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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Arsenal lose to Chelsea but some positives for Mikel Arteta

Arsenal suffered a late collapse against Chelsea but Mikel Arteta is already making a positive impact on his side 

Mikel Arteta consoles Matteo Guendouzi
Mikel Arteta consoles Matteo Guendouzi
Mikel Arteta could not hide his disappointment after Arsenal's 2-1 loss to Chelsea, but he offered no excuses in his press conference afterwards. Should Jorginho not have been sent off? "We can't change that," he said. Was Bernd Leno's error to blame for the collapse? "It happens."
Instead, he conceded that Arsenal simply fell short when it mattered, that they lacked the stamina to go until the end and that their naivety was punished at crucial moments. He is under no illusions about the work that lies ahead for him at Arsenal. But it was telling that there was also a focus on the positives. "I am pleased with a lot of things that I have seen," he said.

Because aside from the crushing disappointment of the result and the manner in which Arsenal gave up the decisive goals, there was plenty to like about their overall performance. Arteta's first home game in charge did not yield any points, but it did at least provide clear signs of progress.

Arteta had spoken about turning the Emirates Stadium into a fortress in the build-up to the game. He talked of "connecting the team with the fans" and implementing an exciting, forward-thinking playing style that would lift Arsenal up the table and change the mood around the club.
For the opening half-hour, it seemed he was already fulfilling those aims. Arsenal were irresistible in that period. Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang and Alexandre Lacazette set the tone, pressing Chelsea's defenders aggressively high up the pitch and - together with Reiss Nelson and Mesut Ozil - springing forward at pace at every opportunity.
Some of the combination play was dazzling and the home fans showed their appreciation in the stands, applauding the flicks and feints and imploring Arsenal to keep piling forwards. From his technical area down on the touchline, Arteta cajoled his players, using breaks in play to offer encouragement and relay instructions.
The Spaniard has only had a week to work with these players, but it is a testament to his coaching ability that a side so often limp and disjointed in recent months were instead incisive and meticulously coordinated. The opening goal came from a well-worked corner, but it was from open play that Arsenal caused the most problems for Chelsea.
The visitors could not cope with their speed and movement and soon resorted to fouling them. At one point, there were three bookings in the space of four minutes, with N'Golo Kante, Mason Mount and Antonio Rudiger all penalised for late challenges. At the break, Chelsea had committed 13 fouls - the most in one half by any side all season.
Arsenal's dominance forced Frank Lampard into an early change of system, with Jorginho replacing Emerson as he switched to four at the back. Jorginho gave Chelsea greater control of the midfield and would go on to score the equaliser, but Arteta will also be encouraged by how Arsenal kept them contained before the late collapse.


Work-rate and team spirit restored

Arsenal showed plenty of fight against Chelsea
Arsenal showed plenty of fight against Chelsea
It owed a lot to the kind of defensive work-rate that was too often absent before Arteta's arrival. The new head coach has given his players no leeway in that regard, describing hard work and dedication as "non-negotiables", and on this evidence they are buying into it.
No player embodied Arsenal's determination to keep Chelsea at bay quite like Aubameyang. As early as the fourth minute, the 31-year-old could be seen tracking back to bail makeshift left-back Bukayo Saka out of trouble following a loose pass in his own half. It became a theme of the afternoon.

There are plenty who would argue that using Aubameyang on the left flank is a waste of his talents, but as well as scoring two goals in two games from that position under Arteta, he has worked harder than ever before too. According to Premier League tracking data, Aubameyang has covered more ground in his last two appearances than in any of his previous 18.
The home crowd roared with delight when he sprinted back to dispossess Fikayo Tomori near the Arsenal box in the closing stages of the first half and it was not an isolated occurrence. By the end of the game, Aubameyang had made nearly twice as many tackles and interceptions combined (five) as in any other game this season.
Aubameyang was not the only one who threw himself into it. David Luiz was outstanding at times, throwing himself into challenges bravely and smashing the ball into the stands when the circumstances demanded it, while Lucas Torreira was similarly diligent in midfield.
Arsenal were forced deeper in the second half, eventually losing their composure, but Arteta was right when he said afterwards that he could not remember any clear Chelsea chances before their equaliser. Arsenal's defensive discipline and compactness for 83 minutes provides hope that Arteta is already tightening them up.

Ozil on board with Arteta's ideas

 Mikel Arteta gives instructions to Mesut Ozil
Mikel Arteta gives instructions to Mesut Ozil
Much was made of how Ozil would respond to Arteta's demands, but the early evidence is encouraging.
Following his impressive performance against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, where he created a string of scoring chances for his team-mates, he produced another eye-catching display against Chelsea.
There were plenty of standout moments in the first half. There was the backheeled flick to release Nelson on Arsenal's right flank. There was the dummy which allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles' pass to run through to the onrushing Torreira. Shortly before the break, there was even a sublime chested pass to the same player from a high ball inside the centre circle.
But Arteta will take the most satisfaction from his off the ball work. It is already clear that Ozil, so disillusioned under Unai Emery, is on board with his former team-mate's ideas. He is willing to put in the hard yards as well as provide the creativity he specialises in - and the statistics prove it.

 

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