Goals from Alexandre Lacazette and captain Laurent Koscielny saw Arsenal defeat Chelsea to spark the battle for the top four into life as they won comfortably, 2-0 on Saturday, January 19th.
The game started at a ferocious pace, with Arsenal players harrying Chelsea into mistakes in their own half. Indeed, when Lacazette netted his eighth goal of the season in the 14thminute, it was little surprise as Arsenal had spurned numerous chances already.
Chelsea had perhaps managed to get more of a foothold in the game after the goal, but more lax defending in the 39thminute saw six Chelsea players miss a ball into the six-yard box, allowing Koscielny to fortuitously, but deservedly, make it 2-0 via his shoulder.
From then on Unai Emery’s Arsenal surrendered possession for shape and cohesion in defence. The result was that they looked strangely solid, while Chelsea looked familiarly one-dimensional with Eden Hazard as a “false nine”.
Much like Tottenham had done to Chelsea just a few weeks ago, Arsenal man-marked Jorginho, the Blues’ metronome in midfield, and stifled their rhythm. In the centre of the pitch Chelsea found a crowded midfield, with gritty and street-smart defending by the trio of Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi.
There was a clear plan by Emery. In the absence of a focal point in attack and no space in midfield, Chelsea had to force the ball wide. This isolated Hazard as the false nine and with Sokratis and Koscielny in top form, Bernd Leno had little work to do in goal.
Yet as good as Arsenal were, Chelsea were worse. Maurizio Sarri was visibly angry well before Lacazette’s opener. His players did little to ease his mood throughout the afternoon.
While Arsenal had presented tactical problems for his Chelsea side, they lacked the sharpness and movement to know how much was down to tactics and how much to effort.
Sarri clearly felt it was the latter, telling the BBC his team lacked “intensity” and “motivation”.
When Sarri finally decided to change tactics and bring on ex-Arsenal man Olivier Giroud, it had little effect. Sokratis celebrated tackles like goals and Koscielny proved there is life in his achilles yet.
Arsenal were comfortable, and now top four is anyone’s guess.