For about 15 minutes in the first half, Arsenal looked spirited and determined but as the game developed, it was abundantly clear that Chelsea would finally reach a gear that took them past the finishing post. Arteta’s men gave everything they had but they lacked resilience and craft, they knocked on the door but each time they got into a position, the individuals concerned fluffed their lines.
Smith Rowe couldn’t get anything on a loose ball and Saka was guilty of making the wrong choices when in a fabulous position in the Chelsea box. A further two guilt-edged chances fell to Rob Holding who just didn’t have the quality to put the ball into the net.
Chelsea squeezed Arsenal with very little effort and for a side ravaged by illness and injuries in key areas, the Gunners looked a little lost on occasion. Unlike some, I found positives in this performance which were mainly in an improved overall performance with some intensity and a will to persevere, but the necessary quality was absent to put Chelsea under pressure.
Rob Holding, in particular, was a symbol of the renewed appetite for the all London contest but there wasn’t enough of it to go around and Mr Holding certainly has his limitations in a crisis. However, he gave a good account of himself in general, despite my reservations, when the team was announced.
This was a team without two experienced strikers in the starting lineup, it was also without Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard and Ben White and surely those inclusions would have made Arsenal look more attractive and threatening.
Let’s also remind ourselves that Arsenal kept the score at a reasonable level due to their determination and a degree of good fortune. Had the football gods not been at the Arsenal pity party, it could have been 0-5 but that would have been entirely unfair to a young depleted side that tried to take the game to their opponents.
Leno pulled Arsenal out of the fire from a goal-bound Lukaku effort and Xhaka took the brunt of a shot to the face as the home side invented new ways of keeping the ball out of the net.
Sambi looked good and as the season wears on, the Gunners faithful will have a new hero in their ranks, all the signs are good. Arsenal have the nucleus of something good developing, but it’s not ready or complete and lacks the big-match experience that can sometimes only come from defeats and drubbings.
There were periods of this game where Chelsea just went through the motions and others where Arsenal were dragged around by the current of the Blues’ more dominant midfield. Romelu Lukaku, who’s been back to Chelsea as many times as Jose Mourinho, was always going to score and his powerful bulk brushed aside Pablo Mari for the opener, not that the defender was exclusively at fault because the team collectively went to sleep leaving gaps big enough to sail a boat through.
James completed a satisfying first half for the visitors with another defensive lapse and clear daylight was established. Saka’s penalty claim was valid, but don’t expect any gifts from the ref or a new form of reluctant VAR which apparently are both under instruction to let the game flow, but I suspect this season will end like the last with damning criticism of the system.
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Arsenal never really looked like getting on the score sheet and even the introduction of Aubameyang offered little apart from another hairstyle which was neither a Gervinho or his usual high top. The game fizzled out with 15 minutes to go, with Chelsea comfortably in control and looking for the greater challenges ahead.
It’s fair to say that this season will be decided by the outcome of the big games between themselves, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. Whoever claims the most points home and away will end up with the Premier League crown but remember, they also have domestic and European competitions to contend with.
As for the Arsenal, it’s Manchester City next with two defeats and no points, which will make the outcome of the Norwich game even more key.