Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: Plenty of promise despite defeat for Mikel Arteta – Martin Keown - (2022)

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Updated: 20/05/2022


It ultimately ended in another disappointing defeat but I still saw plenty of promise in Mikel Arteta's first home game as Arsenal manager.

There were good performances from a lot of the Gunners players against Chelsea on Sunday, and I think that came out of a better understanding of how they had to set up as a team when they were out of possession.

The Emirates crowd enjoyed seeing them knocking the ball around nicely early on, which they could do at that stage because Chelsea's starting formation meant the Blues were outnumbered in midfield.

But as well as enjoying seeing Arsenal looking confident again at home, what I particularly liked seeing in the first half was what they did when they lost the ball, and how they tried to win it back.

They kept a high line and were pressing together as a unit and hunting in packs. It meant they were compact and solid – the kind of things I have not been able to say about them for a while.

As well as being better organised, the whole team seemed engaged defensively too – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was chasing back down the left, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was switched on at right-back and I thought David Luiz had his best game of the season at the heart of their defence.

Put it all together and the first 45 minutes was as good a display as I have seen from Arsenal for some time.

It is just a shame it did not last.

Arsenal defend from the front

The game began to get away from Arsenal after 34 minutes when Chelsea boss Frank Lampard brought on Jorginho and switched from a 3-4-3 formation to play 4-3-3 – but it was not until after half-time that the visitors really took control.

Jorginho coming on was key, because Chelsea needed an extra player in midfield. During the time that Arsenal were on top, the Blues were awful in possession because the Gunners stopped them passing through them – they could not get past first base.

Chelsea started in a 3-4-3 formation but switched to a 4-3-3 shape after 34 minutes when Jorginho replaced Emerson and sat at the base of a midfield trio. Cesar Azpilicueta moved to left-back and Fikayo Tomori played at right-back

But when Lampard changed his formation, Chelsea suddenly had Jorginho deeper and N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic either side of him.

Together they took control of the ball and the centre of the pitch, and also pushed back Arsenal's full-backs, who had played such a prominent role early on.

Chelsea totally dominated in the second half but, but on the upside for Arteta, Arsenal were still working extremely hard to deny them space and protect their back four.

Blues ‘so awful' for 30 minutes, but dominated second half – Lampard

When people have talked about the Gunners' defensive issues in recent years, they have often made comparisons with their backline in my day.

But when you analyse any defence, it is just as important to look at the players in front of them. The more they do, the less you do as a defender.

We had hard working players who knew their roles and responsibilities and that seemed to be the case for Arteta on Sunday too.

With Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, Arsenal finally had two midfield players who were prepared to sit, and it also felt like the front players knew when to go to engage, because together they did that really well.

In the end, Arsenal tired and Chelsea's pressure paid off but it still took a bad mistake from Bernd Leno to let them back in the game for their equaliser.

Yes, Arsenal could have defended Chelsea's second goal better but otherwise they did not do very much wrong at the back.

Gunners run out of steam – this time

Arteta admits Gunners need to improve ‘many things'

There have been three different Arsenal managers in the past three weeks, and three different voices for the players to listen to – but it felt like Arteta got his message across to them.

He asked for more intensity and a higher tempo, and he got both – they just could not sustain it.

They ran out of steam during the second half, and were forced so far back they were basically sitting on the edge of their own box.

That meant they were short of ideas going forward too – when they did get possession they were much deeper, and they could not get as many men forward.

Most of their second-half attacks were lone runners into a channel and they obviously threatened a lot less.

Arteta's options were limited – he did not have the players on his bench to change the game in the same way Lampard did – so it was a case of trying to hang on.

They did not quite manage it, but the outcome would have been very different if Jorginho had been shown a second yellow card for a tactical foul on Guendouzi to stop an Arsenal attack with the score at 1-0.

Jorginho was lucky to still be on the pitch when he scored his side's equaliser, which could easily have been given as a foul too.

Torreira should have been stronger in that situation, but I have some sympathy for him because Jorginho definitely had hold of his shirt.

Overall, though, I think Arteta will be encouraged by what he has seen.

He has only been in charge for 10 days, and it is going to take time for the Arsenal players to adjust to the way he wants them to play, but they are already showing signs of improvement.

Martin Keown was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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