No sooner would Mikel Arteta be reminded of that fateful first home game in his new managerial role than with a second Premier League fixture against their London rivals less than a month later. This time, Arsenal would be travelling to a ground where they haven’t won since 2011, and Chelsea would aim to turn their fortunes around following their last-gasp defeat at the hands of Newcastle on Saturday.
Making only one change from their disappointing draw against Sheffield United, Hector Bellerin found himself back in the starting line-up at right-back with Ainsley Maitland-Niles dropping down to the bench. Frank Lampard would be without Reece James and Mason Mount also started on the bench for the Blues.
It’s fair to say that the Arsenal we saw in the opening 30 minutes of the previous meeting had totally forgotten to turn up to Stamford Bridge. The back four never failed to play themselves into trouble, the attacking contingent seemed devoid of ideas, whereas Frank Lampard’s side played like a team with something to prove. And after only 25 minutes, the inevitable happened.
A terrible backpass from Shkodran Mustafi was picked up by Tammy Abraham, clean through on goal after skipping past Bernd Leno, before David Luiz felt that the only option was to bring him down and be given his marching orders. A less-than-ideal return to Stamford Bridge for the Brazilian, and Arsenal now have two straight red cards in as many away matches. Jorginho, of course, made no mistake from the spot.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for at least one of Arsenal’s centre-backs; Luiz’s game was ruined courtesy of his team-mate’s mistake, and Mustafi recently came out talking about his struggles with criticism and abuse, a video which was very well received by the Arsenal faithful. Sadly, another mishap of that calibre is hardly going to do him any favours, and I for one feel he should have played his last game in an Arsenal shirt a long time ago. Footballers are all human beings, and shouldn’t be subjected to vile abuse, but criticism of his defending is totally justified. He just isn’t up to scratch.
We’ve already seen how Arteta’s explosive half-time team talks can turn a game on its head, but it would take something incredibly special to do it with 10 men away to Chelsea. Nevertheless, Arsenal certainly weren’t giving this one up without a fight. Ironic, considering we saw little of that tenacity and spirit in the first half, but fortune favours the bold and perhaps the hardest-working player out on the field reaped the rewards of that in the second half.
From a fast break following a Chelsea attack, teenage prodigy Gabriel Martinelli ran over 60 yards from inside his own half, took advantage of an unorthodox slip by N’golo Kante and calmly slotted the ball past Kepa to give Arsenal hope. A complete shock to all those in the ground and watching from home, the 18-year-old now hitting double figures in all comps this season. With his humble, patient attitude combined with raw talent and skill, he’ll be a hugely important player for Arsenal in years to come… if they manage to keep hold of him.
As the second half went on, you wouldn’t think Arsenal had been playing with 10 men for nearly an hour. Arteta’s makeshift defence were doing well to snuff out most of Chelsea attacks, despite having to rely on the brilliance of Leno on a few occasions. Lampard and the Chelsea faithful were growing ever-more frustrated with their side’s inability to kill the game off with the advantage of an extra man, but it seemed they would be on course to do that in the 84th minute.
A low ball fizzed in by Callum Hudson-Odoi found its way to the skipper Cesar Azpilicueta, whose effort finally broke Arsenal’s resilience and looked to condemn Arteta to his first defeat of 2020. The defence was completely static, more concerned about Tammy Abraham returning from an offside position, and Azpilicueta was on hand to get the all important final touch and set Chelsea on their way to victory.
However, stranger things have happened in football. Although not quite as strange and unique as two Spanish right-backs, both captaining their respective London clubs, scoring within only a few minutes of each other. Yes, Chelsea’s lead lasted all of three minutes as Bellerin curled a beautiful left-footed effort into the far corner, scoring Arsenal’s second goal with only their second shot in the entire game.
A stellar comeback from a side who looked doomed to finish the game having shipped in four or five, but Arteta has this team fighting for every result and this game can only be looked at positively in that regard.
A point for Arsenal which will almost feel like three, and one for Chelsea which will certainly feel like zero. Defensive calamities continue to contribute towards Arsenal’s mid-table position, and the need for a long-term centre-back either this window or in the summer is a top priority. But in the grand scheme of things, this draw showcases a never-say-die attitude that will be sure to benefit the Gunners’ results as the season continues.