16 Conclusions on Arsenal 5-0 Chelsea: Odegaard, White; Caicedo and Mudryk humbled; Cole Palmer FC

Matt Stead
Arsenal players Martin Odegaard and Benjamin White, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino and defender Marc Cucurella
Arsenal just gave Chelsea a paddlin'

Chelsea can hijack all the transfers they want but without that Arsenal structure it is pointless. Mikel Arteta might have just put Mauricio Pochettino down.


1) The rush to declare the Premier League title race over was always preposterously impulsive. Arsenal and Liverpool losing on the same weekend Manchester City strolled to a comfortable victory made for a neat but entirely false narrative. Pep Guardiola’s side are not of the relentless 2019 run-in vintage and remain more likely than not to drop points in at least one of their tough final six games.

The onus is on the two chasers to keep themselves in a position to capitalise, and Arsenal have reacted in stunning fashion to a damaging three-game run which could have defined their season.

Seven more goals. Two more clean sheets. A four-point gap Manchester City will have to work incredibly hard to reverse again. Arsenal are still not favourites but this is proof of genuine growth: the sort of skid which immediately brought last season’s challenge to a crashing, crushing halt has been, as Mikel Arteta demanded, a mere “bump in the road” this time.

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2) Fair play to Mauricio Pochettino for at least trying to make the best of a bad situation, but it is difficult to recall a manager quote backfiring quite so quickly or catastrophically as his inspirational speech in the build-up to this game.

It is a good challenge in case Palmer is not available for tomorrow. If I am a teammate of Cole Palmer in his position or a similar position, for sure I am going to be motivated to go there tomorrow and show this is Chelsea Football Club, not Cole Palmer Football Club.

Cue a resounding defeat in which the keeper who conceded five goals was their best player. What an incredibly damning and very possibly sack-worthy indictment of Pochettino’s absolute inability to inspire this inexperienced group. They certainly showed this is Chelsea Football Club, just not in the way the manager intended.


3) Pochettino cannot avoid blame either. True as it is that he has been asked to build on quicksand with poor tools and substandard materials, he has played a bad hand terribly on so many occasions.

Dropping both Thiago Silva and Trevoh Chalobah after their excellent performances at Wembley was as inexplicable as some of Axel Disasi and Benoit Badiashile’s defending in their stead. The manager made no changes until Chelsea were 4-0 down and the game was gone. And when he did call on his substitutes, the formation became an increasingly incoherent mess of about five defenders who didn’t know which positions they were supposed to be taking up, and four forwards who could not sustain any attacks because the dreadful Moises Caicedo comprised the entirety of their midfield.

It was a terrible starting line-up compounded by some awful mid-game changes. Chelsea had one shot in the 30 minutes after making their first substitution: the tamest of free-kicks from an ineffective Raheem Sterling.

It has been said about many a manager before, but while Pochettino is undoubtedly not the problem at Stamford Bridge, he has not come close to feeling like a solution either.

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4) The degree to which Chelsea rely on a 21-year-old new signing in his first season as a regular starter at senior level is absurd. The manager didn’t even feel Palmer was a necessary purchase and he could easily have joined a different club in the summer.

Chelsea have spent more than £1billion to be mid-table with the worst defensive record in their Premier League history – and it would have been even worse if Manchester City decided to entertain offers for their saviour earlier in the summer.

That alternative timeline is unthinkably awkward for Todd Boehly and his executive friends because with Palmer they are dysfunctional but without him they are diabolical. It is an almost irresponsible burden to place on his shoulders alone, yet his teammates have specifically proven either incapable of or unwilling to share it; there is a laughable amount of work to be done and no clarity on where to even start addressing that remarkable absence of leadership and maturity.


5) But these are not bad players. Difficult as it can be, ignore the transfer fees and assess the individuals. There is a World Cup winner among them, and former targets of some of the best managers in the world.

Marc Cucurella, Caicedo and Mykhaylo Mudryk look incompetent in this team yet Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta publicly pursued them. Kalvin Phillips tells us that is no guarantee of success but it is as close to an ideal character reference as a side could wish to have.

Spurs are a far better side than Chelsea, and apparently far bigger advocates of Chelsea’s captain than Chelsea themselves are. The Blues are compelling proof that the right structure and system is still overlooked to a comical degree when it comes to recruitment. It turns out that assembling a squad requires more than simply hijacking the transfers really good teams are trying to make.


6) They could not ask for a better example to follow than that of Arsenal. This team has been constructed at no little expense but each composite part has been meticulously identified and acquired based on this specific team’s needs.

No other club would have entertained the outlay on Kai Havertz or Benjamin White; many might have spent longer contemplating the resale value of Leandro Trossard; there was no concrete competition for David Raya. That does not matter to Arteta, who saw a space for their unique skillsets and had the necessary influence to insist they were signed.

It is not long ago that Gary Neville was castigating their recruitment in the most incriminating terms possible, nor that Sky Sports experts were openly laughing at the Takehiro Tomiyasu purchase. That might encourage Chelsea that these things can turn around quickly, but there is a stark difference between spectacular foresight and closing your eyes, running your finger down a list of the best available players aged 23 or under and throwing money at them. And that stark difference runs far beyond a 5-0 defeat.


7) There was no race for Martin Odegaard either. Arsenal loaned and then signed a player at least on a par with Kevin de Bruyne in terms of his perception, technique, execution and impact, and not a single club tried to stop them.

“We saw and Edu especially, he was insistent,” Arteta said after the game. “We both agreed he was a player with huge talent that could develop with us. We were convinced he could add something special.”

