Result: Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea
Competition: Premier League
Date: 22 August 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Cedric, Holding, Mari, Tierney, Sambi, Xhaka, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Martinelli
Subs: Ramsdale, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Tavares, Kolasinac, Elneny, Balogun, Nelson, Aubameyang
Fans filled out the Emirates for the first time in a year and a half but was treated to a tepid display by Arsenal who lost 0-2 to Chelsea.
Romelu Lukaku and Reece James scored in the first half and Chelsea rode the game out comfortably. Arsenal had some chances to score, with a penalty shout and a Rob Holding header almost going in, but were outclassed for most of the game.
In lieu of illnesses and injuries, Arsenal had Cedric and holding returning to the backline while Martinelli started upfront. Captain, Aubameyang, had a place on the bench as he makes his return from Covid-19.
New signings Ramsdale and Odegaard were on the bench and in the stands respectively.
Despite having Chelsea’s number in recent seasons with a back three, Arteta went with an enterprising back four with Tierney and Saka pushing high up and Smith Rowe in support of the front line.
And it was the latter two who combined well to put a marker on the game with a good first attempt on goal within the first minute. Xhaka’s long floated pass found Saka in space and the English international headed down for Smith Rowe to strike from outside the box. The shot was struck with some power but Mendy dived well to prevent Arsenal’s new number 10 from scoring.
It had been a spirited opening 15 minutes by the Gunners who were strong in the tackle, quick to counter and intercepted well to block passing lanes to Lukaku. Unfortunately, that strong start faded really quickly when Lukaku came to life. He dropped deep to hold up the play, laid off the ball to Kovacic and spun away from his defender. Kovacic pinged the ball to James who was free on the right. James crossed in low for Lukaku who powered past Mari and tapped in to an open net. 0-1 to Chelsea
The goal stemmed from the Arsenal defence playing narrow to crowd out the middle which left Reece James in acres of space. Switching the play to their vacant wing back was a tactic Chelsea attempted time and time again as Arsenal had their eyes on Lukaku in the middle.
Things got from bad to worse when it was this tactic that caught the Gunners out again. A skirmish on the outside of the box saw Mount receive the ball and distribute it to James who lurked along the right wing. The wing back lashed the ball past Leno to make it 0-2 to Chelsea.
It could have been 1-2 just minutes later but some questionable refereeing meant that James’ trip on Saka in the Chelsea box was not given, even after VAR called out for it. Despite cranking up the pressure, Arsenal ended the first half without a goal and a mountain to climb.
The game started ominously as Chelsea took the game to Arsenal with Lukaku looking imperious in and around the box. The Gunners came back with some energy and verve but only for a few minutes, before Chelsea grasped possession and controlled the tempo.
Chelsea’s possession was punctuated when Rob Holding threatened to get Arsenal back into the game with a glancing header from six yards away during a corner kick. It was at that point Arteta where looked to shift the gears by putting on Aubameyang for Saka who looked unfit.
Immediately, Aubameyang looked to be a threat, getting behind Chelsea’s high line and forcing Mendy with a clearance high up the pitch. That momentum was snuffed out when Tierney got substituted for Tavares due to an injury.
That was as good as it got for Arsenal as Chelsea comfortably finished the game and even had a chance to extend their lead through Lukaku and Havertz if not for Leno’s saves.
A poor day out for Arsenal who couldn’t raise their game despite hosting fans in the stadium for the first time in a year and a half.
That’s two losses from the first two games and Arteta has got his work cut out for him to get this team performing again.