Chelsea were humiliated at the Emirates as their defensive vulnerabilities were put on show. First half goals from Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil gave the Gunners a first win over the Blues in the league since 2011. Antonio Conte’s men were unable to respond, bringing an end to a damaging month for the club.
Cesc Fabregas got a first league start after his EFL Cup heroics. The Spaniard replaced Oscar in midfield, playing just behind Diego Costa. Once again there was no John Terry, so Gary Cahill and David Luiz were paired at the back. Branislav Ivanovic came back, replacing Marcos Alonso and taking up the captain’s armband.
There was a clear problem very early on, as the defence sat deep and the midfield tried to press high. That left the back four marooned when they had possession, and it played into Arsenal’s hands. Gary Cahill panicked when pressed by Sanchez, and his attempted back pass let the Chilean in to open the scoring. It wasn’t much different to the incident at Swansea a few weeks back, minus the clear foul.
Cahill and the rest of the defence looked shell-shocked, and that’s exactly when the Gunners hit top form. A fantastic passing move ripped the Blues’ defence apart, and Walcott was on hand for a tap in to make it 2-0. It’s been almost four years since the Blues have conceded twice in the opening 15 minutes of a game.
Despite the obvious problems, nothing was changed by Conte in the first half. Chelsea failed to get close to their former keeper Petr Cech. They looked to be hanging on until half time, before another mix up caught them out. Ozil started a breakaway with just Luiz and Cahill back. The German fed Sanchez, who was followed by both of the Blues’ defenders. That left Ozil free in the box to send a volley past Thibaut Courtois and in off the post.
Changes were made in the second half, Fabregas was withdrawn for Alonso. The Blues switched to a back five, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving to the right, Ivanovic moved centrally, and everything looked a little more organised. There were a lot more options on the ball in the new formation, and Arsenal struggled to assert themselves on the game.
However, that isn’t a long term solution. John Terry isn’t entirely comfortable in a back three with wing backs. Leaving him without a left back beside him leaves him exposed. While there were marked improvements in the latter stages at the Emirates, there are still a lot of problems for Antonio Conte to sort out.
Even worse, this defeat leaves them eighth in the table. The Blues now look like the sixth or seventh horse in the race for the top four. If they’re going to force their way into the fight for the Champions League, Conte will have to find a system which can mesh the different elements, and weaknesses, of his squad together.
Next up for the Blues is a trip to Hull, with Leicester heading to Stamford Bridge the other side of the international break. Six points, you would feel, have to be achieved from these two games.
LCN Chelsea Man of the Match: Willian