Sorry, I’m going to need a few minutes after that one...[deep breathing, deep breathing, stiff drink]...alright, I’m good. To be honest, I’m not sure anything I write will do this match justice. If you didn’t see it, try to find a replay. It will be well worth your time. It was nuts.
As much as we don’t like to talk about passion, desire, grit, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, that’s what this match was from Arsenal. The side didn’t give up. They never quit.
Arsenal went down a man and a goal in the 26th minute after David Luiz received a straight red for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The red might have been a bit harsh. To earn a red in a situation like that, the defender must make no attempt to play the ball, and it seemed as if Luiz did enough for it to be a yellow and a penalty (not to mention Tammy Abraham went over fairly easily). But there is plenty of blame to go around on the Arsenal side of things before we get to the referee’s decision. Shkodran Mustafi played a horrendous ball back to Bernd Leno that was easily cut out. Leno may have been caught in two minds, which made him slow off his line and put him in no-man’s land. And David Luiz really should just let the man score. There is no reason to risk the double-jeopardy.
But Arsenal fought back. There might be some who would say the Gunners were “lucky” on both their goals. Gabriel Martinelli got in free on goal because N’Golo Kante did his best Steven Gerrard slipping against Leicester impression. Héctor Bellerín (who was wearing the armband today, and if I had my way, would never have it taken off him) scored the Gunners’ second goal while Tammy Abraham was limping around the pitch barely able to move. Chelsea had 19 shots to Arsenal’s 2. The xG for the match was 3.56-.62 in favor of the home side. But you know, that’s just how football matches go sometimes. Arsenal have had more than their fair share of things go against them this season, it’s nice to be on the other side for once.
Kudos are deserved up and down the lineup for Arsenal today, but Mikel Arteta and Granit Xhaka earned special mention. When Luiz was sent off, Arteta had Rob Holding up and ready to come on for Gabriel Martinelli but thought better of it. He preserved the sub, got to halftime without conceding again, and was able to regroup and make a cohesive plan for the second half. Part of the reason he was able to hold off was Xhaka’s play at centerback. He had a monster of a game; other than a small slip, he didn’t put a foot wrong all match. I continue to believe that Xhaka can still be an important contributor at Arsenal if used correctly and if he can move past the incident with the fans from earlier this season.
Also, Gabriel Martinelli is a boss.
If today’s result doesn’t spur this Arsenal side into a run of form, I’m not sure anything can. This was a gutsy, hard-fought, well-earned point. The players should feel good about this one; it definitely felt good for me. A Champions League finish in the Premier League is still a pipe dream, but if they continue to play like they did today (and keep all 11 men on the pitch) Arsenal could make some noise in the Europa League and the FA Cup. Against all odds, this season could turn out to be an exciting one yet.