Arsenal lost 1-2 to Chelsea at the Emirates, making this their worst home form since the sideburn era. It was the 82nd minute and the camera focused on George Graham in the VIP box. You know him as the manager who made the phrase “One-nil to the Arsenal” a standard. It was almost an omen at Mikel Arteta’s first home game in charge petering down to a one-nil win with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s early stooping header (13th minute) being the difference.
Conceding two late goals in quick succession to their bitter city rivals turned the bugle blow for a new era at the Emirates a screeching, panning klaxon of all the qualities they lack. We look at a couple of the major talking points of the match that has left Arsenal lurching at 24 points from 20 games.
It has to get worse before it gets better
“A defeat but some good signs for @Arsenal under Arteta. Still convinced they’ll stay up,” tweeted Gary Lineker at the end of the match.
In football, the conclusions are bloated by exaggeration, fickle, and yet over the course of time, they add up to the truth as if compelled by the universe. In simpler words, expect the worst and the worst happens.
Even at 1-0 up with only seven minutes of regulation time left to play, the Emirates was like a pimple about to pop with the invisible duress of willful anxiety. Such was the power of this cumulative anxiousness, that it washed down the stands, onto the players in red and white, and transferred through to the unbeknown Arsenal fan sitting at home in front of the TV screen resulting in the involuntary tightening of sphincters. Even with 1-0 up and almost half the Chelsea team on the cusp of being sent off with a second bookable offence, even with Arsenal effectively outmanoeuvring the men in blue, it was Arsenal who were playing within themselves. Whether it was the sudden chill of the wind or the timing of acid reflux that gave it away, Arsenal fans have an innate ability of unwittingly summoning the self-fulfilling prophecy. It was almost eerie how the winds changed.
For the first 30 minutes of this fixture, Arsenal were unfazed in their flight: Full-backs Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka were teleporting all over the pitch. There were multiple sightings of Aubameyang as a striker who covered the left-back channels, sliding in with tackles, and integral interceptions – qualities elusive in the football fauna. Mesut Ozil was set free by the double pivot in midfield. He ran in the manner of friendly dolphins who often swim by catamarans. In that sense, Ozil was the catamaran, and the dolphins were his support staff who steered him clear of the advances of Chelsea’s midfield sharks napping at his ankle. Matteo Guendouzi and David Luiz interchanged position when Arsenal were on the front foot, and for the men who were marking them, it felt as unfair and bewildering as the coin in a cup trick. There was urgency, high-intensity sprints reaching a season-high. All was going swimmingly until it didn’t.
By the 60th minute, the galavanting, gazumping plays were slowing down. The number of sprints came to a plateau. To put it simply, one of the arrows on their dashboards was flickering to ‘E.’ Empty. The fire that burned so brightly in their tummies was now fizzled to disgruntled steam. The Arsenal team were not being able to contain and counter, it had to be one of those two things. With legs not reaching where the mind wants to go, Frank Lampard’s energetic charges took the impetus and attacked in the manner of Huns coming over the hill and got their spoils through the raids of Jorginho (83rd minute) and Tammy Abraham (87th minute).
The first Chelsea goal came with a momentary lapse of reason from the Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno causing him to come out early from a corner from their left-hand side and get hopelessly underneath the trajectory of the ball, resulting in a Jorginho tap in. The second goal came with Arsenal backline standing off a charging Tammy Abraham, who promptly turned Shkodran Mustafi like a revolving door, sent his shot low and hard into the left corner of the net.
The two goals that were almost gifted to Chelsea spoke of more than just the qualities of the away side, but also the deficiencies of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal: First, the players’ matchday conditioning is not up to par, not by a long shot. Secondly, the incapacity to hold their concentration levels despite fading stamina.
If football was a game of sixty minutes Arsenal would have won 1-0 last night, but it isn’t. Things will get worse for Arsenal who are set to go through a steep mental and physical learning curb at the start of the new decade, a lot worse before they get better.
With this loss, Arsenal have lost more consecutive matches than they ever did since 1959. The carpet of this establishment has gathered weight and needs to be taken into the warmth and scrutinising light of the sun, hung, and dusted hard. Arteta who appeared in a sharp power suit on the Matchday Programme Cover distributed around Emirates prior to this match, with the squeaky clean countenance of a 1960s Pan Am aeroplane pilot, will need an apron and a hairnet and the most powerful vacuum cleaner in Britain.
Bringing chainsaws to a chess match
It was the 25th minute and Chelsea hadn’t started yet and already a goal down to a Calum Chambers knock-on from a corner, headed in by Aubameyang. Arsenal’s fullbacks were making a mockery of their blue counterparts. Such were the vitality of Saka and Maitland-Niles, that they did not only have a foothold but started setting up bunkers in deep within enemy lines. Aubameyang and Lacazette received moral boosts in the form of despatches. Frank Lampard, once a midfield general, had to do something, and so he did.
Emerson, his left full-back, who was ineffective and looks to be on his way out to Inter Milan in January was yanked off and midfield Jorginho was put in his place. Frank Lampard effectively threw his 3-5-2 tactics and a week’s worth of preparation and careful planning away. The silent message to Areta was simple: “We are done playing to your weaknesses, it’s time we start playing to our strengths.”
The Chelsea legend made the mistake of starting on the back foot offering too much respect to the man beside him on the touchline. Not that it wasn’t warranted. Arsenal’s play in the first half dominated Chelsea’s channels and outnumbered their midfield, and sent Chelsea gasping for breath to cover the wide spaces afforded in the wider areas. But with the substitution, the levee that broke was sealed up incrementally by an additional Chelsea man in the middle. By the second half, Jorginho latched onto all that unrestrained Chelsea energy and began to aim it at Arsenal with the force of a water cannon.
The fearless introduction of teenager Tariq Lamptey in favour of substituting Fiyako Tomori was another masterstroke. The 19-year-old wing-back played with boundless energy and lack of the concept of stage fright in his debut showing, bombed forward and was integral in sending the Arsenal backline running backwards. He affected the disorganisation in the Arsenal shape that helped Willian and Ngolo Kante dovetail and setting up Tammy Abraham for his goal. Frank Lampard’s in-game management was on full HD display.
In the end, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea were protagonists while Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal were reduced to being spectators to their own horror flick.
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Updated Date: Dec 30, 2019 14:09:20 IST