Big games rarely produce memorable statistical performances by Arsenal but on the eve of Arsene Wenger’s 20th anniversary Arsenal uncorked a perfect Alsace Grands Cru from the dusty cellar and gave us all a taste of Wenger’s timeless style.
Possession was locked at 50-50 with Chelsea completing just 5 more passes than Arsenal across the entire pitch. But that stat is misleading as Arsenal were the more forward of the two teams with Wenger’s boys dominating the opposition final third 157 to 139. Arsenal also made more passes in the Chelsea 18 yard box with 17 completed to 9. And another stat that indicates Arsenal’s dominance in the Chelsea half is that the Gunners took 9 corners while Chelsea only 1.
More evidence of Wenger’s men generating the better of the chances is found in the shots ratio which Arsenal owned 14 to 9 and the shots on target which went 5-2. Arsenal also owned the advantage in Big Chances (one-v-ones and chances which the attacker should score) 2 to 1 with the Gunners scoring both of their chances (Alexis chip and Walcott’s finish) and Chelsea blocked by their former number 1 when he smothered Batshuayi’s only real chance in the match. Arsenal were the side which generated the best chances earliest as well with Chelsea failing to test Cech until the 81st minute – and that was a tame effort from 30 yards which Cech collected easily.
Arsenal’s oft maligned Mesut Özil, who was once accused of nicking a living by a man whose job is to write about sports in one sentence blurbs, was Arsenal’s most important attacking player. He led all players in final third passes with 34 (of 39), he created 3 chances for his teammates (also leading all players), he led all players with 3/3 dribbles (including one which killed Caesar), and he was part of a two-man fast break which finished the match when he turned Kante inside out like an old pair of underwear (pants for the Brits), played Alexis in, and scored his second goal of the season.
Just as a point of comparison, Chelsea’s leading pass maker in the Arsenal final third was their giant lump of a man, Nemanja Matic.
Alexis Sanchez may not be everyone’s cup of tea at center forward (tea doesn’t come from Chile) but he was near perfect in this match. He didn’t win a single header, and why would he, but he led all players with 4 shots. He scored just once off those shots, but it was a sublime Vela to get Arsenal started. That goal was generated entirely by Sanchez and a great example of how stats don’t tell the whole story (YES I FUCKING JUST WENT THERE). Sanchez won just 1 of 2 tackles but it was a tackle on Gary Cahill; that tackle set him free for a one-v-one (big chance) with Courtoise which he scored and left Cahill leaping over Courtoise while simultaneously holding his face in shame. He didn’t create in bulk with just two key passes but his return pass to Özil put the match to bed. He also led Arsenal with 2 through balls, neither of which found their man but both of which gave their defenders fits.
And apart from Arsenal’s attack the clean sheet is a huge credit to Arsenal’s defense. Tackles are often the measure of a defense but Arsene Wenger’s defenses are set up to intercept the ball before the need to tackle: Arsenal typically lead the League in interceptions despite dominating possession. Arsenal are currently second in the League in interceptions per game with 19.2 per game. This match didn’t disappoint in that regard and Arsenal won 24 interceptions to Chelsea’s 12. It shouldn’t surprise you, either, that Arsenal’s two center backs led Arsenal in interceptions, gathering the ball 10 times between them with Mustafi leading all players with 6.
Arsenal didn’t give up on tackles, however, and Mustafi, Xhaka, Koscielny, and Walcott all won the ball 3 times each. Özil and Bellerin both had 2, and even Sanchez got in a tackle. You may remember it, it was on Cahill, and he scored a goal.
You’ve already seen Koscielny’s name mentioned twice and he had a whale of a game. He led Arsenal with 2 blocks, 6/7 clearances, 4/5 headed clearances, and won all 4 of his defensive aerial duels. Chelsea’s game plan was to use Costa’s size and aggression against Arsenal’s back line but cross after cross came in and Koscielny simply won them all. Just an impressive match all around.
Diego Costa drew four fouls.
Cesc Fabregas was just 33/40 passing, 9/13 in the final third, and created zero chances for his teammates. But at least he also stepped on Coquelin with one of his customary snide tackles.
All stats from Opta via the 442 app and WhoScored.com