Chelsea v Arsenal match analysis reveals Wenger’s mistakes and Chelsea’s strengthes

Last time Arsenal and Chelsea met, The Blues were in middle of the table and eight points behind Manchester City at the top. The final third of that match saw Chelsea three goals down as Conte introduced 3-4-3 formation and never looked back again. That was the end of September and, after yesterday return clash with Arsenal, The Blues are running away with the title.

Coming to Stamford Bridge Arsenal had to win the game in order to keep themselves in the title race. It was always difficult as they were on low morale after shock defeat against Watford at Emirates. Injuries to Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny away with Egypt squad made it even tougher challenge. In the end, Wenger had little to chose from. He opted for Oxlade Chamberlain alongside Coqueline and Mesut Özil in the midfield. Iwobi and Walcott were kept on wings while Sanchez kept his place as a central forward. Rather unusual pair in the center of midfield had to face the best center midfield pair in the Premier League – Kante and Matić.

On the other side, Conte had no worries regarding his first eleven. No injuries, no suspensions and only doubt was Willian or Pedro. In the end Spaniard got the place as the right sided attacker.

Chelsea doesn’t change the first eleven, and they didn’t change their approach to the match against Arsenal compared to the previous game when they faced Liverpool. Conte has full confidence in his team when the opposition has the ball and Chelsea was happy to give it to Arsenal.The host came out of the dressing room with clear idea to sit tight and get Arsenal on counter attack.

Wenger, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the nerve, desire or confidence in his team to sit out the match and play counter attacking or any kind of patient football. He is all about possession and that is what he wanted on Stamford Bridge.

When Chelsea had the ball in their defensive third Arsenal was resolute to press them tight and win the ball high up the pitch from the first whistle. Once they were in position to set up an attack, Arsenal were pushing the defensive line very high. At the beginning they started with Özil on the left and Iwobi in the center, presumably to keep physically stronger players against Kante and Matić. Shortly after they conceded they had reverted back to Özil in the middle.

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17 players in about 20 yards of depth. It is difficult to find space if there is no space even whe you face a lesser team than Chelsea

Above we see Arsenal in attacking third looking to find a way around Chelsea defence. Central midfielders are connected with red lines while attackers are blue. You can see how Walcott was cutting inside while Iwobi holds his position on the left touchline to keep five men defence stretched (full back Gabriel holds the other side). Throughout the match Özil was exchanging place with Sanchez trying to drop deep and unsettle the defence. However, the central area was covered with two disciplined defensive lines. As none of creative players or attackers on Arsenal team sheet were particularly inspired, the visitors found hard to get anywhere despite pushing numbers forward. Note also the space where almost both teams are positioned, it isn’t more than 20 yards in depth.

In circumstances where Arsenal had to meet the top team in the league after a loss, and they needed the win to keep their hopes for the title alive, they often committed eight to ten men on Chelsea’s half. After going a goal down their desire to get an equalizer pushed them even more forward. However, the pressure really got to them as none of their advanced players had shown any inspiration to threaten the hosts.

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Arsenal relentlessly pushed forward looking for an equaliser, however, they left Diego Costa and Hazard 2v2 with their two center backs. A source of constant counter attacking threat to their own goal

The image above really illustrates how Arsenal’s impatience and pressure were benefiting such an organized team Chelsea is. As whole squad pushed forward very high they really compressed the space (those 20yds from previous image) reducing themselves possibility to move around Chelsea’s defence. As Arsenal defensive line is very high up the pitch, and both full backs advanced into the attacking zones, whenever Chelsea managed to win the ball in their half (15 times), they had 2v2 opportunity in the center of the pitch. From these positions Chelsea was able to create numerous counter attacking opportunities since Koscielny and Mustafi couldn’t cope with Diego Costa and Hazard. Once Pedro, Alonso and Moses got higher up the pitch as well, Arsenal was often a man short while defending.

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The true strength of Conte’s side. Even when third of the team changed their positions within seconds, the overall organization remained uncompromised. 

If we take a look again at the same situation we can see another feature of Conte’s team. David Luiz has stepped up into the midfield to make a clearance, Moses recognized it and didn’t run forward to his “normal” position at the right wing. The same process went on with Pedro who held back his run forward in order to keep the team shape intact. This might be a small adjustment but it tells us how well organized Chelsea is. They are very fluid in their movement when situation calls for it and in few seconds a third of a team change their lines but the team overall organization remains intact.

This kind of concentration in defence gives confidence to two forward players who can then be fully creative and free to play to their instincts. In the end, Hazard scores a wonder goal few moments later.

To conclude, Chelsea wins again due to their impeccable team performance while Arsenal crushes under the pressure unable to create anything substantial while the game was still in their reach. Without the patience to shift Chelsea around and organize slowly they pushed forward in numbers disregarding the counter attack threat. This in the end only helped Chelsea to achieve one of the easiest wins this year.

While the difference in individual quality between two London teams isn’t so great, the difference in team organization, ideas of how to break the opposition and concentration to stick to the plan shows who is really the team and who is much less so at the moment.

