Monday, September 26, 2016

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0

Arsenal were on a winless run against Chelsea stretching over nearly 5 years, bar their 1-0 Community Shield win in August last year. We also failed to score in any of the last 6 meetings and had players sent off against them more than any other club (7). Per Mertesacker, Gabriel, Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs (for a mistaken identity) falling victim to Chelsea's tactics in those games were all fresh in our memory. All the players were more than aware that they had to keep 11 men on the pitch this time round. Despite these "inconvenient facts", the north London side were on the up, with newly found confidence from back-to-back emphatic wins away from home. That was the source of our belief that this season could be different.

 Arsene Wenger named unchanged starting XI from the side that started in a convincing 4-1 victory over Hull City at KCOM stadium last Saturday. Wenger's experiment to deploy Alexis Sanchez as a centre-forward continued even after Lucas Perez opened his goal-scoring account in the mid-week EFL Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. Olivier Giroud was only fit to start on the bench after recovering from a toe injury he sustained in the Champions League game against PSG. The exclusion of Granit Xhaka from the starting line-up raised a few eyebrows after the Swiss international scored two stunning long-range goals in the last 2 games in a row. However, for what was expected to be a feisty meeting, more experienced Francis Coqelin seemed a better choice to us, given Xhaka's dubious disciplinary record in the Bundesliga.

The game got off to an intense start fit for a London derby. When Koscielny took down Diego Costa just outside the box, the visitors appealed for a penalty. Alexis capitalised on Cahill's error in the 11th minute to coolly chip the ball over Courtois into the net. 3 minutes later, Theo doubled the lead by slotting home a Bellerin cross after a well-worked  build-up. We had waited for a league goal against the London rivals for the last 3 seasons. Now we got two. On 40 minutes, the goal tally increased to three. Ozil turned Kante (this match-up between the two midfielders was dubbed as the key battle of the game prior to the match), initiating a sweeping counter-attacking move. Ozil released Alexis with his perfectly-weighed pass and the Chilean picked out Ozil at the back post with a fine cross. Our passing was sharp and crisp, with quick movements throughout the pitch. The boss described it as an "nearly perfect" first half.

The second-half may have been a little quieter affair as Arsenal were happy to sit back and trying to attack on the counter. Perhaps, that's the reason why our possession was surprisingly low at 49% despite the dominance. We should have added a couple more goals, but Arsenal's inclination to overplay was to blame. Nevertheless, Arsenal were in total control. We stayed strong not to get Chelsea back in the game. Diego Costa cut a frustrated figure as Koscielny and Mustafi totally negated his threat and totally ignored his theatricals. Overall, it was a very strong team performance from the Gunners. We outplayed Chelsea in all areas.

The only negative was Coquelin's injury. The French midfielder was taken off in the 31st minute due to a knee injury. After the match, Wenger revealed that it was the same knee he injured last November. On that day, Coquelin was replaced by Mikel Arteta, who scored an own goal in his cameo appearance before being taken off through an injury to himself. The game ended in our 2-1 defeat to West Brom. It used to be that an injury to a major player would result  in a lesser player coming on but we now have strength in depth especially in midfield. On this occasion, Xhaka was introduced to fill the void Coquelin left, seamlessly integrated into the team. Coquelin's injury is a blow, but we now have some depth in the squad to mitigate it. Xhaka will probably be a starter in the absence of Coqulin, which should put an end to an argument as to whether Wenger is right to not start the £35 million signing. Elneny can also share the responsibility.

It took some time for us to get going this season, largely because of injuries and Euro 2016 exertion to the key players. Wenger may deserve criticism for the late arrival of reinforcement, but we are truly up and running now, with the Koscielny-Mustfi partnership starting to look a real force. Hopefully, we can build on this impressive performance. Before we get back to the Premier League action, we have a must-win home game against FC Basel on Wednesday night.

Players ratings

Cech: 6
With his former club registering no shot on target until 75th minute, he had little to do. But when he was called upon, he produced a brilliant save to deny Batshuayi's shot.  

Bellerin: 8
Delivered a perfect cross to set up Theo's goal. Used his pace well to make a last-ditch tackle on Pedro at a crucial moment.

Mustafi: 8

He has started proving a great signing for us as he has begun to form a solid central defensive partnership with Koscielny. Made 3 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 5 clearances.

Koscielny: 8

Took no notice of Costa's provocative actions. Kept him quiet throughout the game, together with Mustafi, with the result that Diego Costa only had 2 touches in the box. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 7 clearances.

Monreal: 7
His positional play was a cause of concern for us in recent games, but he coped alright in this game. As usual he made a lot of overlapping runs down the wing.

Cazorla: 8

His powerful shot drew a fine save from Courtois in the early stages. Made more passes (85) than any other player on the pitch, with a 88.2% accuracy.

Coquelin: 7
Played well until he got injured. Made 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 22 passes with a 86.2% passing completion rate in his 31 minutes on the pitch. Hopefully, his injury is not too serious. 

Walcott: 9
As Wenger predicted, he is a different animal this season with a renewed hunger. The difference this season is his defensive commitment. He takes a great pleasure in keeping a clean sheet as if it was his foremost priority. Worked hard, tracking back, covering the right-back, and pressing the Chelsea players. Scored Arsenal's second goal. Unlucky not to score another. On another occasion, when he should have gone for a goal, he instead over-hit a cross for Alexis.

Özil: 9
Made 72 passes, including 3 key passes, with an impressive 90.3% accuracy. Good finish to complete the great counter-attacking movement he initiated. He even contributed to defending as well, making 2 tackles and 2 interceptions.

Iwobi: 8
Picked out Bellerin's run in the build-up to Theo's goal. 

Alexis: 9
Scored a goal and set up another. He was at his best in this role, showing his pace, composure and skills.


Xhaka: 7
Replaced Coquelin in the 31st minutes. His incisive pass to pick out Walcott's run on the right-hand side nearly paid off. Made 3 tackles, 1 interception, 3 clearances and 49 passes with a 93.9% passing success rate.

Gibbs: 7
Came on for Iwobi in the 69th minute to shore up the defence. It was also Wenger's offensive tactical change to respond to Chelsea's 3-men defence. While Iwobi tends to cut inside, Gibbs stays wide and runs to the byline, which stretched Chelsea's narrow defence. Astute substitution from Wenger.

Giroud: 6
Replaced Alexis in the 79th minute. He had a simple  task of keeping the ball up and failed to accomplish it.