Tactics Talk: Chelsea defeat highlights Arsenal’s frailty in defending set-pieces
It was an intriguing match at the Emirates on Saturday as Arsenal welcomed league leaders, Chelsea. Since taking over seven months ago, Roberto Di Matteo has steadily gone about building a vibrant team while enhancing his own reputation as a successful and tactically aware top level manager. The wily figure of Arsene Wenger isn’t unfamiliar to the Italian though as he’s only managed to defeat the Arsenal manager once in his managerial career. Saturday was a different story…
Wenger’s biggest call came in his selection at the centre of defence. Thomas Vermaelen was now fit after illness last weekend and the captain returned in place of Per Mertesacker. Laurent Koscielny partnered him with Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson either side. Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta started behind Santi Cazorla in midfield with the front three consisting of Gervino, Lukasz Podolski and Aaron Ramsay; the latter being a surprise starter of late. Vito Mannone completed the attacking 4-3-3 which Wenger has used in every one of his side’s games this season.
It would be naïve of any visiting side to the Emirates to disregard Arsenal’s passing quality and Roberto Di Matteo made sure his side was built to cope. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1, Chelsea began with Petr Cech in goal and a regular back four of Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry and Ashley Cole – a defence which has lost only one game when playing together this season. Ramires and John Obi Mikel would be key in front of them with Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard given licence to roam around Fernando Torres. Frank Lampard was the biggest miss as he took his place on the bench of a surprisingly attacking side.
First Half – Chelsea set the pace
Arsenal always dominate possession at home don’t they? Wrong. Because Chelsea started at the Emirates with a firm focus on pressurising Arsenal in midfield before using the ball to get their attacking players playing. Chelsea made 239 successful passes in the first half, four more than Arsenal, and 61 of which came from Ramires and Mikel. Their task was helped after Diaby went off injured on 17 minutes as the midfielder’s physicality is key to a lightweight Arsenal midfield.
It was clear Wenger had Torres in mind when selecting the more dynamic Vermaelen and Koscielny in defence, but it was apparent that Torres would be too much even for them. His determination saw him beat a static Koscielny from a set-piece hooking past Mannone and putting his team one up after 20 minutes. Chelsea utilising a tactic in the same way they would later in the game.
Undeterred though, Arsenal began to make an impact in the Chelsea half, Cazorla completing 15 of 16 passes in the final third and Gervinho having his one and only shot of the entire game. A shot he was afforded after an uncharacteristic failure from John Terry to press his first touch in the box. This was a hugely important goal which drew his side level just three minutes before half-time.
Second half – Defensive mistakes cost Arsenal
The lacklustre quality of Arsenal’s passing must have been noticeable to Wenger as he galvanised his team to an improved second half. Mikel Arteta began to come deeper to pick the ball up from the defence with Gibbs and Jenkinson operating high on the flanks. This allowed Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain to join in with Gervinho who had cut an isolated figure at times in the first half. Oxlade-Chamberlain created more chances than any other player on the park, but as has been the case since Robin van Persie left North London there was no-one on hand to apply the important touch.
Chelsea had no such problem as Torres led the line like a man returning to his best form. He was involved in nine aerial duels, received 42 passes in Arsenal’s final third and contributed to 17 combined dribbles by Di Matteo’s front three. His persistence in chasing loose balls in Arsenal’s defence paid off after he outstripped Vermaelen to draw a foul 25 yards from goal. Arsenal, or Koscielny rather, failed to deal with the wicked Mata delivery and diverted the ball past Mannone. Terrible defending from a set-piece…again!
A double substitution from Wenger 10 minutes after was his last throw of the dice, but it was nowhere near enough to peg Chelsea back. Di Matteo introduced Bertrand and Cahill to strengthen numbers in defence and the game petered out with Arsenal only really threatening with a Olivier Giroud shot.
Arsenal still have problems as Torres shines
Wenger can learn two valuable lessons from this defeat. Firstly, he either needs Olivier Giroud or Gervinho to step up with their overall striking play, or sign a new striker. Torres demonstrated the benefits of having a dynamic goal scoring frontman and his performance paid off for Chelsea.
More significantly, Arsenal’s frailty in defending set-pieces is excruciatingly evident. Not only was Joleon Lescott’s header from a corner last week not enough, but Laurent Koscielny gifted two goals from similar free-kicks on Saturday.
“In the big games, you can’t afford to give goals away the way we did today. That is unacceptable.” Arsene Wenger knows the problems, but whether his side can fix them remains to be seen.Tagged in: Arsenal, chelsea, football, Premier League
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