Arsenal have managed a Premier League double over Chelsea for the first time since 2003-04. Today’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge was the Gunners’ first win there in 10 years. It wasn’t pretty, but three points are three points. And those point keep alive Arsenal’s faint hopes at finishing in a European place.
Chelsea started the match on the front foot, and Arsenal had an early let-off when Kai Havertz missed everything trying to chip Bernd Leno on a breakaway that started nearly at midfield. The chance came from an intercepted soft pass from Gabriel to Pablo Mari, who didn’t step to it, either. It was a mixed performance overall from Gabriel, who looked uncomfortable playing the left side in a back three.
That chance seemed to wake Arsenal up, and they came into the match well, playing Chelsea even for 10-15 minutes. The Gunners were gifted a goal off a horrendous backpass from Jorginho that Kepa had to scramble to reach to prevent the own goal. The ball came to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who found Emile Smith Rowe for his second goal in as many matches. It was a weird sequence — I can’t say I’ve ever seen a keeper have to intentionally handle a backpass to prevent it becoming an OG.
Chelsea pinned Arsenal back for the rest of the half and forced a handful of strong saves from Bernd Leno / good blocks from Arsenal defenders. The second half was more of the same, although the Gunners were more organized defensively and mostly suppressed shots from the Blues. As you’d expect, Chelsea got a few half-chances eventually: Bernd Leno tipped one onto the bar, Olivier Giroud hit the bar from an extremely tight angle, and Christian Pulisic couldn’t get on the end of a slightly overhit cross.
It wouldn’t be totally fair to say that Arsenal “held on” because that would do a disservice to the defensive effort, but you wouldn’t have been surprised if Chelsea had tied it.
There was a period of time just after Emile Smith Rowe had become a regular starter that I wasn’t convinced it was him, in particular, that was making the difference. It seemed like having someone in a more advanced, central, creative role was what the setup needed and that ESR happened to be the guy at the club best suited to fill the spot. I am now convinced that he is a difference-maker. He was Arsenal’s best player on the pitch and provided the majority of the attacking impetus, driving the team forward on the rare occasions that the Gunners ventured out of their defensive structure.
Despite a few misplaced passes (which has become an annoying habit), I thought Thomas Partey was quite good today, especially as a defensive disruptor. He also showed his range of pitch coverage, getting all the way forward late on an Arsenal counterattack on which he was eventually booked for diving, which I thought was borderline. Mohamed Elneny was awarded Man of the Match by Sky Sports, which, ok sure I guess. He was his usual industrious but limited self.
There isn’t too much to be unhappy about with two wins on the trot. Arsenal have the third most points in the league since Christmas, behind only the Manchester clubs. Mikel Arteta has shown that he can beat the good sides, which used to be Arsenal’s bugaboo. Where he’s struggled is taking matches to lesser clubs, which was never an issue for Arsene Wenger-led teams. So pick your poison.
If only the Gunners hadn’t been so dreadful to open the season, particularly in that 10-week stretch from October-Christmas. A few more points here and there (I’m looking at you, absurd David Luiz red against Wolves), and Arsenal easily could have challenged for 4th. But at least they’ve got a shot to end the season well and maybe get into the Europa Conference League.