Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger walks on the touchline at the end of the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in London on September 24, 2016. / AFP / Ben STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
In a sensational performance, Arsenal pummeled Chelsea 3-0 on Saturday afternoon. Here are five things we learned from the battering.
Wow! In one half of football Arsenal simultaneously dismantled an apparently defensively astute Chelsea side, cemented themselves as genuine title challengers and left Antonio Conte with many questions, ultimately leading him to changing his system early in the second half. It was a blistering start from the Gunners, and thanks to goals from Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil, they wrapped up the three points in a little over 40 minutes.
Here are five things we learned from Arsenal’s emphatic victory over their London rivals.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: N’Golo Kante of Chelsea is tackled by Granit Xhaka of Arsenal 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)
5. Granit Xhaka Fits Right In
The role of one Granit Xhaka has come into question over the past few weeks with Arsene Wenger repeatedly choosing to overlook his new £35 million man in favour of the tried and trusted pairing of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. Nonetheless, while the Swiss international still faced many questions at kick off, by the time the full-time whistle was blown, he had provided all the answers.
Coquelin, the man who many see as the player currently – and wrongly in some eyes – ahead of Xhaka limped off injured after coming off worse in a strong challenge, blocking N’Golo Kante’s shot in the 31st minute. The Swiss international duly came on in his stead, and although his side were 2-0 up at the time and cruising, his performance from then on displayed an ability that should see him fit right in in North London.
What was particularly encouraging was Xhaka’s tendency to get the ball forward quickly. His awareness and intelligence without the ball allowed him to be decisive with it. Combine this with an excellent range of passing, as evidenced by a couple of beautiful passes, one to Theo Walcott and one fizzed into the feet of Mesut Ozil, and the perfect Arsenal midfielder is made. Xhaka may well get a run of starts with Coquelin’s impending absence. Early indications are very positive indeed.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
4.Laurent Koscielny And Shkodran Mustafi Make Formidable Pair
There is not a position on the pitch where a partnership is more important than centre-half. Two individually talented players can play alongside each other to no avail whatsoever if their styles of play are not compatible with one another. That is why, when Shkodran Mustafi was signed for £35 million in the summer, doubts over how he would perform here in England centred on his relationship with current starter Laurent Koscielny, not just his individual ability.
While growing pains existed in the first few starts together, on Saturday, against a striker who at this moment in time is one of the very best in the Premier League, the two were utterly fantastic. Diego Costa is a physical brute. Strong and powerful, he is as much a bully as he is a footballer. Mustafi and Koscielny were more than up to the physical challenge, however.
The two were tight on the Chelsea forward all 90 minutes. They limited his influence on the game by pressurising his first touch, hounding the ball whenever he was in position and matching him stride for stride when he spun in behind. Such is the athletic ability of the pair that Arsenal no longer have to play a deep line like with Per Mertesacker. Mustafi is fast enough to tracks runs into the channel, and consequently, the two can step up, reducing the attacking space and allowing the Arsenal midfield to press high up the pitch.
It was a sensational performance from both players suggesting that they could make a formidable pair for many years.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides third goal 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)
3. Santi Cazorla And Mesut Ozil On Top Form
There were very few aspects of the game that Arsenal didn’t dominate against Chelsea on Saturday afternoon. They were fitter, stronger, faster, far more technically proficient, better organised defensively and disciplined in undertaking their respective duties. However, one key area where the Gunners truly dominated their London rivals was when they had possession in central midfield areas.
The success that Arsene Wenger’s side enjoyed in such areas of the pitch stemmed from the collective performances of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. Renowned for their technical brilliance, their vision and skill, both have been criticised for being dominated physically in the middle of the park, especially against the better teams. Well, athletic midfield pairings do not come much more challenging than Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. The two are the perfect players to prevent and frustrate the quick, tight and intricate passing of Cazorla and Ozil.
And yet, on Saturday they were chasing shadows. Cazorla, now established in his deeper position, was able to orchestrate proceedings with ample time on the ball. Ozil meanwhile caused Kante, the man who many see as the best defensive midfielder in the country, alll sorts of problems. His continual movement off the ball was too much for Kante to keep tabs on. Ozil was releasing the ball too quickly, with one and two touch passes dominating his game, while also always looking to find space within the Chelsea ranks, something that he was able to do consistently in the first half.
Both Cazorla and Ozil were at their utmost best on Saturday. Terrific with the ball, hard-working defensively and continually moving to find space off it, they ran rings round the Chelsea midfield. Long may it continue.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides second goal 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)
2. Alexis, Theo And Iwobi’s Movement Crucial
With Alexis Sanchez once again deployed as the central striker, having a threat in behind while the Chilean continued to roam free, dropping deep and drifting wide was going to be essential if Arsenal were to enjoy success in attacking areas. Against Paris Saint-Germain, in Theo Walcott’s absence, there was no one willing to run in behind and stretch the field, thus limiting the space with which the likes of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla can work in.
That was not the case here, though. Walcott looks back to his devastating best, repeatedly making darting runs off his right wing, inside Cesar Azpilicueta and behind David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Meanwhile, on the opposite wing, Alex Iwobi’s intelligence was on full display. Like Ozil, he is an incredible ability to find space in very tight areas, as evidenced by a terrific second goal. Playing a quick one-two with German, Iwobi span, drifted across the front of the Chelsea back four, played the ball wide for Hector Bellerin who duly set up Theo to tap into the empty net.
It was a sensational goal that indicated the danger of Arsenal’s attacking play with Theo, Iwobi and Sanchez in the side. Notice that Sanchez is sat in space, off of Luiz and Cahill. Walcott then makes a run in behind without the ball being played to him at which point Luiz takes a small step backwards. Iwobi slides into the vacated space and as we all know the ball eventually ends in the back of the net via a Bellerin cross and Walcott finish. It was the fluid, continual movement of the three attackers, though, that made Arsenal so dangerous going forward on Saturday. It creates problems for defenders and space for teammates, and as we saw against Chelsea, it creates wonderful goals also.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal pats Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal on the back after he is subbed 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)
1. Wenger Must Inspire Consistency
While the impressiveness of this win must not be understated, what should also be considered is how far through the season it has come. Arsenal have only played six Premier League games, climbing to third with the three points, one behind Spurs and five off the blistering pace set by Manchester City.
The Gunners now face a wonderful run of fixtures where they can truly stake a claim as genuine title challengers. The next four Premier League games are Burnley (A), Swansea (H), Middlesborough (H) and Sunderland (H). That brings us to November and if they have any aspirations of breaking the 12-year title drought, then Arsene Wenger’s side must win all four.
How many times has an Arsenal side been so heavily praised for an utterly wonderful performance only to lose the next weekend? Consistency, not one-off incredible performances win titles. Just ask Liverpool.