As Bukayo Saka’s cross looped over Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea net to give Arsenal a worthy 3-0 lead, Mikel Arteta’s new-found reliance upon youth looked to have been vindicated.
Despite a late Chelsea flurry, with Tammy Abraham netting a consolation and Jorginho missing a penalty, Arsenal looked rejuvenated and were deserving of their victory which eases the mounting pressure on Arteta.
This is certainly not a triumph that papers over all of the cracks, however, Arsenal’s first win in eight, and first at the Emirates since October lessens the fears of a potential relegation battle. For Arteta and the Arsenal faithful, it is the manner of the performance that will offer plenty of optimism going into fixtures with Brighton and West Brom.
The catalyst for this impressive victory over a good Chelsea team was the introduction of youth. The hosts were far too energetic for Frank Lampard’s side. As Gary Neville said on commentary ‘They’re making Chelsea look like old men’; 36-year-old Thiago Silva at the heart of Chelsea’s defence would probably agree.
Arteta’s faith in 19-year-old Gabriel Martinelli and 20-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe, along with an impeccable display from Saka was the foundation for a dynamic, fearless display that had alluded them in recent weeks.
Why has this not been tried earlier? Arsenal fans have been imploring for their exciting young talent to be unleashed into their stuttering Premier League campaign. The utilisation of ageing Brazilian pair Willian and David Luiz is undoubtedly not the cure that will propel them back to a slightly more respectable position.
Yet, it was a Brazilian who has provided a new-found optimism at the Emirates after a vibrant exhibition of centre-forward play. Martinelli probed and pestered Chelsea’s usually sturdy backline for 70 minutes until he was replaced by Nicolas Pepe. The 19-year-old revealed his intent within the first 30 seconds after he stabbed an early cross from Hector Bellerin just wide.Embed from Getty Images
Despite Arsenal’s early intent, Chelsea, coming off a 3-0 win against an in-form West Ham, began to assert their authority on proceedings, with Mason Mount’s well-struck free-kick hitting the post in the 13th minute. Lampard’s side were regularly employing Reece James’ pinpoint deliveries from the right-wing but failed to create any clear-cut chances.
After surprisingly standing firm, Arsenal earned themselves a chance to take the lead in the 33rd minute. Kieran Tierney lured James into a challenge and despite minimal contact referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Top scorer Alexandre Lacazette sent Mendy the wrong way for his sixth goal of the season.
Regardless of their lead, given recent performances, this game was still far from over. However, the anticipated reaction from Chelsea did not materialise. A tame effort from Timo Werner in the 41st minute being their solitary response. The home side were comfortable and making it hard for Chelsea to settle on the ball, with Smith-Rowe, Saka, and Martinelli all pestering Chelsea’s creative midfield sparks.
Arsenal’s reluctance to let Chelsea back into the game was rewarded on the stroke of half-time. Saka’s persistence earned his side a free-kick 10 yards outside the Chelsea box, which Granit Xhaka subsequently fired into the top corner with Mendy’s full-length dive only making the goal look more spectacular.Embed from Getty Images
Xhaka’s performance along-side Mohamed Elneny in central midfield goes some way to atone for recent ill-discipline against Burnley when he was sent off in a 1-0 defeat.
The lead was unquestionably deserved at half-time with the home side proving far more energetic, dynamic and penetrative with their work, whilst Chelsea had enjoyed more of the ball, yet floundered on it.
Chelsea’s first-half display was lacklustre at the very least, and Lampard reacted by replacing Mateo Kovacic with Jorginho and Timo Werner with Callum Hudson-Odoi. The England winger almost had an immediate impact as his pinpoint cross in the 47th minute looked destined to find a Chelsea head before it was well cleared by Tierney.
The introduction of Hudson-Odoi looked to have given the visitors a constant threat and foothold at the start of the second half, however, it was another England youngster who stole the limelight. In the 56th minute, with Arsenal’s first venture forward, Saka found space in the Chelsea box, after shifting the ball to his weaker foot his cross-cum-shot left Mendy stranded as it found the top corner. This was no more than Saka deserved, his performance embodied the liveliness that the home side demonstrated throughout the whole match.Embed from Getty Images
The cameo from Hudson-Odoi and overall display from Saka certainly generates plenty of excitement for the national team in the coming years. For Hudson-Odio in particular, his impact will do him no harm as he looks to revitalise his slightly stuttering Chelsea career.
As the match ebbed on, attention had shifted to the Chelsea bench. The obvious addition of Olivier Giroud to proceedings may have seen one of their endless crosses end up in Bernd Leno’s net. The French striker is the club’s joint top-scorer this season and has scored a goal every 65 minutes which is the best at the club. Giroud’s aerial ability and tendency to make clever front-post runs was blatantly needed as they looked to find a route back into the match.
Lampard’s unwillingness to make the change resulted in Arsenal being relatively untroubled. Instead, the home side were only prevented a fourth by a smart save from Mendy, after a low shot by Martinelli in the 63rd minute.
Arteta’s men retained their intent and had further chances to add to their lead after Lacazette forced a full-stretch save from Mendy and Elneny struck the bar in the 84th minute.
Chelsea left any attempt to get back into the game far too late. The dynamic Hudson-Odoi found Abraham who chested home to reduce the deficit in the 85th minute. The visitors had the opportunity to make it a nervy finish after Mason Mount won a penalty in the 90th minute. However, Jorginho continued his woeful recent record from the spot as Leno made a comfortable save.
Arsenal will be looking to ease their relegation fears further as they visit fellow strugglers Brighton on Tuesday, whilst Chelsea face a tough test against in-form Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Monday.