It’s been a pretty disastrous couple of weeks Mikel Arteta’s side. Pre-international break, Arsenal were firm favourites for the top four, however, heading into Wednesday night’s London derby with Chelsea, they were 3 points adrift of Tottenham Hotspur and reeling from defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton.
It wasn’t entirely surprising to see Mikel Arteta throw caution to the winds, therefore, and pick a team that would focus more on defensive solidity than anything else. Rob Holding dropped into the heart of defence, while Benjamin White replaced Cédric Soares at right-back. Mohamed Elneny filled in in midfield ahead of Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah retained his place ahead of Alexandre Lacazette, while Gabriel Martinelli dropped to the bench in favour of Emile Smith Rowe.
Games at Stamford Bridge are often cagey affairs and this was no different. For the opening 10 or so minutes, Chelsea dominated proceedings, keeping the ball away from Arsenal and making decent in-roads.
However, a hooked clearance from Nuno Tavares was chased down by Eddie Nketiah, before an awful back-pass from Andreas Christensen allowed the Arsenal youngster to bare down on goal and calmly slot a surprise opener for the visitors.
Arsenal’s jubilation was cut short, however. Very soon, Chelsea were right back in it. A poor ball in midfield from Nketiah allowed Ruben Loftus-Cheek to intercept, playing the ball to Mason Mount, who fed Timo Werner, who’s somewhat tame effort, deflected wildly off Granit Xhaka, wrongfooting Aaron Ramsdale, and drawing Chelsea level.
Arsenal continued to fight and push and started trying to play at Chelsea, rather than inviting pressure.
Some very brazen playing out from the back from Arsenal, allowed Granit Xhaka to burst through midfield and play in Bukayo Saka, who bore down on the hapless Malang Sarr, giving the ball to Martin Ødegaard, who in-turn fed Emile Smith Rowe, who glided a beautiful, grounded effort into the bottom corner to put Arsenal in front once more.
Arsenal looked to have settled things, at least for the first-half, but soon Chelsea found themselves level again.
A beautiful ball crossed into the box by goalscorer Timo Werner allowed César Azpilicueta to break free of the distracted Nuno Tavares to nudge in a near-post effort to draw Chelsea level once more.
The second-half was a lot more frantic and, much like the first, the opening proceedings were pretty much dominated by Chelsea, with Timo Werner going close once more.
However, it was Arsenal who punished a poor defence, not Chelsea.
A good ball into Eddie Nketiah, allowed the youngster to turn, only for substitute Thiago Silva to lash it away, it pingballed around int he Chelsea box, with N’Golo Kanté and Malang Sarr unable to clear their lines and Nketiah swooped in to dink his effort beyond Édouard Mendy to give Arsenal the lead once more.
Chelsea continued to push and came close on a number of occasions, but Arsenal stood firm. The introduction of Cédric Soares, allowed Benjamin White to move back into the centre of defence, which notably complicated things for Chelsea.
It was Arsenal who had the final say.
A good run from Cédric Soares saw him try to pick a teammate out in the middle of the box, however, Bukayo Saka and César Azpilicueta were tussling furiously in the penalty area and referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot for an Arsenal penalty.
It was a bizarre call and it was even more bizarre that VAR did not overturn it. Yellow cards were shown in the aftermath, but despite countless Chelsea protests and the near instigation of a melee, the penalty stood.
Bukayo Saka bravely stepped up and after his disappointment in the summer with England at the EUROS, the youngster put it all behind him to send Mendy the wrong way and give Arsenal their 4th and all 3 point as the final whistle blew.
It was an odd game. Neither team was especially good, but it was fair to say that Chelsea were less good than Arsenal, who were themselves not very good.
A very poor defensive display all around. Arsenal struggled to contain Timo Werner and Mason Mount, both of whom were creating chances galore for the home side. A better striker than Romelu Lukaku would surely have dispatched them.
Equally, Arsenal’s usually toothless attack was full of bite. Chelsea couldn’t contain Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Ødegaard or Bukayo Saka, all of whom were running rings around César Azpilicueta and co.
It was also a very poor refereeing performance from Jonathan Moss. Malang Sar and Mason Mount both avoided red cards through sheer incompetence, meanwhile Arsenal’s penalty call was foolish to say the least.
Regardless of refereeing incompetence or a generally poor showing, Arsenal have the all-important 3 points and are level with Tottenham at last.
A home visit from Manchester United beckons next and Arsenal will be hoping that this could be the beginning of a good run of form as they enter the final 6 games of the season, with trips to West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle still to come.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Lacazette 95’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Cédric Soares 75’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Martinelli 70’)
1.) Bernd Leno
69.) Zak Swanson
17.) Cédric Soares
38.) Miguel Azeez
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
82.) Omari Hutchinson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
16.) Édouard Mendy
24.) Reece James
4.) Andreas Christensen (Thiago Silva 45’)
31.) Malang Sarr
28.) César Azpilicueta
7.) N’Golo Kanté
12.) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
3.) Marcos Alonso (Ziyech 81’)
19.) Mason Mount
9.) Romelu Lukaku (Havertz 60’)
11.) Timo Werner
1.) Kepa Arrizabalaga
14.) Trevoh Chalobah
6.) Thiago Silva
17.) Saúl Ñíguez
18.) Ross Barkley
19.) Kai Havertz
22.) Hakim Ziyech
10.) Christian Pulisic