A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s trip to Arsenal.
Chelsea’s Premier League campaign moved in to the second half of the season with the short trip to The Emirates Stadium in North London on Sunday.
After registering 10 victories and 7 losses up to this mid point, the season has certainly been full of ups and downs. But with the club still lying in 4th spot, the positives have certainly outweighed the negatives.
And you only need to look back at Chelsea’s previous 2 matches to get a feel for both ends of the spectrum. A powerful and commanding performance away to the bitterest of rivals Tottenham Hotspur was followed by a lacklustre team performance, who looked lost and devoid of any belief they could find their way to a straight forward home victory over lowly Southampton.
A trip to a below par Arsenal, with former player Mikel Arteta in charge for his first home match had all the hallmarks of an encounter that could easily go either way for Frank’s team.
Chelsea had lost 5 of their previous 7 league matches and the manager opted for a 3-4-3 formation that performed so well in North London only a week ago.
Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic returned to the line up in place of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jorginho after Southampton’s shock win.
Arsenal also only made 2 changes to the side from Boxing Day, with young Guendouzi retuning in midfield and Chambers partnering former Blue David Luiz in central defence.
But it is further up front where The Gunners looked more likely to cause Frank’s team most of the issues. Mezut Ozil is starting to regain a strong positive influence on the team, while Aubameyang and Lacazette are both a regular danger in attack.
The match started very openly with Luiz’s free kick flying straight in to Kepa’s arms quickly followed by Mason Mount’s close range shot being just about kept out by a flapping Leno in the Arsenal goal.
At the time, the latter looked more like an issue with the bright setting sun, but it was an indication of issues yet to make a greater impact.
However, on just 13 minutes, Chambers flicked on an Arsenal corner and Aubameyang sneaked round a flat footed Emerson at the far post to header in. The immediate relief in the home crowd was unmistakable and soon the home side were looking far more settled and comfortable.
The extra man in central midfield allowed them to have more control and they exploited the space behind Chelsea’s wing backs to regularly turn the away defence scurrying back to guard their goal.
Frank and his assistant Jody Morris were clearly in deep discussions, and on just 34 minutes they acted. Jorginho was introduced to strengthen The Blues’s midfield, while Emerson was taken off to return the line up to a conventional back 4.
Instantly there was a change to the feel of the match. Jorginho was getting fully involved, including receiving a yellow card for a cynical foul on a counter attacking Lacazette.
Despite being second best for most of the first half, there was a renewed feeling of hope at half time amongst all those in Blue, but the second half started as a very tight affair.
With an hour gone and not too many signs of an equaliser, Frank once again made a fairly bold change. Fikayo Tomori had slotted in effectively at right back, but offered precious little going forward. The manager decided this could be resolved by introducing a debutant into the heated affray.
Tariq Lamptey became the latest in an ever growing list of youth products now getting a run out for the first team. And similarly to Tomori and Reece James, he instantly looked at home and capable of becoming a regular in the team.
His liveliness and desire to run forwards with the ball helped turn the tide further towards The Blues. And as Frank’s team started to turn the screw, he made his 3rd and final important substitution. Hudson-Odoi replaced Kovacic and then almost all the attacking was coming from the away side.
Willian was once again energetic and occasionally threatening, while Mason Mount supported Tammy Abraham very well with his clever runs and link up play.
However, the Arsenal defence were standing strong with Luiz at the heart of keeping Chelsea at bay. And as the questions were being raised about whether The Blues could break down stubborn opposition, they were gifted an opportunity.
It had been a feisty London derby and it was once again the North Londoners who showed signs of losing their heads first. When Jorginho had got entangled with Guendouzi and held the Arsenal player’s shirt, it was the home players who over reacted in demanding to referee Craig Pawson that the Italian should be shown a second yellow card. Lacazette was at the forefront of this and was carded himself due to his over the top protests.
The striker then targeted Jorginho and blatantly took out the Chelsea midfielder. That was surely a more justified claim for a second yellow card, but the punishment ended up being even more harsh for The Gunners.
Mount floated through resultant free kick into the penalty area and Leno came, flapped, but ultimately missed the ball and similarly to Aubameyang’s deft arrival for the opening goal, Jorginho inflicted full retribution on the Frenchman’s antics and the home support who had jeered their striker into getting too involved.
That equaliser came with just 7 minutes left but Chelsea’s tails and belief levels were up. As the home side tried to regain any forward momentum, The Blues counter attacked beautifully. Mount and the Willian progressed play deep into the Arsenal penalty area and when Tammy received the ball, he was calmness personified as he turned and fired his shot low in to the centre of the goal.
The comeback was complete. From an abject, lethargic opening half an hour to a fully dominant last half an hour. And it was the substitutions that made most of the difference. The change in formation was a necessity and all 3 incoming players made a big difference.
Jorginho completely took the match by the scruff of the neck and, not only was he at the centre of Chelsea’s fight back, but he also eventually aided Arsenal’s implosion.
The home side started to lose their rag as the pressure increased to boiling point, and they only had 3 attempts in the 77 minutes following their opening goal, none of them on target.
This will be a match that will have brought immense pride and cheer to the management team. Chelsea teams throughout the season have rarely been able to turn a poor start in to a winning result.
That will surely be the most significant nugget that Frank will take from this match and use as evidence to his players that they can turn it around during a tough, tight match.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue