match report – player ratings – by the numbers – Video
When Gabriel Jesus couldn’t make enough contact in Gabriel Martinelli’s 29th-minute cross, I had mixed emotions. First, the frustration of having missed a very good opportunity to take the lead at Stamford Bridge. Jesus held up his thumb and forefinger to indicate ‘This much…’, and no one could have argued that we didn’t deserve to be in the front.
The second emotion was something akin to pride. The movement that led to the opportunity was so impressive. Accurate and safe back passes, touch layoffs, push to get up and Martinelli’s movement to take all those defenders out of the game. Unfortunately Jesús could not specify what would have been one of the goals of the season, but the reality of Arsenal Football Club right now is in that passage of the game.
There has been a lot of talk about how this side has more character than before. Lots of discussion about our drive and belief; how players like Jesús, Oleksandr Zinchenko and William Saliba have given us something more. But it struck me that there isn’t always enough talk about how technically good these players are individually and collectively, and that moment should open our eyes to what we’re seeing this season.
From start to finish, Arsenal were on top at Stamford Bridge. We’ve won there before, this is our third season in a row to take all three points away from home, but I don’t think we’ve ever done it like that. Chelsea barely threatened, and the only negative that can be addressed about Arsenal is that the sharpness we showed in the rest of the field wasn’t quite there in the final third.
It’s rare that I mention a specific opposition player unless he’s done something heinous, but as much as I loved our performance yesterday, I was impressed by Thiago Silva in Chelsea’s defence. At 38, he basically kept them together, and without him I think we would have won by a bigger margin. We certainly could have done better at times, but the way he defended saved Chelsea time and time again.
I liked that the goal we scored was a bit rudimentary, but we must not overlook how that corner came about. As Thiago Silva desperately searched for someone to pass to, Arsenal turned on their pressure and Gabriel Jesus stole the ball from his compatriot. Bukayo Saka fed him and his shot stopped him at the near post. From the resulting set piece, Gabriel jumped while Chelsea defenders were static, more interested in holding on to opponents than trying to win the ball, and it was 1–0.
As I said, the scoreboard was a bit flattering for Chelsea, and it was another scoreless game for Jesus. However, with all the pre-match spotlight on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang versus his former club blah blah blah, it is interesting to contrast the performances of the two starting forwards. Neither of them scored, but one of them had a significant impact on the game while the other was completely anonymous.
The former Arsenal captain was withdrawn shortly after the hour mark after having had only 8 touches on the ball all day. Jesus was instrumental in Arsenal’s dominance, even if the goal he desperately wanted didn’t come. It was just an excellent centre-forward game on his part. The way he ran, he chased, he hounded, he pressed, he held the ball under real pressure against much bigger guys. The goals will come, I have no doubt, but there is a lack of interest in his way of playing. The guy desperate for a goal can conserve some energy, stay in areas where the ball can fall to him, but Jesus’ first thought is the job he has to do for the team, and you have to respect that.
Although he is not alone. I mentioned that movement because of the Jesus opportunity, but that doesn’t happen by accident. The automatisms of Arteta are played there. Not only because these players are well trained and know where they need to be on the field, but because they work so hard to get into those positions. Yesterday I watched William Saliba closely, and obviously he was outstanding defensively. His presence is unbelievable at only 21 years old, but I saw him make a pass and then run back to put it down and create another angle if needed.
That happened throughout the field, from minute 1 to 96 when the referee whistled. Chelsea was pedestrian by comparison. Arsenal players knew where their teammates would be; Chelsea had to look up and see what was going on, and that was often the trigger for our press. This is not just a team that is playing well and riding the momentum to go from game to game; this is a team that has momentum because it is extremely talented, with smart players who can apply coach’s training camp methods to game scenarios. We are seeing the end result of excellent training, very good recruiting, and behind that we have the ‘soft factors’ like desire, motivation and hunger that are obviously present as well.
I also think the experience of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka are key components to the form of this team. The former absolutely dominated the midfield yesterday; the latter continued his good form and at the end of that incident which resulted in some shoving was just what we needed at that point in the game. For a guy who has lost his cool several times over the years, is there a better example of the more mature Xhaka than him causing Chelsea to lose theirs and focus on him in the dying embers of the match? Jorginho, in the last seconds, was perfect; it meant they were baffled by some shitty casing and not concentrating on grabbing the equalizer. His post-game interview on BT Sport, where he did a Freddie and called the atmosphere “fucking amazing” was also a lot of fun.
Later, Mikel Arteta said:
I was very impressed, we are a very young team, but we showed a lot of maturity, a lot of composure, a lot of courage, a lot of determination to play at this stage in the way we have played, it is easy to say but very difficult to do. I think the boys were phenomenal today.
He is not wrong. Even if you point out that this iteration of Chelsea, having spent a quarter of a billion pounds in the summer, is a work in progress (I don’t really think so, but some do), the way Arsenal controlled the game yesterday. it was just outstanding. I will not say that during the 90 minutes I was completely calm and free of nerves, a one-goal lead never allows that, but I was able to absolutely recognize which team was on top and it was us at all times.
Little things you can also take note of. The way all the players celebrated the goal: Saliba ran away as if he had scored the winning goal in a World Cup final. The union in the celebrations, after the goal and after the final whistle. It’s not a new observation, but the connectivity between the players, the coaching staff and the fans tells you a lot about what’s going on at Arsenal right now.
Arteta said of the support:
It was great, they have been absolutely phenomenal, they have transformed the club, the energy of the club, that is my opinion and they have transformed the way the team believes in what they are doing. Sharing that with them away from home is really special. I had my family there, I had my son there in the middle of the crowd, so that was great.
He’s not wrong, the fans have been amazing, but he’s deliberately downplaying his own role in this. Through some real struggles and a couple of genuinely difficult periods, if you’re going to talk about how the fans have transformed the club, then as a fan I’ll acknowledge your part in that too. Compare and contrast where we are now from where we were, and who we were, when he took office. This is far from a one-man band, of course. There are many more behind the scenes who deserve credit for the transformation, but managers are the first to get hit when things go wrong, so let me give Arteta a start this morning because he absolutely deserves it.
We’re back at the top of the league, and we all know there’s still a long way to go, but worrying too much about destiny means you might not get to experience how it unfolds as much as you should. This Arsenal team is taking us on a great journey right now, and I’m absolutely going to enjoy it as much as I can.
Right, that’s all for now. James and I will be recording Arsecast Extra this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra, or if you’re an Arseblog member on Patreon, leave your question on the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord. server.
We’ll have the pod for you by lunchtime. Until then.