Chelsea and Arsenal played out a match that once again was a dire performance and disappointing, drab result. The Blues were generally despondent throughout much of the match and the early missed, gilt-edged chance with Kai Havertz through on goal summed up the match: The Blues could not get out of their own way. Arsenal offered very little all-in-all, but Chelsea had no answers in the final third to make any sort of difference.
The result leaves the Blues in fourth place and the season is on the line at the most crucial of times. The bad result did more than dent the chances of the Blues finishing the objectives laid forth this season. Here are the five things that were learned from the 1-0 loss to the worst Arsenal squad of the decade.
Chelsea Beat Themselves, Arsenal did nothing
A missed shot with a 1v1 against Bernd Leno. A horrendous back pass leading to a goal. An offsides goal from a corner kick. Terrible set pieces throughout with shades of Willian never beating the first man from the corner flag. Overall uninspiring and attacking play that was devoid of any real ideas or threats to the Arsenal backline. Chelsea beat themselves for 90 minutes against Arsenal. The Gunners offered very little in this match and the score line flattered the North London club. But, Arsenal did not have to offer much when Chelsea seemingly refused to get out of their own way.
The squad saw a heavily rotated side and seemed as if the players, and possibly manager himself, too this match much too lightly with their gaze firmly affixed to the shiny silverware yet to play for against Leicester City on Saturday. Perhaps this was too much rotation. All it took was one colossal mistake from Jorginho’s back pass to Kepa (although calling it a back pass is giving too much credit, it was a horrendous mistake) to undo Chelsea in this match. Kepa did well to initially atone for Jorginho’s mistake, that very well could be his worst mistake yet as a Chelsea player. But the damage was done, the defensive line could not react fast enough, Kepa was left out of position, and a wide-open Emile Smith-Rowe rightfully punished Chelsea by slotting home from a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pass.
The attacking play also was fitting relative to the mistake leading to the only goal of the match. The Chelsea attack was lifeless throughout, continued the same ideas without any different results, and overall left so much to be desired. Again, Arsenal did not win this match, but rather that Chelsea beat themselves to lose it.
The System is Not Flawless
Thomas Tuchel’s system so far with Chelsea has been spectacular, for the most part. Aside from the West Brom debacle (which really was not the full system because of playing with 10 men) and some drab results against Leeds United and Southampton, the system has continually maximized the squad. Until playing Arsenal. The match showed that the system has flaws and obvious limitations. The squad that beat themselves played Tuchel’s system for the full 90 mins against the Gunners, but rarely seemed like a goal was ever going to be scored. The squad possessed the ball for the majority of the match through slow, deliberate, painstakingly patient build up plays. The question remains though: why continue to use the same methodology and tactics for breaking down Arsenal when it clearly did not work? It was reminiscent of the Maurizio Sarri days and the attacking tactics: play Plan A and play Plan A better.
Possession for the sake of it is worthless and this was exposed. Chelsea lacked urgency, intensity, inventiveness, decisiveness, and pace in attack. Arsenal put 11 players behind the ball many times and Chelsea were much too happy to aimlessly pass the ball back and forth without committing players in the box. How many crosses were made to a one or two players in the box with all others outside of the box? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the clinical definition of insanity. Chelsea showed clinical insanity by the definition from the 28th minute to the 93rd minute. The system should have been adapted with a much greater emphasis on committing players forward, in my opinion.
Similar Issues Return against Arsenal
For years now, Chelsea have lacked the profile that Cesc Fabregas once offered. This is evidenced by many times the center backs are the most direct passers in the XI. There is generally an issue of the defensive midfielders not being able to effectively break the defensive lines and this was again of full display against the Gunners. This is not a new issue, either. This was an issue that first begun to rear its head under the days of Sarri, and arguably even Antonio Conte in his final season with the club. The lack of urgency was shocking and seemed only until after the second half extra time that the squad decided to wake up. Why wait so late to do that? The question answers itself. The same issues again were on display. The squad cannot rely on direct passes to three sole attackers to break down a team that is committing 11 players behind the ball. It is not effective, and this match showed some of the worst of Tuchel’s system. Call that last sentence reactionary, but I think it is the truth.
Being patient with the ball and not relying on the midfielders to break the lines is fine in some instances, but it comes to a point where the central midfielder has to be able to pick out the visionary pass, pick out the run before it is too late, to read the game before the opponent reads the pattern of play.
The Chelsea squad and tactics were all too predictable and when showing the same metaphorical hand again and again, the opponent’s defence is only going to better figure out how to negate it each successive time. This was evident in the past and was again evident against Arsenal. More inventive play that does not rely on either slow, deliberate build up play or just route one passing from the center backs is required going forth in matches similar to the loss against Arsenal.
Werner’s Value Was Missed
It can be a lazy argument to suggest the player that did not play would have made all the difference. It is an argument that cannot be proven or refuted. But, the match against Arsenal, in my humble opinion, showed the tactical advantage Timo Werner presents and also how and why he was missed from the squad.
The attacking play was uninventive, stale, lacked a player getting behind the opposition backline, and overall was much less fluid than it has been in previous matches. Werner offers something that, despite all the missed big chances, no other striker offers in the squad. Say what you will about his season, but he still leads the squad in goals, assists, penalties won, and has a transformative effect on the attack that offers more than one ability. He also links up more with the other attackers and his runs behind the defense provide more for other attackers in the grand scheme of things.
To refute the idea this is simply a lazy argument, let’s bring data into the fold. Under Tuchel in the league, Chelsea have started five matches without Werner. The results are one win, four draws, and one loss, which is 1.33 points per game. With Werner in the starting XI? 11 matches, nine wins, one draw, and one loss, with an average of 2.54 points per game. These are quite damning numbers for my argument that Werner offers more, provides a better tactical profile despite his missed chances, and that Chelsea are genuinely a better side with him in the XI than without him.
Arsenal Have Chelsea’s Number
In the last 16 matches against Arsenal, Chelsea have four wins, four draws, and eight losses. Chelsea have lost their last three matches against the Gunners, to make this trend even worse. This trend also spans four different managers. Arsenal have Chelsea’s number.
The performances from the Blues have also been somewhat dire throughout this torrid spell against the North London rivals. What complicates this even more is that Chelsea lost both matches this season against what is the worst Arsenal team of the past decade. Why has this trend emerged? I generally do not have any answers for this. The Blues match up well, are a better club over most of this trend, have the better managers, etc. Yet, time and time again, fail to get the job done.
Blues fans are likely equally as frustrated as I am over this. All we can hope for is that next season is a new day, and that this trend can be quickly reversed.
Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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