Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, to go back to the top of the Premier League table and leave their London rivals in seventh. Gabriel scored the only goal after Bukayo Saka’s corner was missed by a host of Chelsea players.
Here are the main talking points, broken down by our writers…
Arteta and Arsenal show title is possible
This was Mikel Arteta’s 150th game in charge of Arsenal, equalling the number of appearances he made for them as a player, but the more striking statistic is that this was his 87th victory — more than any of his predecessors, including Herbert Chapman, Bertie Mee, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, over the equivalent period.
Such figures can be deceptive; Graham won the Premier League title in his third season in charge and Wenger in his second. It was a different era; when Wenger led Arsenal to the title in 1998, it was with a total of 78 points, whereas the past six titles have been won with totals of 93, 100, 98, 99, 86 and 93. To put that in context, Arsenal’s legendary Invincibles won it with 90.
Arsenal have set off at an extraordinary pace — they have a point more than the Invincibles had at the same stage in 2003-04 — and, if they are to outperform Manchester City, they are going to have to maintain it.
This was the type of assured, authoritative performance that tells you it is possible. Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge with a game plan and, despite a lack of incisiveness in the first half, it is hard to imagine they could have followed that plan much better. Whatever happens over the remainder of this season, their progress under Arteta since early 2021 has been enormously impressive.
Aubameyang fails to prove a point to his former club
Chelsea have fond memories of what Didier Drogba and Diego Costa used to do to Arsenal defenders.
Both men were instrumental when Chelsea used to dominate their opponents and this was Pierre-Emerick Aubamemyang’s first opportunity to do the same in a blue shirt.
He didn’t go into the match in the best of goalscoring form. Bought from Barcelona for £12million ($13.7m) on deadline day in September, Aubameyang had just three goals to his name. That run came at the start of last month and only one of those was in the Premier League.
It did not take Arsenal fans long to tell the 33-year-old, who left on a free transfer in January after falling foul of coach Mikel Arteta, what they think of him now. His first touch was booed loudly and after being booked for a late tackle on Ben Whitehe was the target of a rather unflattering chant. The 92 goals in 163 appearances for the north London club are clearly long forgotten.
Chelsea couldn’t get Aubameyang into the game in the first half, during which he had just four touches of the ball — and not one of those was a shot. There were a couple of occasions where Kai Havertz had an opportunity to cross the ball to him but got it wrong.
It said a lot about Chelsea as an attacking threat that his first two interventions after the break were clearances from his own area.
There was one unconvincing shot that was blocked soon afterwards, but it was no surprise when he was replaced by Armando Broja just after Arsenal took the lead.
Jesus draws blank again
It’s nothing new this season, but today was a repeat of Gabriel Jesus’s lack of clinical edge in front of goal.
In the first half, Arsenal built beautifully through the thirds to dissect Chelsea, with the ball finding Gabriel Martinelli whose cross found Jesus for a header. The result? Just wide. The verdict? Should have scored.
As The Athletic have previously reported, this is representative of Jesus’s career when considering his goals scored vs his expected goals.
In fact, looking at a 900-minute rolling average since 2019-20, there have been very few occasions where Jesus is making the most of the opportunity he takes, regularly underperforming his goalscoring output compared with his expected goals.
Of course, the good thing is that Jesus still gets into those lucrative positions to score. Across his whole time in the Premier League, Jesus’s expected goals average being close to 0.5 per 90 minutes means he is getting chances to score one goal in two games.
This is not forgetting the all-round contribution Jesus offers — dropping into pockets of space, drifting wide to create for others, and being a pest out of possession to prevent the opponent building out from the back.
While Arsenal are winning games and flying at the top end of the table, Jesus’s underperformance in front of goal can be forgiven. If titles are on the line and the margins are even finer towards the end of the season, Jesus might get less sympathy for his lack of clinical edge.
Pressure on Potter will mount
Graham Potter has a tougher task than Thomas Tuchel to win over Chelsea fans
Replacing a popular coach is never going to be easy, particularly when the season is already under way and you don’t have pre-season to work with players.
