Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge and did the thing. They rode a three-match losing streak into Chelsea’s ground with most people expecting them to get battered. But they flipped the script. The Gunners did the battering, handing Chelsea a 4-2 loss. The first time since 1993 that the Blues have lost three straight at home (and Arsenal handed them the third nearly 30 years ago, too).
Don’t let the helter-skelter, sloppy at times nature of the match fool you. Arsenal “deserved” to beat Chelsea. The Gunners were the better team. Per Scott Willis, Arsenal managed 2 xG to Chelsea’s .7 xG. Isn’t it nice when the actual goals scored and conceded more closely matches the expected goals?
Going with bullet form today because I’m so amped from the win that I can hardly coalesce my thoughts.
- Rob Holding: massive performance. Won almost all of his duels. Out-muscled both Lukaku and Werner on important plays. Critical sliding intervention late on to stop a promising cutback. Really good stuff from him, especially coming into the lineup cold.
- Nuno Tavares: really impressed on the evening. Not great marking on the Chelsea 2nd goal, but other than that, didn’t make many mistakes. Not many guys on the roster have the explosive ability to cut out the pass like he did to set-up the Arsenal third goal, and he played a great ball into Nketiah after making the interception. Fantastic character from him to bounce back after some poor performances.
- Granit Xhaka: might have been his best performance of the season. I’m not sure he put a foot wrong all match, including good run-tracking, which isn’t something he usually does well. He’s so much better in a double pivot than in the left-side #8 role. The cherry on top of his evening was beating Lukaku on the dribble, then nutmegging Marcos Alonso to start the move for the Arsenal second goal. A goal that might be the team goal of the season in the Premier League. It was that good of a move.
- Mohamed Elneny: magnificent in the second half. Looked a bit rusty in the first but was great after he found his footing. Made several key interceptions / defensive plays and was more progressive in his passing than he usually is. It was more than Arsenal could have asked for from him, especially with his lack of match time for the club.
- Bukayo Saka: was a menace. Skinned Marcos Alonso time and again on the right side. Veteran move to earn the penalty. Did he sell it? Absolutely. Is that what you’re supposed to do when a defender grabs you from behind in the box? Absolutely. And good for him for slotting the penalty away too, after his disappointment in the Euro final.
- Martin Ødegaard: has rediscovered his form. He does the little things right, and sometimes you hardly notice him. But when the Arsenal attack is humming, there’s a good chance it’s because MØ is greasing the wheels, which is what he did on the evening.
- Emile Smith Rowe: a vastly improved performance from him. Looked much more fluid (which was a trend across the pitch for the Gunners — it felt like everybody was moving better and faster) and had more space in which to operate, which is a credit to how his teammates were playing around him and also Chelsea being strangely open and stretched at the back. Making me eat my words about xG regression and finishing as well, with a fantastic take for the 2nd goal.
- Eddie Nketiah: put his money where his mouth is. A day or two ago, he spoke about being disappointed with the lack of opportunities he’s had and that he felt he could do more if he had a shot. Got his shot today and scored a brace. Alexandre Lacazette doesn’t have the range or pace to chase Andreas Christensen down to put him under pressure and force the mistake that led to the first goal. By the way, quite the composed finish on the breakaway from Eddie. Got a second on a broken play that I’m going to put down to his instincts, willingness to muck it up, and motor. He kept on the ball, got a bounce, and scored. Fun fact: at 16 yards from goal, it was by far the longest he’s scored for Arsenal. There is something to be said for getting yourself into the box. Good things happen. You can’t get bounces your way if you aren’t in position to capitalize on them.
- Cesar Azpilicueta: made a fool of himself. Faked a head injury in the first half to stop a promising Arsenal attack. It seems like if the match is stopped for a head injury, the player should have to leave the pitch. They should not be allowed to wave off the trainer and stay on, which is what he did. He embarrassed himself further with naive defending on Bukayo Saka to concede a penalty and whining incessantly in the aftermath. He’s a veteran player, he’s got to know that he can’t put an arm around an attacker like that. Made even a bigger fool of himself by having a go at Chelsea supporters after the match. Did score a nice goal though, so good for him I guess.
- Marcos Alonso: got taken to the cleaners, repeatedly, by Bukayo Saka. I enjoy watching Alonso in particular get absolutely smoked. The cherry on top was getting him getting nutmegged by Granit Xhaka (?!) at the start of the move for the Arsenal second goal.
- Thomas Tuchel: bruh. Miss me with the whining about the quality of the pitch and the bounces after the match. You got beat. At home. It’s your ground. You control how watered it is. And both teams played on the same field. Arsenal players were slipping all evening, too.
Y’all are probably tired of all the talk about bounces, calls, and luck, but Arsenal finally got a handful of all three, and look what happens. They win! They got a bit fortunate that Andreas Christensen made a horrendous mistake on Eddie Nketiah’s first goal. The ball bounced kindly for Eddie on the second, too (but credit to him for his persistence on both). Bukayo Saka earned / sold the penalty call for the clincher.
And let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, either. Timo Werner’s goal was astonishingly lucky. Yes, Arsenal were sloppy in possession and gave the ball away, but a shot from there with a double deflection on an unsighted keeper? Come on. All the Arsenal players wanted a foul given for Werner’s challenge on Ben White that led to the second goal. Mason Mount could have been sent off for either of his studs up challenges on Arsenal players, yet somehow he escaped with just one yellow card.
In total, the luck (slips, calls, bounces) were much closer even than they have been all season, especially compared to past few games, and that was all Arsenal needed. When this team plays well and has a few things go their way, they’re pretty darn good.
This was a really, really good and incredibly important bounce-back performance from the Gunners. People love to talk about mentality, attitude, mental strength, whatever you want to call it — Arsenal showed it in spades on the evening. I’ll also reiterate — they played quite well. Guys stepped up and put in big-time performances.
I’d gotten away from saying it when the results sagged a bit, but there is something special about this bunch. This result could be the spark the team needs to ignite a run of form to close out the season and finish in a Champions League spot. I’d wager there were plenty of people around the Premier League, especially Spurs fans, counting on Arsenal to lose their game-in-hand (this match) and be chasing down the stretch. The win keeps the Gunners in control of their fate. If they win out, they finish fourth, regardless of what anybody else does.
Whether they manage it or not, it’s going to be a crazy (and fun) run-in.