Arsene Wenger doesn’t always make the right tactical decisions, but today he got his decisions right, as Arsenal moved back to second in the Premier League after goals from Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott.
Arsenal saw the return of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, but also, the introduction of Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou, two decisions that ended up to be spot on.
Walcott, more willing to do the defensive side of his game, and combined with his pace, Ashley Cole couldn’t get as forward as much as he usually does in matches between Arsenal and Chelsea. A look at his chalkboard (with a heatmap) comparing the return fixture earlier this year, shows as much:
The first half had a familiar pattern, as Chelsea stayed deep and narrow, willing to soak up the pressure and then hit Arsenal on the counter attack. Over the last few years, Cole has been an important outlet for Chelsea counter attacks on the left, but without him getting forward, they often lacked ideas going forward, with long balls to Drogba being the usual outlet. With Djourou in the side, Arsenal had a better aerial presence in the defence, and the two defenders, Djourou and Koscielny had excellent games, subduing Drogba, who lost against Arsenal for the first time in a Chelsea shirt. John Obi Mikel was very deep, and was often goalside of Cesc Fabregas, who tried to exploit the space created for him by van Persie’s false nine role, a combination that worked well at the beginning of last year. The goal finally came, with Song breaking forward to finish off the move. Song has been criticized for going forward, but tonight he got the balance right, winning all 6 of his tackles, while still getting forward enough to make an influence.
Arsenal’s pressing was more visible than it had been in previous matches this season, and, again, it was another good tactical decision made by Wenger, with Walcott saying
“We didn’t think about that at all. It was in the past. We were concentrating on the defensive of the game today. Everyone pressed. It was so good to see,” he told Sky Sports.
“Not just the starters, but the players who came on as well. They pressed and we didn’t give Chelsea space at all. We did that throughout the 90 minutes.
It was pressure caused by the energetic Walcott that got Arsenal the third goal as he robbed Malouda, and, with Arsenal squeezing the space, they caught Chelsea offside 7 times (Again, Djourou playing in place of Squillaci helped here. If Chelsea broke the offside trap, Djourou has enough pace to get back.) They also won the ball back in promising positions; the first goal came as a direct result from this pressure, as Clichy won the ball back from Kalou, and was fouled, and then Arsenal passed the ball around before finding an opening.
At half time, Carlo Ancelotti brought Ramires on for Mikel, but this hindered Chelsea more than it helped. Ramires is better going forward than Mikel, but his introduction forced Essien into a deeper role, where he isn’t as productive, and Fabregas found himself in space more often in the second half, and was involved in both. Yes, they may have been defensive mistakes from Chelsea, but they were caused by Arsenal pressure, and for that, and for the introductions of Walcott and Djourou, Arsene Wenger outmanaged Carlo Ancelotti.
Arsenal thoroughly deserved to beat Chelsea; not only did they outplay them, and take their chances, but Ancelotti was outmanaged, and Chelsea struggled to create chances from open play, and looked sluggish, old and slow. It was a really poor performance from them, but take nothing away from an energetic and outstanding Arsenal performance.
Originally posted at The Short Fuse, thanks to them for republishing permission