Potter’s honeymoon period at Chelsea ended against his old club Brighton in humiliating fashion last week following a 4-1 loss, but this meek surrender to their London rivals at Stamford Bridge will have done a lot more damage.
For much of the game, Chelsea’s players looked hesitant on the ball and none of their play was instinctive, unlike their opponents.
That is understandable. Potter is trying to change the style from the rather rigid football Tuchel employed. The Chelsea players are trying to get used to it and him.
Tuchel was loved by Chelsea’s following for the remarkable Champions League win last year. But it shouldn’t be forgotten he took over from a fans’ favourite in Frank Lampard, yet when he tried things, there were no supporters to moan and groan in the stands because of COVID-19 protocols. The scrutiny on the German in the early weeks wasn’t as intense as this. By the time fans were back in the ground, Tuchel had already justified the decision to replace Lampard.
In saying that, getting two points from the last four Premier League games should be questioned and there will be pressure on Potter to provide a much better showing in the two away games before the World Cup, against Manchester City (League Cup) and Newcastle.
Zinchenko’s roaming return
Arteta has kept changes to a minimum this season, understandably reluctant to change what has usually been a winning team, but it was an easy decision to recall Oleksandr Zinchenko to the starting line-up after a calf injury.
This was the Ukrainian’s first appearance in five weeks and only his second in two months, which tells you something about how well they have coped without a player whose arrival was felt in the opening weeks of the campaign to have been transformative.
Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu have provided very different qualities at left-back in recent weeks, but Zinchenko brings Arsenal a different dimension in possession. For much of the first half, he drifted infield into the type of deep-lying midfield role that Pep Guardiola has asked of Philipp Lahm at Bayern Munich and Joao Cancelo at Manchester City or that Jurgen Klopp has tried with Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.
Once more, the benefits of deploying Zinchenko like this were obvious. As early as the third minute, Zinchenko found the space to receive the ball from Aaron Ramsdale in a central position, playing a pass that released Martin Odegaard and ultimately gave Bukayo Saka the chance to run at an isolated Marc Cucurella.
As with Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, the approach comes with certain risks. Arguably Chelsea’s two most promising attacks in the first half came from exploiting the space that Zinchenko had left behind him. Opposition managers will take note of that. But when a team is controlling games the way Arsenal are at present, it is easier said than done.
Xhaka epitomised calm, controlled Arsenal
Man of the match? There were no shortage of candidates in red.
The front four — Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli and Jesus — all impressed in different ways, as did Ben White and Zinchenko with their contrasting takes on full-back play.
In short, it was an outstanding collective performance. But it is hard to avoid coming back to the spine of the team. Saliba and Gabriel excelled in every aspect, with the latter scoring the decisive goal, and Xhaka and Partey controlled the game brilliantly.
Even when it came to that push-and-shove with Trevoh Chalobah in stoppage time, Xhaka appeared in control, in contrast to the hothead of the past.
Just think of all those times over the years when Arsenal showed a soft centre, particularly at Stamford Bridge. This was the exact opposite.
Chelsea left behind
As Graham Potter still looks to find his best system and personnel at Chelsea, today’s display saw a real lack of threat down their left flank.
With Aubameyang and Havertz drifting across the front line — particularly in the first half — there were very few options for Cucurella to pick out when Chelsea were building out down their left side, meaning Arsenal could shut down that flank with ease and force Chelsea to attack down the right.
Looking at the numbers, 44 per cent of Chelsea’s attacking touches were down their right side — the highest share on that flank across their Premier League campaign. The natural wide threat of Raheem Sterling — coupled with Zinchenko’s advanced positions from left-back — did also lend itself to greater activity down that flank, but Chelsea’s attack was near non-existent down the left.
A long-term injury to the attack-minded Ben Chilwell has not helped, but more broadly it is clear that Potter’s is still yet to consistently find the best balance in his team at present.
(Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)