The London derby was a game of firsts.
Before this game, Antonio Conte had never drawn a game at Stamford Bridge or failed to score, but Chelsea did both in a tight and taught display against Arsenal.
Wenger will be content with a clean-sheet in a big game, but this still doesn’t fix his woes away from home in the goals department (so far they have fired blanks).
Gary Cahill managed to convince Conte that he should play over Antonio Rudiger, but both key men for Arsenal and Chelsea, Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard, respectively, failed to be fit in time for a start.
Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck joined Lacazette up front in the “3”, with Mesut Ozil deemed unable to make the bench with a late injury.
Chelsea lined up against Arsenal with the same formation, 3-4-3, but Wenger asked Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi to drop deep into midfield to have a numerical advantage alongside Xhaka and Ramsey. This made it much harder for the Blues to play the ball, with every passing option covered by an extra man. In addition, it seemed that Arsenal compacted the midfield by playing a fairly high defensive line and even the mobile Lacazette moved back to open up 1-2 opportunities.
On the left hand side, Marcos Alonso had a tough time stifling runs by Bellerin in the first half, who twice in ten minutes managed to breeze past him with a give-and-go to create chances for both Welbeck (cross just too high) and for Lacazette, who smashed it low and hard into Courtois.
In fact, it was Arsenal who must be wondering why they weren’t a goal up in the first half. A jabbed effort by Ramsey off the post seemed destined to be a goal by the French striker but he seemed to show a Laca-composure and blazed the shot over the bar. Pedro must also be kicking himself for the chance he missed after going through on goal, but when staring down Petr Cech, he only managed to scuff the ball into the outstretched chest of the Czech goalkeeper.
In the second half, perhaps as a functional switch or a needed one, the limping Pedro was hauled off to bring on Tiemoue Bakayoko, leaving just Willian to support Morata up front. This alleviated issues for Chelsea, with the sturdy Frenchman hovering in front of the back-line, allowing Fabregas to act freely knowing that his defensive load had been lightened.
The game throughout was tactically tense, with little given away in the separation between the teams. To liven things up almost simultaneously, both Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard were brought on by opposite sides to maybe give the game an edge. And the latter managed to sting Petr Cech’s hands after a signature jink back-and-forth from the left hand side.
But red was the dominant color for both sides. The away support was ecstatic after a free-kick from the right hand side met the forehead of Shkodran Mustafi and nestled in the back of the net. But it was as if there was a latency issue as he didn’t realize that the flag was raised on the far side and that his goal was chalked off for offside.
In this powder keg of a game, it seemed that every foul was picking up a yellow and that the momentum was leading towards one less player being on the pitch. With three minutes to go in the match, the Chelsea end were seeing red as David Luiz poorly controlled a touch after a shoulder barge from Sanchez and made a high tackle on Kolasinac—clipping him on the shin with one foot.
Morata, who wasn’t getting much of his usual whipped in service, was taken off so that Andreas Christensen could shore up the back line, and the Chelsea side tucked in to hold out the Arsenal storm.
A slow sunday
Both sides will come out of this game disappointed (albeit Arsenal less so given their record at the ground), with very clear chances landing at the feet of players but both failing to capitalize.
Arsenal as a whole seemed to be far better drilled than expected, but it led to a really frustrating, niggling tempo between the London clubs. Passes didn’t flow from either side and over time, it created an atmosphere that led to cynical challenges as the game came to a conclusion.
Liverpool will thank Chelsea for stopping Arsenal from overtaking them, but Chelsea will hope a potential banana skin at Stoke will be an opportunity to bounce back, sans Luiz.