Thursday, February 22, 2024

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: A glimpse of the future

After a promising yet insufficient display at Bournemouth, there would be no dream start to life in the dugout for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. Fans could have been forgiven for thinking the Spaniard’s first game in charge at the Emirates would see their fortunes change, but the Gunners once again found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline in an all too familiar sight this season.

With the January transfer window looming large, the absence of former captain Granit Xhaka dominated the pre-match talk. The midfielder has agreed terms with German outfit Hertha Berlin according to his agent. Arteta confirmed that the Swiss international missed out due to illness, however this claim was met by scepticism from many Gooners. Record signing Nicolas Pepe also found himself on the bench again, as 20-year-old Reiss Nelson was handed back-to-back Premier League starts.

The phrase “a joy to watch” hasn’t been associated with Arsenal at all this season, but the Gunners looked like a side reborn in the first 45. High pressing, confidence on the ball, and quick fluid passing delighted spectators, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 13th Premier League goal this season was no less than they deserved. Mesut Özil was flourishing in the no.10 role, Nelson was taking Emerson to the cleaners, and the midfield duo of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi looked full of energy and desire to win the ball back.

Arsenal pick up more injuries

Unfortunately for Arsenal, their injury list just keeps piling up. Centre-back Calum Chambers, who had performed brilliantly, was hauled off after only 20 minutes and replaced by the less-than-convincing Shkodran Mustafi. For me, this was a turning point in the game. The delay in play totally killed Arsenal’s momentum and allowed Chelsea to get a foothold in the game. Nevertheless, Frank Lampard’s side looked devoid of any ideas in attack and Arsenal took a deserved lead into the break.

Prior to half-time, Chelsea had prematurely sacrificed Emerson for Jorginho in a change of shape, and the Italian became the talking point of the second half for more than one reason. Up until the 80-minute mark, Arsenal’s defence was just about managing to keep Chelsea at bay, and the Gunners were furious after Craig Pawson didn’t brandish a second yellow to Jorginho for a blatant pull-back on Guendouzi. It was only fitting that the 28-year-old would spark new life into Chelsea a few minutes later.

A calamitous error from Bernd Leno gave the midfielder a tap-in at the far post, as Arsenal’s defensive woes continue to bedevil them. The German has bailed Arsenal out on numerous occasions this season, which many Arsenal fans have rightly noticed, and the keeper was inundated with messages of support after the final whistle.

But Arsenal’s failure to capitalise on their first-half advantage ultimately led to their downfall; Tammy Abraham finished off a swift counter-attack to condemn Arsenal to four consecutive home defeats for the first time in 60 years.

There’s no doubt that the outlook is bleak; one win in 15 games is at first glance catastrophic, but the signs of improvement were there. The pressing and passing in that first half is exactly what Arsenal need to be doing for the full 90. However, a lot of these players aren’t used to that kind of intensity, and fitness levels could easily be brought into the question. Jorginho was extremely fortunate to still be on the pitch for his equaliser, but there’s no arguing that Chelsea were much the better side throughout the second half.

With an extensive injury list, damaged confidence and no sign of reaching the top 4 anytime soon, a win against Manchester United on Wednesday is of paramount importance. The improvement is evident, but so is the “same old Arsenal”.

Arteta’s post-match press conference can be found here.

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