As the game started, it was Chelsea rather than Arsenal with the sloppy defense. The Blues fluffed two clearances, allowing Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey to get onto the ball in the box, but Arsenal couldn’t capitalize. Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came close after just four minutes of play—Aubameyang had the sort of open shot that he usually can’t miss, but a last-second Chelsea intervention sent the ball wide.
It took Chelsea until the ten-minute mark to generate some offense, but they came dangerously close to scoring, with Eden Hazard putting his shot just wide of Arsenal’s goal.
After the scare, Arsenal took it right back to Chelsea’s end of the pitch and nearly scored again—Laurent Koscielny drew a save from Kepa Arrizabalaga with a header from a corner, coming even closer than Sokratis had earlier.
All of these chances had to amount to something—and Arsenal finally got on the board in the 14th minute. Hector Bellerin lofted a pass into the Chelsea box to Lacazette, who brought it around surrounded by Chelsea defenders and shot through a tiny hole and into the top corner.
They almost had a second with 17 minutes gone—a lone Aubameyang just got his shot off before the Blues arrived, but it was straight at Arrizabalaga.
And from there the cycle repeated. Heavy Arsenal pressure from the front three and the wings was punctuated by nerve-wracking but adequate defense. With slightly better shooting or slightly worse defending, Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Ramsey all could have gotten on the scoresheet.
Arsenal had another good chance from a free kick after a yellow card-worthy tackle on Ramsey. Lucas Torreira lofted the ball into the box, Sokratis mishit a shot, and Koscielny mishit the follow-up, completely whiffing with his head and instead shouldering the ball into the net for the Gunners’ second.
Chelsea piled the pressure on as the minutes ticked down, hitting the post and getting a free kick just outside the Gunners’ box, but Arsenal held on and took their two-goal lead into the break.
Arsenal had a quieter start to the second half, letting Chelsea see way more of the ball than they typically had in the first 45 minutes. But their defense looked less scrambled this time, and by the one-hour mark, Bernd Leno still hadn’t had too much to do. Chelsea apparently hadn’t brought their shooting boots to the Emirates—all of their shots went a few feet wide, except for one that Pedro hoofed almost into the second deck.
Arsenal then picked their way through Chelsea’s defense, winning a free kick outside of the Blues’ box that could have led to a third goal—Sead Kolasinac didn’t take his chance, and Ramsey couldn’t find a hole in Chelsea’s back line for the rebound.
A couple of curious substitutions followed—Alex Iwobi came on for Lacazette, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles for Ramsey, presumably for defense, although the two starters had both been playing wonderfully. Bellerin went down almost immediately afterward with a knee problem and had to be stretchered off, and replaced by Mohamed Elneny. The long break killed any momentum that Arsenal had found in the previous sequence, and it was back to defending once play resumed.
Fifteen minutes is a long time to hang on for this Arsenal team, but the Gunners kept it together as the game picked up again, and Leno was there when they needed him to be, making a save to deny Marcos Alonso. By the end of regular time it had turned into a scrappy match, with cramping muscles, stepped-on feet, and some nasty hands to the face of Maitland-Niles from Alonso. It was Ross Barkley who received a yellow card, though, for an equally nasty late tackle on Matteo Guendouzi.
Chelsea were awarded a free kick a few yards outside of Arsenal’s box just a few seconds before the end of stoppage time, but it came to nothing, and Arsenal held on to their two-goal lead and their clean sheet.
I should mention what a warm welcome Olivier Giroud received when he started warming up before coming on as a substitute. Although he plays for a London rival now, Gooners still have a soft spot for him, and the Emirates crowd serenaded him with a few rounds of their Giroud song.