Mikel Arteta made some bold changes to his starting XI for the visit of Chelsea but remained loyal to his captain – who influenced a crucial win that will hopefully bring some much-needed life back into Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge.
Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta both decided to give a player a surprise start against their former club on Tuesday evening as Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was brought back into the starting XI for the first time in the league since this very fixture at Stamford Bridge as the Chelsea caretaker boss sought to bring a focal point to his attack by including a player with a point to prove, giving us a potential tasty narrative in the process. The other man brought in was ex-Blue, Jorginho, who replaced the out-of-form Thomas Partey. The narrative was lacking in comparison, but there was still an opportunity for it to be a little bit juicy.
After watching his side’s title challenge fall by the wayside in recent weeks, Arteta made some changes that would hopefully bring a more assured performance. Jakub Kiwior came in for his first Premier League start against a team lacking any sort of bite in the final third, while Leandro Trossard started ahead of Gabriel Martinelli – who was the unfortunate one in the undroppable front three to in fact be dropped to the bench.
With Manchester City back on top, Arsenal needed a win, and coming up against this Chelsea side was a perfect opportunity. The Arsenal of last season might have lost this game – like they did against Brighton in April last season with the Seagulls on a seven-match winless run – but their depth and mentality are a lot better this year.
There were one or two signs of nerves and a lack of confidence with Oleksandr Zinchenko sacrificing possession on a number of occasions early on. Luckily for him, Chelsea were treating the ball like a hot potato and clearly wanted nothing to do with it. Some anxiety was gone after 18 minutes thanks to Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard, who scored an absolute peach, made a lot better by the fact Kepa Arrizabalaga tipped it onto the underside of the bar. The skiff off the woodwork really does add a chef’s kiss, doesn’t it?
Chelsea reacted relatively well to going behind and should have equalised with their first touch in the opposition box as Ben Chilwell was denied by Aaron Ramsdale. After a positive 13 minutes for the visitors, Odegaard grabbed his second and gave the Gunners a two-goal lead, which they had squandered twice in their previous four matches.
The defending for both of Odegaard goals was embarrassing. He was able to walk into a position to score without a man properly marking him both times. Chilwell had half an eye on him for the opener and Raheem Sterling was an innocent bystander as the Norwegian playmaker ran around the back of him to double his side’s advantage.
More shambolic defending helped Gabriel Jesus make it three and it was game over. Kepa did not make himself big enough after his defence failed to deal with a ball into the box, then the sublime chest control of Jesus, the effort from Xhaka, and the subsequent finish from Arsenal’s No. 9.
Having barely touched the ball in the first half, Lampard decided to bring off Aubameyang during the break, saving him a bit of abuse as he was able to trudge from the dressing room to the bench then instead of after an hour in front of the home fans.
Zinchenko decided to mess up the hosts’ chances of keeping a clean sheet by doing his best impression of Sterling as Chelsea’s best player on the night, Noni Madueke, took advantage and made it 3-1. This was Chelsea’s second goal in six matches under Lampard.
The Blues boss tried to give us another opportunity for a narrative by bringing on Mykhaylo Mudryk – who was greeted by boos as he stepped onto the pitch he was desperate to call home – but he was never going to have much of a chance to change things, which he would have found difficult had he started given the fact Chelsea are rubbish.
Arsenal should have been more ruthless in the second half. They had an opportunity to embarrass their London rivals and failed to do so. Why show mercy? And despite their dominance for much of the game, Arsenal gave Chelsea the incentive to attack in the last 15 minutes, making for a potentially nervous conclusion at The Emirates. Arsenal did get the crucial win to go top of the Premier League again, which is all that matters really, especially considering they have ended a four-match winless run in the process.
Trossard, Kiwior and Jorginho’s inclusions from the start were more than justified. Jorginho and Trossard did everything we know they can do, while the vast majority of us did not know what to expect from Kiwior, who quite rightly replaced Rob Holding – whose place in the team makes the Gunners a lot less dominant.
It was a positive debut for the Polish defender. He should start at Newcastle on Sunday and has begged the question: should Arteta have played him sooner? Completing 53 of his 57 passes is a tidy total. Meanwhile, three interceptions, four clearances and one tackle is a solid return. Winning one of his four aerial duels is slightly concerning, it has to be said.
Unfortunately, there was no tasty Aubameyang, Jorginho, or Mudryk narrative. Just one manager who made a few big chances that paid off, and another who is badly out of his depth, but is giving the fans of the 19 other Premier League clubs something to smile about.