thought had been Chelsea’s best player up to that point. Wenger will have to be alert to any in-game changes Conte makes over the course of the 90 minutes and react to those changes with moves of our own if necessary.

Slow defense

Chelsea don’t have the quickest defense, especially if they go with a Terry-Cahill combo at center back and leave David Luiz on the bench. If Wenger does anticipate a Terry-Cahill partnership it might be a decent game to give Lucas Perez the nod at striker. He offers more pace and mobility than Giroud and Cahill and Terry are generally pretty comfortable against physical, less pacey strikers like Giroud.

I’d definitely like to see Wenger play Alexis on the left. Ivanovic has struggled mightily defending 1 v. 1 in the channels over the last two seasons against quicker players. There are few players that aren’t quicker than the Serbian right back these days- Alexis should have his way if we get him in space to run at Ivanovic.

(Update: Conte has announced Terry has not regained fitness and will not play tomorrow)

Chelsea pressing improves after disjointed start

Chelsea maintained their perfect start the Premier League season with a 4-2 home win over Swansea. Jose Mourinho's side were too disjointed in their pressing early on, allowing too much space between the midfield and back four, but improved in that area just before the half hour mark and took firm control of the game from there.


Mourinho opted for the same starting 11 and 4-2-3-1 formation he used in Chelsea's first two games against Burnley and Leicester with Cesc Fabregas playing a deeper role in midfield just in front of Nemanja Matic and Oscar as the most advanced midfielder. The Matic-Fabregas holding midfield partnership appears as though it'll be one Mourinho uses at home or against weaker opposition. It allows Chelsea to have an additional creative player on the pitch but comes at the expense of playing two defensive holders to protect the back four and as a result Chelsea can become a bit more stretched. The presence of an additional creator against weaker opposition is an important one- too often last season Chelsea were unable to break down deep defenses. On the road at Everton Mourinho played Fabregas as the #10 with Ramires partnering Matic in the holding roles in a move that in theory was meant to make the side more compact at the back. They went on to concede three that day in a 6-3 win but the personnel decision reflects Mourinho's focus on not losing and allowing the opposition to make mistakes against top sides on the road rather than proactively setting up to take the game to the opposition. We'll likely see Fabregas as the #10 next week away to Manchester City with two defensive holders behind.

Gary Monk's only change to the side that won its first three league games was the inclusion of Bafetimbi Gomis for Wilfried Bony who had just met up with the team from international duty yesterday.

Chelsea press disjointed

Early on Chelsea appeared to be caught between two minds whether they wanted to press high up the pitch or drop off and defend in banks of four. At times Fabregas and Matic would step forward to join the front four and press but the Chelsea back four didn't step forward in tandem to play a higher line. As a result, there was a big gap between the pressing midfielders and the back four. Sigurdsson and Gomis got on the ball in these positions before moving it wide where Dyer and Routledge could use their pace to run at Azpilicueta and Ivanovic.

The two images below give an of Chelsea's failure to press as a unit. Diego Costa closes Amat down, Hazard is tight to Rangel, Matic has moved forward tight to Ki, Fabregas (just at the edge of the shot) is moving towards Shelvey, Oscar is in a position to deny a pass into Shelvey or close down Ashley Williams if Amat plays a square pass to his left. Here, the front six are in good pressing positions.

However, the back four are far too deep. Amat picks out Sigurdsson positioning himself between the lines (below). He receives the pass with loads of space to turn- you don't even see Chelsea's defenders in the screen shot below. With Swansea playing a lone striker, the Chelsea center backs have a 2 v. 1 advantage. Therefore, when the midfielders press, one should be able to step out from the defensive line and get tight to the back of Sigurdsson, not allowing him to turn.

It isn't hugely surprising that Terry and Cahill were reluctant to move up the pitch and play a higher line. While both are positionally solid, neither have a tremendous amount of pace and would be worried about opposition attackers running in behind them. Both are more comfortable playing a deeper line and dealing with high crosses into the box.

Chelsea's pressing midfielders were also at fault for the early struggles. They were hesitant and uncertain when closing down the ball and as a result Swansea had that extra second to pick their heads up and find a pass.

Chelsea press improves

Right around the half hour mark Chelsea began to press with more conviction. There was a 20 second or so spell where Fabregas and Oscar closed Shelvey 30 yards from goal and committed a foul. Amat played the resulting free kick square to Williams rather sending it forward and Diego Costa and Oscar immediately pressed the two Swansea center backs. Amat received a pass back from Williams and played the ball forward into Shelvey who was put under pressure straight away by Fabregas. He was forced to play back into Fabianski's feet and the goalkeeper simply had to hoof it forward to escape the pressure. From that point on Swansea couldn't find a way out of their own half and Chelsea took control of the game. In the opening 29 minutes Swansea completed 11 passes into the attacking third. For the remainder of the half they completed just 1.

Mourinho moves to 4-3-3

At the start of the second half Mourinho introduced Ramires for Schurrle and moved to a 4-3-3 shape. Matic anchored the midfield with Ramires to his right and Fabregas to his left, Oscar moved to an attacking right position. Chelsea continued to press relentlessly and man marked in midfield with Ramires and Fabregas versus Ki and Shelvey and Matic versus Sigurdsson in front of the Chelsea back four.

The major impact the change had for Chelsea was that it allowed Fabregas to get into more advanced areas to dictate tempo in the attacking third, knowing that he had two midfield partners in Ramires and Matic that were going to do the defensive leg work. With his position on the left of the Chelsea midfield trio he was able to create overloads and combine for 1-2's with Hazard in his position down the left channel. The two combined brilliantly for Chelsea and Diego Costa's second. Fabregas played 12 attacking third passes in the first half in his slightly deeper role, 17 in the second half before being subbed off in the 82nd including the assist to Costa.

Diego Costa

Costa has been on fire, his hat trick today taking his tally on the season to 7 in 4 league matches. Mourinho lamented his lack of an in form striker last season. Costa's goals today were of the poaching sort Chelsea desperately lacked last season. Last season Torres constantly dropped between the lines to try to link play forward and at times was effective in doing so. However, he never seemed to pop up in key areas in the box to finish moves off. Costa doesn't drop off the opposition back four to get on the ball and link play forward- with the attacking midfielders Chelsea have he shouldn't need to. He'll drift into the to get on the ball and run at defenders but always gets himself into the right areas in the box when Chelsea get into dangerous positions. He's also an imposing physical presence. His headed opener showed his power and strength, his second and third showed his positional instincts.