Goals: Torres (19), Gervinho (42), Mata (53)
Arsenal tasted their first defeat of the season against a well organized Chelsea side after conceding two soft goals from two Juan Mata set pieces.
Arsenal lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation. Wenger made only one change from the starting line-up against Manchester City last weekend, with Vermaalen replacing Mertesacker. Vito Mannone again started at the goal. Vermaalen was paired with Laurent Koscielny at the center of the defence. Carl Jenkinson started at right back, and Kieran Gibbs was at left back. In central midfield, Mikel Arteta was paired with Abou Diaby. Aaron Ramsey was stationed on the right side of midfield, and Podolski was on the left. Cazorla had a free role right behind Gervinho who again played as the central striker.
Chelsea started the game by pressing the ball high up the pitch. Torres, Mata, Oscar and Hazard concentrated their efforts on the triangle between Koscielny, Vermaalen and Arteta. This press disrupted Arsenal’s ability to build play from the back. For almost the whole first half, Arsenal were not able to move the ball quickly to their two fullbacks. Nor they could link up effectively with Cazorla, who was isolated and subdued by the attention of Ramires and Obi Mikel. Chelsea’s narrow shape was one reason why they were so effective in the center of the pitch. With Arsenal lacking any real width against this narrow shape, Abou Diaby’s injury at the 15th minute mark ironically gave Arsenal some width. Diaby was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain. The English youngster moved to the wide right position, with Ramsey moving to the center to pair with Arteta.
Although this change provided some width to Arsenal’s right, Chelsea’s pressing in the center continued to bite, and Arsenal found themselves trailing from a set piece just like last weekend against City. Hazard attempted a one-two with Torres, but before collecting the return ball, he was hacked down by Vermaalen. From the resulting free-kick taken by Mata, David Luiz could not connect with the ball for a free header, but Torres instinctively hooked a volley into the net under the somewhat absurd attention of Koscielny (who inexplicably turned his back away from the ball). Minutes later, Chelsea almost doubled their lead when Torres got the better of Koscielny chasing a long ball, but when facing only Mannone, he kicked the air under Koscielny’s challenge.
Arsenal were frustrated by Chelsea’s quick closing down in midfield as, unlike previous games, their center of distribution (Arteta) and creative hub (Cazorla) could not impose themselves on the game. Having created almost nothing significant the whole first half, Arsenal equalized 5 minutes from half time, thanks to the width that Oxlade-Chamberlain provided on their right. For once, Koscielny had some freedom on the ball and found Jenkinson at the wide right. Before Hazard was able to track back, Jenkinson pushed forward, cut inside and left the ball to Arteta, who quickly fed Oxlade-Chamberlain’s overlapping run at the far right. It was as fluid as Arsenal have been all first half. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s one time low cross was controlled by Gervinho inside the box. Despite facing away from the goal, the Ivorian turned and smashed the ball into the Chelsea net. Arsenal had their tails up, but their sudden rush of adrenaline did not result in another goal with the half time whistle arriving shortly after.
Chelsea started the second half with the same game plan of pressuring Arsenal’s ball movement in the center. When Ramsey was pushed back by Ramires and Oscar and played the ball to Arteta, the Spaniard found himself under instant pressure from Torres and Oscar and lost possession. In the ensuing Chelsea attack, Torres was fouled needlessly again by Vermaalen. Mata’s cross from the set piece sailed in the net at the far post as Koscielny failed to connect with the ball to clear it. It was another frustratingly soft goal to concede for a team that is recently being praised for its new-found defensive solidity.
Arsenal tried to pull themselves back in the game, but they never achieved much fluidity against Chelsea’s tight and no-nonsense organization. Whenever Chelsea gained possession, Juan Mata used the ball expertly, slowed the tempo and prevented Arsenal from imposing themselves in the game. Yet, despite their below par performance, Arsenal were able to create enough many chances to get something from the game. Gibbs’ cross was headed to the top corner by Lukas Podolski, but Czech made an excellent save. Wenger then took off the disappointing Ramsey, moved Oxlade-Chamberlain to the center and sent in Walcott to the right wing. Giroud replaced Podolski, with Gervinho moving to the left.
These changes created some sort of an attacking momentum. Giroud’s deflected shot almost went in for an equalizer, yet it was again well-saved by Czech. Santi Cazorla wasted a good shooting chance after being set up by Gervinho. Just like in their opening game against Sunderland, Arsenal’s big chance fell to Giroud. Cazorla linked with Oxlade-Chamberlain in the center with a neat pass. The youngster’s delicious disguised ball slipped in Giroud who was making an angled run behind defense. With only Czech to beat, the Frenchman carried to the ball to the left, but his shot found the side netting. In the final minutes, Chelsea wrapped up their victory and dealt a tired looking Arsenal side their first defeat of the season.
Arsenal continued their old habit of conceding soft goals from set pieces and put a big question mark on their recently praised defensive solidity. The Koscielny-Vermaalen partnership lacked the calmness and positional excellence of Mertesacker. Vermaalen was especially disappointing as he conceded the free kicks in both Chelsea goals. The Belgian is a fan favorite because of his aggressive style, yet sometimes he needs to remember that he also has a brain that he can use. One positive for Arsenal, though, was Carl Jenkinson’s good performance at right back.
In midfield, Arteta could not execute his deep-lying playmaker role in the face of effective Chelsea pressing (especially from Oscar) and he was not helped by Ramsey’s indecisiveness on the ball. Cazorla also had a subdued day, and due to the double attention of Ramires and Mikel, he could not find the space that made him so effective in the previous games.
Chelsea, on the other hand, looked quite solid off the ball. Their so-called non-existent midfield pressed the ball excellently with a concerted effort from their flair players Mata, Hazard and Oscar. They did not create too many chances themselves, but accepted Arsenal’s gifts from the set pieces.