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EPL: Arsenal v Chelsea Demolition Derby

Highly anticipated London Derby between Arsenal and Chelsea turned out to be a “Demolition Derby” as hosts trash Chelsea with confidence. Although Chelsea went into the match with psychological edge as they won three of last five encounters at Emirates and didn’t lose any, recent form showed Arsenal unbeaten in last six competitive games. Chelsea, on the other hand, lost to Liverpool and needed an extra time to go through next round of League Cup against Leicester in midweek.
In terms of line ups, Arsene Wenger opted for Coquelin and Cazorla in deep midfield roles and left Granit Xhaka on the bench despite some great performances in recent weeks. Since Cazorla was dropped deeper in midfield, Alex Iwobi found his place on left wing and that was pretty much it. On Conte’s side of the pitch, Oscar lost his place and was replaced by Fabregas as center midfielder while rest of the squad was left untouched compared to previous EPL games.

From the beginning of the match Chelsea was set up to defend very deep avoiding any pressure on arsenal midfield trying to force the ball to the wings provoking the crosses to rather small forward line. Seems as Conte’s plan was to invite the opposition deep into attacking third and upon seizing the ball searching for direct balls to Hazard and Costa who would hold onto the ball until rest of the squad arrives if immediate counter attack wasn’t possible.

However, early mistake from Cahill who was caught in possession quickly disturbed greatly the away team. Before they knew it, Arsenal was already two goals up and Chelsea had a mountain to climb after only a quarter of an hour.

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Five players in midfield are nice luxury as you can give Hazard a bit of time to rest. However, if you also defend deep and put no pressure on the ball, you essentially invite the opposition to pick their passes and off ball moves. Arsenal is not a team that wouldn’t take those opportunities

Above you see the screenshot of teams few seconds before Walcott scores second goal for Arsenal and can observe all the problems Chelsea has with their defensive plan.

First, defence is sitting very deep above the box, but that wouldn’t be a problem if anyone from the midfield bothered to pressure Cazorla. He has all the time and space to pick his next pass, and above all, he is already facing Chelsea goal.

Besides deep defensive line and no pressure at all on ball carrier, there is another flaw intrinsic to Chelsea game plan. As they basically wait for Arsenal to kindly turn over the ball, Hazard is exempt from defensive duties since he is waiting to burst forward in counter attack leaving Azpilicueta 1 on 1 with Bellerin. Since Chelsea essentially plays with five in midfield Conte can afford himself to spare Hazard some of defensive duties, however, the rest of midfield has to work much harder to get to ball if Conte wants to get away with Hazard’s role.

Few passes later ball indeed comes to Bellerin on right who then assists Walcott and Hazard tries to cover the ground but is too late since his initial position is off and rest of midfield fails to apply pressure on ball carrier.

Maybe even bigger problem Chelsea had taking the ball out of their defensive third and forming their attacks in any sensible way. This was largely due to great team pressing from Arsenal, but again, Chelsea itself, assisted their rivals.

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Positioning of full backs is crucial for building the possession from the back. Ivanović should stand at least 15 yards up-field to create more space for back three. Chelsea shoots it’s own leg by letting N’Golo Kante to be a man who connects midfield and defence

If you want to play from goalkeeper and gradually move the whole team from defensive to middle third, you need to provide space for your defenders to play around the opposition pressing. However, if you look at above screenshot you see Ivanović and Cahill in 5 yards of space. This allows Iwobi and Oezil to close down three Chelsea players. Ivanović should be at least 10 to 15 yards ahead of his position which would move Iwobi away and give much needed room for Kante, Cahill and Luiz to operate.

It is difficult to understand what was Ivanović thinking, however, it wasn’t an isolated incident but a pattern that went on through whole first half. With Arsenal determined to chase down every ball, this put the defence under a lot of pressure and lost balls in their own defensive third and when Arsenal didn’t get the ball, it only produced rushed clearances that Arsenal had no problems mopping up.

One can’t think that Chelsea or Conte doesn’t know how to position themselves when building up from the back, it is speaking a lot about mental state of Chelsea players as they came on the pitch. Another thing that is completely down to Conte is that Kante was designated player to connect defence and midfield. This was the case in match against Liverpool as well and while Ngolo is great defensive minded player, at the moment, he simply doesn’t seem to be the one who can keep the ball under pressure nor the one who can control it and evade the pressing by dribbling his way out. This makes Chelsea builds up play much worse than it really should be if Oscar, Fabregas or Matić were the ones to fill the role.

In meanwhile Chelsea conceded another goal after losing possession deep in the Arsenal half and Conte finally changes the system to 3-5-2 during the second half. Highly risky endeavour but it is Conte’s preferred way he used with Juventus and Italy. As the game was effectively lost he probably wanted to test what the team has learned in the training ground and it wasn’t worse than the start of the game. However, since he couldn’t get all the players he wanted during the transfer window, there is still a lot of work before we se proper Conte’s Chelsea.

For any Blues fan it has to be hard to see their team struggling especially as they looked very good in the beginning of the season. Match against West Ham went very well and team did play “Conte football”. However, for some reason, Conte replaced Oscar as deep lying playmaker with Kante and this left consequences on the team’s ability to transition from the defensive zone into the middle third.

Although Chelsea was ridden with mistakes and wrong choices throughout the match, it doesn’t really take anything away from the great performance by Wenger’s Arsenal.

They went on aggressively and took everything Chelsea had offered. They closed down their transition and exploited all the mistakes. Iwobi was particularly good with his direct and quick short passing showing that despite tender age he can contribute massively to the Arsenal play style. Another important thing for Wenger will be the way Granit Xhaka has stepped in his role of defensive midfielder offering his passing range and long shots to Wenger and Arsenal team. If they were criticized for weak center back pairing before, it seems that with Mustafi alongside Koscielny, their defence is improving as well.