Between those stunning reverse passes and his consummate leading of ceaseless counter-presses, it can be safely assumed that the manager and sporting director were right. There is no better player in the league.


8) As for that Arsenal midfield, the vision for what Arteta intended this season was tantalising. Odegaard was phenomenal stationed a little further forward on the right, while Declan Rice was sensational when given licence to roam down the left. The Gunners do lose a modicum of defensive stability and assuredness with Thomas Partey sitting as the deepest of the three in the middle but the Ghanaian was superb on his second Premier League start since August.

That rest defence is basically a cheat code and their combined athleticism is peerless. It took four minutes for the Rice-Partey connection to blossom, as the latter’s first-time pass through some flimsy Chelsea lines allowed the former to drive into open space and set up Trossard’s opener. Chelsea’s £221.8m midfield never got to grips with them from that point on.

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9) But was it entirely necessary to keep the captain and Declan Rice on for the whole game? Bukayo Saka did at least come off after taking Marc Cucurella for a leisurely stroll, while White, Saliba and Gabriel seeing it through was probably fair enough. Subbing Raya might perhaps have been a bit too much.

The sight of Odegaard still sprinting to close Chelsea players down at 5-0 up was odd, especially after Arteta’s comments over the weekend about “the wellbeing of the players” and helping them “recover”. Feels like some of that energy could have been spared for Spurs.


10) The groove Arsenal established midway through the first half was irresistible. It summed up their approach brilliantly: between the 22nd and 28th minutes, they had 41.7% of the ball but eight shots to zero and a 95% pass-success rate.

Allowing Chelsea to have most of the possession was a deliberate tactic, nullifying the threat posed by quick forwards on the counter and exposing their non-existent combinations in attack. It didn’t feel like Mudryk, Noni Madueke or Nicolas Jackson completed a single pass to each other, and Arsenal picked them off at the most opportune times to start their own moves against a defence trying to rush back into shape.

Only Petrovic and some poor Havertz decisions kept Chelsea in the game during that period. The German choosing to pass in the six-yard box at the end of a stunning team move in the ninth minute was particularly scandalous.


11) The longer it went on, the more it felt as though Arsenal would be made to pay for their profligacy. A more ruthless side would have punished them but as it was, Chelsea mustered a couple of threatening situations from corners, an Enzo Fernandez shot from the edge of the area which drifted wide and a free header about 12 yards out which Jackson contrived to handball instead.

His miss in the second half from about four yards was arguably even worse, placed carefully into the side-netting after sending Gabriel tumbling with a delightful first touch.

There are makings of a decent player in Jackson – who should have been sent off for that first-half stamp on Tomiyasu – but it feels like those moments of ineptitude come too frequently for him to be given the patience to put it all together at Chelsea. He is very Darwin Nunez, but Liverpool are more stable elsewhere to afford that level of chaos.

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12) Arsenal coming out of that slump towards the end of the first half in the way they did was testament to their character. The tension in the stadium was palpable with a one-goal lead at the break. Chelsea had carelessly been given a foothold and the hosts looked vulnerable.

That shifted when Rice intercepted a loose Badiashile pass to Conor Gallagher in the final third and forced a corner. Arteta immediately turned to the crowd and gestured for them to get louder. It was Arsenal’s first shot in 14 minutes; four would follow in the two minutes thereafter, including the decisive second goal.

Twenty minutes into the second half, they were four goals up. When the teams re-emerged from the tunnel a Chelsea equaliser felt about as likely as an Arsenal second. It cannot be overstated how much that White goal settled the hosts and broke the visitors. He gave Mudryk less than nothing at one end and was arguably the most important player at the other.


13) The best bit was Cucurella’s actual tantrum, the Spaniard offering three double stomps on the spot, replete with flailing arms, as the player he had initially been marking confidently swept the ball home.

Second to that was Mudryk’s extraordinary ability to not only find a spot at least 10 yards from any other player when taking up positions from the corner, but to remain largely fixed to it as Arsenal embarked on the most obvious short corner routine ever, with Rice and Trossard in a ludicrous amount of space waiting for the Saka cut-back. It was as if Chelsea had never encountered the concept of a set-piece before.

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14) Not to labour the previous points comparing the recruitment policies – or lack thereof in one instance – of these two teams, but Mudryk and Caicedo were too bad not to.

Both these sides tried to sign both these players. Arsenal were roundly mocked for failing to do so when Chelsea swooped in for Mudryk, who looked inferior to his apparent Plan B in Trossard by every possible metric.

Caicedo was the player many felt Arsenal could not afford to miss out on but the sight of him slipping over his own feet trying to read an obvious Partey dummy early in the first half was striking. Moving on to Rice instead does not feel like much of a mistake.

In terms of incoming transfers, Arsenal’s last three summers have probably included two definite, irredeemable missteps in Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares – and both of those were in July 2021. Chelsea’s last three have included one undoubted success, as removing Palmer from the equation so devastatingly revealed. There’s your difference.


15) Havertz took his goals wonderfully, somehow resisting the physical prowess of Cucurella for the first before exploiting the naivety of Disasi and Badiashile with some delightful footwork in the area for the second.

The hat-trick never did come but Havertz was one of three onside Arsenal players waiting to convert the cross White ended up shanking into the net for his brace. That is the extent to which Chelsea’s defence essentially gave up by the end. It was embarrassing.


16) “He’s doing a great job. I think when you look at this team and analyse the last six or seven games of them, they deserve to win every match. They played big games and big teams and they deserved to beat all of them. So hopefully things will turn around and be as he deserves.”

Arteta really did learn more than just how to put the cones out under Guardiola. That is elite-level condescending head-patting of a pliable opponent.

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