As with every defeat that orbits the Arsenal world, the common retaliation the club will be faced with over the coming days are increasing calls for change, ranging from sackings, to greater focus on internal solutions that prevent games like the previous two from happening as frequently as they have done.
And meanwhile a great deal of the conversation will undoubtedly centre itself around the future of current Gunners boss, Arsène Wenger, there’s a lot more to deliberate over between now and the end of the season.
Life wasn’t kind to the Frenchman in the lead up to Arsenal’s away trip to Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea, as the midfield was left orphan to the absences of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny.
From that perspective, against none other than the league leaders, it’s difficult to not feel somewhat sympathetic towards Wenger, but by the same token, there’s also a strand of culpability that can be attributed to the under-fire manager.
Arsenal were reduced to a midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the centrally-adapted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a consequence of a depleted midfield, both of whom were also reportedly carrying knocks.
Against an organised midfield that’s subsidised by the ever-impressive N’Golo Kanté, one can’t quite believe Wenger went into this clash with JUST the newly-formed and physically-limited duo in the middle of the park.
The encounter proved to be, as feared, a complete mismatch, as Chelsea were able to control the game both with and without possession to expose our midfield frailties, meanwhile Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles watched on from the bench.
A comprehensive 3-1 defeat to the Blues leaves plenty of room for imagination, in particular how different the contest and the eventual aftermath may have been had Wenger turned to a three-man midfield and introduced Maitland-Niles into the equation.
In a world where we place great value on mentality, a buzzword of Arsenal’s, it’s ironic that Chelsea’s first goal appeared to show Wenger’s men succumb to the admission of defeat rapidly, a heightened level of respect that wasn’t matched by the expansive 4-2-3-1 system that the players are continuously deployed in.
It’s here where the true dangers of Wenger’s perceived stubbornness threatens Arsenal’s accomplishments the most, as he ignores the clearest cue yet for him to differ tactically. If ever there was a time to revert to a 4-3-3, that time was Saturday afternoon.
Worryingly, Saturday’s clash isn’t the only example of Arsenal being sunk by an apparent susceptibility to counter-attacks and pre-organised waves of pressure made by the opposition.
Similar case studies can be found in clashes away to Bournemouth, Everton and the latest home debacle versus Watford, which constantly sees the traditional double pivot, even at full strength, overpowered in central areas.
Hope among corners of the club’s fan base is that a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, retreating an extra body into midfield, can be the remedy that combats this supposed weakness. The most alarming modification would see Arsenal move Mesut Özil, once lauded as the finest number 10 in the world, away from his natural habitat.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing, however, with the German often nonexistent in defensive transitions, whereas his goal return this season invites the prospect for him to operate further forward.
The synergy between Özil and Arsenal’s other key man, Alexis Sánchez, is also promising, and so the argument for the two to link-up exclusively in an interchangeable front three has never been more alive.
Contrarily, three central midfielders also allows for the inverse trajectory being made by Alex Iwobi and Chamberlain, who’d only add to the wealth of tools at Wenger’s disposal with regards to game-to-game midfield combinations, whereas basic theory tells us three central midfielders allow the Gunners to cover far more space than the habitual two.
There’s a good number of positives to come from such a tactical reinvention, and in Chelsea’s resurrection under Antonio Conte lies a few handy lessons for Arsenal to take on board.
It was the Gunners’ 3-0 demolition of the Blues that triggered the implementation of the newly-sought after 3-4-3 formation; a system that has enabled the galvanisation of a side that’s now hot favourites to land the title.
As Tottenham Hotspur and arch-nemesis José Mourinho threaten to outperform Wenger in what could be the Frenchman’s final season at the club, it’s now in Arsenal’s best interests that they manage to rectify apparent weaknesses in the same vein.
By Patrick Ribeiro