Saturday, April 1, 2023

Musings From Arsenal’s Incredible Win Over Chelsea: Not All Rosy Despite A Landslide Win

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Arsenal exercised their demons when they finally beat Chelsea at home after almost 6 years on Saturday to lift their whole squad as well as their fan base. After a breathtaking first half, where the hosts just passed their opponents to death and managed to be clinical in front of the goal too, it was a game where the Home Crowd saw two different approaches from Arsenal in the two halves which allowed them to have the control of the game for most parts.

With that great victory, a lot of talking points came out for both the teams which are certain to be addressed by the manager and the team management. Let’s talk through some points which I felt the game gave away.

Both The Teams Have Problems With One Of Their Wingers

Arsenal’s 20-year old sensation, Alex Iwobi, gave a commanding display showing his exceptional quality on the ball with his precision passing and apt decision making in the forward areas in the game on Saturday. Iwobi linked up excellently with the likes of Sanchez, Ozil, Cazorla and Monreal to provide the attacking threat needed against the experienced Chelsea defenders and even got the better of them with his movement but the problem lied when the home team were in the defensive phase without the ball.

Iwobi, just as he did against Hull City, didn’t provide any support to his fullback in Nacho Monreal leaving him exposed on a couple of occasions early in the first half. Chelsea right winger Willian, as a result, got into some dangerous positions in and around the Arsenal penalty box enjoying plenty of space. While his forward play is proving to be very productive, Iwobi should improve his work rate and defensive discipline in the defensive phase or else he can cost his team goals.

Just like Iwobi, Eden Hazard displayed the same reluctance to cover his fullback and cost his team goal in the game. Arsenal’s second goal was a result of Hazard being too careless and not getting back to position himself in between the pass Iwobi played and the overlapping full-back Hector Bellerin.

Antonio Conte was visibly upset with the immaturity of his player as the manager quickly turned his back with his head faced downwards on the touchline. Hazard is Chelsea’s best player without a doubt but the game against Arsenal showed that even the best players can be the factors behind a team conceding a goal and on the result if they don’t perform their duties in the defensive phase.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Iwobi of Arsenal (L) is fouled by Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea (R) during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

With Coquelin Injured Arsenal Now Faces A Test In defensive Midfield

It’s no secret that this season is going to be the toughest yet for all the teams involved in the Premier League. To ensure a good season, winning silverware in the league as well as in the other competitions requires squad depth.

For a long time, the Gunners suffered from a thin squad, or more appropriately, a big squad which in reality was transformed to a thin one due to the player injuries. This year it’s being presumed that Arsene does have the options and the personnel at his helm to have a season with a satisfying end.

The biggest problem area of the Gunners was addressed finally in this summer transfer window with the incoming transfer of Granit Xhaka for £34m. With Xhaka, Coquelin and Elneny, the team had the players who can fill that role and Coquelin provided the tackling cover which the team needed in many games alternating with Xhaka beside the ever present Santi Cazorla. However, against Chelsea, Coquelin suffered an injury and had to be substituted in the 34th minute of the first half.

With Coquelin gone now for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Arsenal face another big fight to cope with that position. Xhaka can do his job expertly in the position but he will be overworked which is not good at all. Moreover, Elneny, who was brought in as the designated defensive midfielder has shown that he is not the destroyer the team needs.

Rather, the Egyptian is a highly intelligent and energetic midfielder who can keep things ticking smoothly in the middle of the park functioning best beside a tackler, in the role of a covering defensive midfielder. In games where the team would need that tackling efficiency and cover, Elneny won’t be able to provide it and Xhaka would have to do most of the dirty work which is not very encouraging given the Swiss internationals disciplinary record.


Arsenal Showed Their Tactical Flexibility

In the past, many people have accused Arsene Wenger of knowing nothing about tactics and playing only in one way. While those so-called experts were put to their places innumerous times, the talks surface after every draw or a loss but never have I heard anybody praising Wenger over his tactics after a win. That’s mainly because Arsene Wenger is not like the other managers those who want to stay in the limelight always, highlighting their individuality after any success and quickly resorting to blaming others when things go awry.

Against Chelsea, it was the perfect example of how a master tactician like Conte was outwitted by his counterpart. Right from the start, the controlled pressing was evident with the forward players hurrying the defenders of Chelsea who had shaky starts to the season forcing them into mistakes from which the home team created a lot of chances.

Within the first 25 minutes, Monreal had difficulty twice in countering the space left by Iwobi not tracking back providing a free passage for Willian on the right. When Xhaka came on, Monreal was able to cope with Willian better as despite offering perhaps a lesser tackling threat than Coquelin, Xhaka is a player who has better positioning and stopped a lot of passes to be played through the middle with his positioning allowing the left back to stay a bit wider and deal comfortably with Willian on occasions.

After scoring three goals in the first half, the Gunners showed very good game management with their far more conservative yet controlled approach in the second half. Drawing in Chelsea into their half, opened up even more spaces for the home side on the counter attack and they could have scored some more goals with the chances created.

Even though the visitors also got their best chances in the second half, the defence stood firm and all the players in the Arsenal backline performed exceedingly well to keep a clean sheet which was a great satisfaction for the manager along with the goals scored.

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