The first five matches of the season have been a succession of difficult matchups for Arsenal. We’ve seen thrilling victories as well as crushing defeats. Just when Arsenal steady the ship against a lowly Bournemouth side, a tidal wave in the form of Chelsea FC is threatening to send that ship into oblivion.
There are major implications for both clubs in this matchup. If Arsenal win, they bring themselves level on points with Chelsea on the table, leapfrogging the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and maybe even Chelsea themselves (Arsenal would need to win by three goals). However, if Chelsea win, Arsenal will be stuck in 12th, and the leading pack of both Manchester teams and Chelsea will start to create an early gap between themselves and the rest of the table. Let’s take a look at the threats Chelsea pose, and the weaknesses that can possibly be exploited.
Barring the season opening defeat, Chelsea have played exceptionally. They recovered from the Burnley defeat by beating Tottenham 2-1. Then, Conte’s men ruined the Wayne Rooney honeymoon phase for Everton by defeating the Toffee’s 2-0. On top of that, their most recent win saw Chelsea humiliate Qarabag FK 6-0. Chelsea are firing on all cylinders going into this game against Arsenal.
Alvaro Morata has three goals and two assists in four Premier League matches, seemingly wasting no time getting acclimated to life in London. N’golo Kante continues to be the best all around midfielder in the league. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him in Arsenal red. But what is the largest threat that Chelsea pose? What is the one thing that makes them better than most? The answer the attacking capability of their defense.
Marcos Alonso scored both of Chelsea’s goals in their 2-1 victory over Tottenham. His defensive abilities paired with his attacking potency make him the prototypical wing-back. His flanking partner, Victor Moses, also poses a similar threat in the attacking area, but is far less gifted in his defensive abilities, having played as a traditional winger throughout most of his career.
Not only are the wing-backs threatening, but two of the three CB’s on the pitch are known to grab a goal or two. Caesar Azpilicueta has a Champions League goal and two Premier League assists to his name already this campaign. David Luiz also has a goal of his own. All of these goals come from set pieces and open play alike. That is what is most dangerous about this Chelsea back line, they are versatile and can create from almost nothing. Plus, if they can’t create, then the likes of Willian, Fabregas, Pedro, and maybe Hazard sure can.
Chelsea don’t have many weaknesses, or many apparent ones anyway. However, it does seem to be the case the the Chelsea defense is vulnerable on the counter, specifically when dealing with high crosses into the box. All of Burnley’s goals were created from high crosses in the box and the Chelsea defenders did almost nothing to stop the ball from hitting the back of the net (take this with a grain of salt considering Cahill’s red card). We see the problem again against Tottenham. Harry Kane whipped a ball into the box and Batshuayi ended up with an own goal. This could be written off as bad luck in a vacuum, but this on top of the Burnley goals suggest there could be a potential problem dealing with crosses. In these situations, the Chelsea defenders are typically retreating due to a quick counter attack from the opposing team. So, perhaps the larger problem is dealing with counter attacking teams.
What to look out for…
Arsenal need to be prepared for the long ball to Morata. He is a poacher with a goal scoring mentality. He can sniff out when a cross is coming and runs full speed into space. Look at his goals for Chelsea so far.
I’ll even add this one too, because it should have been a goal.
Do you notice a pattern? The ball gets kicked out to the right, to one of Azpilicueta or Willian, and the opposing team expects another short pass to build a sustained siege on goal. But, instead of what is expected, the ball just gets launched into the box to meet the head of Alvaro Morata.
What should Arsenal do?
Arsenal need to be ready for this, and what they should do is have one CB man marking Morata throughout the match and absolutely have Kolasinac start at LWB. His aggression will make it difficult for Chelsea to send a decent ball in from such a position. Go back and look at the GIFs…it is hard to imagine that Kolasinac would allow those passes off.
If Arsenal commit to a counter attacking style of play, it is possible to leave Stamford bridge with at least a point. It has been shown that Chelsea are capable of collapsing under a speedy attack that quickly penetrates the box.
If reports are to be believed, then it’s possible that Mesut Ozil will be out of the team due to “injury”. But this situation isn’t all bad. The selection headache of the week has been “Welbeck or Sanchez?”, which seems like a ridiculous question on the surface but Welbeck has been performing lately and bagged a brace against Bournemouth. So, if Wenger goes with an attack of Alexis/Welbeck/Lacazette…I recommend he go with a Xhaka and Elnenny midfield partnership. More defensively sound that Ramsey and Xhaka, and would help with the counter attacking game plan.
There has been a little buzz around the Arsenal twittersphere of reverting to a back four. If Wenger intends to go back to a more traditional 4-4-3, then he should wait at least one more week. He would be foolish to change the formation against a Chelsea team that Arsenal have beaten twice in a row with three at the back.
What do you guys think? Who should start in midfield, and how should Arsenal deal with Morata? Should Arsene go back to a 4-4-3?
Comment below or take the conversation to twitter. @jasonbaranowski and @afcstuff