Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Chelsea
Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to keep their top four hopes well and truly alive as they’re now just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.
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Two first half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny did the damage against a lackluster Chelsea, as Maurizio Sarri’s men continue to struggle to score goals and badly need to complete their business in the January transfer window.
Here’s a look at what we learned as Unai Emery got a huge win in this London derby.
NO CENTRAL STRIKER HOLDING BACK CHELSEA
With Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian deployed as the front three and the former playing as a false nine, time and time again the ball just kept coming back at Chelsea’s midfield. Even with N’Golo Kante around they couldn’t deal with it. Chelsea’s midfielders and attackers looked as if they were treading through treacle in the final third and they were lacking a focal point. In the second half they improved, but they hardly had Arsenal’s defense worried. With Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out of the club and Gonzalo Higuain close to arriving on a loan move, it is clear Sarri wants a focal point in his team and Higuain is the answer. But Chelsea’s play has to get the best out of a central striker and that will take a significant shift in the the Sarri-ball style. The high-pressing style wasn’t clear to see in a big London derby against one of the top four rivals. If Higuain, 31, isn’t the answer, Sarri has big problems in his debut campaign in England as Manchester United and now Arsenal breath down their necks in the top four battle. They still have United, Man City and Liverpool to play away from home, and Chelsea will be looking over their shoulders nervously. Hazard and N’Golo Kante are being played out of position and Sarri is showing signs of being stubborn. Things are not heading in the right direction.
ARSENAL’S HUNGER REIGNITES TOP 4 HOPES
In contrast to Chelsea’s slow, predictable play, the pressure from Arsenal’s attacking players was relentless and set the tone for this victory. It also showed why Mesut Ozil’s days are likely numbered at Arsenal under Emery and how big, and correct, of a call that was. The way both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayeng tracked back from the front was infectious, especially in the first half when the damage was done. With the Gunners now just three points off the top four, it shows they are still in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League spot despite their recent defeats against the likes of Southampton, West Ham and Liverpool amid a defensive injury crisis. The Gunners simply had to win this game against Chelsea and they were well organized and as soon as they went 2-0 up, you never felt like they were going to blow this lead. The hunger of their frontline to deliver was key, and Emery’s men now have a run of four very winnable games (and a trip to Man City) in their next five PL games.
EMERY OUTPERFORMING SARRI
When these two teams met in August, it was Sarri’s Chelsea who prevailed 3-2 as two new managers were getting used to life in the Premier League. There were signs in that clash that Arsenal were turning the corner after a slow start. And you can now say that Arsenal look more likely than Chelsea to kick on in the second half of the season. Going forward they have more dynamism, more flexibility and more options. In midfield both teams posses masterful technicians and impactful destroyers. Emery and Sarri both have their strict philosophies and love to press high, and although Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies weren’t exposed by an extremely toothless Chelsea, that is the area Emery will want to improve. He has improved an awful lot at Arsenal since he arrived in the summer and you can make a very good argument that this win highlighted the greater progress he has made compared to Sarri. Chelsea started the season superbly, but Arsenal are just three points behind them with 15 games to go. The race for a place in the top four between two giants juggling the Europa League this season will go down to the wire.