Arsenal probably deserved better than a loss today. The Gunners bossed the first 30 minutes, played about even through the middle 30-40, then ran out of steam at the end. They weren’t helped by Calum Chambers picking up a knee injury and having to be subbed off early. Or Bukayo Saka tweaking his hamstring and being unable to sprint back on the Chelsea winner. Or Bernd Leno coming for and completely, utterly, and totally missing a free-kick cross leading to a tap-in for Jorginho.
Some of the blame falls squarely on Mikel Arteta. Yes, he was behind the eight-ball on his substitutions by being forced into an injury replacement, but he waited too long to make his second change and didn’t use a sub for a gimpy Saka, which directly affected a goal. I also really did not like the Willock-for-Özil substitution. Perhaps Arteta doesn’t think Özil is good for a full 90 minutes, but as a general rule, I’ve never liked taking off your most creative player when you’re protecting a lead. The best way to keep the opponent from scoring is to have the ball, and the best way to keep the ball is to have your best players on the ball on the pitch. For my money, Matteo Guendouzi would have been a better player to take off — he was on a booking and playing erratically. Arteta also could have taken off Lacazette, pushed Aubameyang up, and played Willock out of position on the left. But coulda, shoulda, woulda, right?
But the guys on the pitch are playing the game, and ultimately, it comes down to them. Mikel Arteta set them up well and put them in a position to win. They didn’t deliver. As I already mentioned, Bernd Leno made a gigantic mistake on Chelsea’s first goal. He came for the cross and wasn’t close to punching it away. He’s had a fantastic season, and I’m sure he’ll bounce back. Players make mistakes, keepers make mistakes. I’ve already moved past it.
As has been the case all season, poor defensive decision-making undid the Gunners on Chelsea’s second goal. Shkodran Mustafi was one of the guilty parties. He half-tracked Tammy Abraham’s check back, stopped, and tried to get back. He ran himself into no-man’s land and took himself out of the play; he needed to make a decision and stay with it. He would have done better to stay with Abraham, give the foul, and take the card. David Luiz should have gotten tighter to Abraham in the area, but that’s less of a mistake.
Luiz probably had his best game of the season for Arsenal. He put in a number of last ditch challenges to block shots and break up crosses, and he didn’t make any of those “what the heck were you thinking” plays he so often makes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a strong match as well, particularly from a defensive standpoint. He has much more defensive responsibility as a winger in Mikel Arteta’s system, and he tracked back deep several times. Lucas Torreira and Mesut Özil continued their respective renaissances under the new manager too.
A word on the refereeing: it was bad. I try, often unsuccessfully, not to harp on the officiating, but man. Matteo Guendouzi should have been called for a foul that would have given Chelsea a penalty in the first half. He could (should?) have received his second booking for it as well. Moments before scoring the equalizer, Jorginho, who was on a yellow, pulled back an Arsenal player. It was a clear yellow card foul. Yellows were given to Arsenal players for similar challenges. Jorginho did not get a second yellow for it. I guess the Guendouzi-Jorginho karma balances out, but it’s disheartening to see matches consistently marred by questionable refereeing.
And so Arsenal soldier on. Not getting at least a point out of today’s match leaves a sour taste, but the side is playing better. Things are moving in the right direction under Mikel Arteta. The results will come.