LONDON — Mikel Arteta urgently needed a result to support his rhetoric. On Saturday, Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1, just like that.
This is a popular chorus among managers who try to stop denial, citing the importance of hard work, but it is suspected that Arteta means more than most, given the ability and lack of commitment that embodies the end of the Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery era. The Gunners, who have just won their first Premier League title since 1. In the run-up to the November title, Arteta tries to inspire his team to show the unity and spirit that he brings to the club’s daily training sessions in London Colney, but which are lacking on the football field lately.
This time they were delivered correctly.
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Gabriel Martinelli took on Manchester City after his ankle problems: He combined work and quality on the left side. Bukayo Saka continued to show remarkable consistency despite the turmoil on the other side.
The surprise name on the home team’s map is Emile Smith Rowe, who makes his first Premier League appearance of the year, and in many ways his recording embodies Arteta’s existential struggle in Arsenal.
Arteta has switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and when playing with the No10, the Spaniard makes targeted defensive incitements, especially in the creative position. This is perhaps the main reason why Mesut Özil – the club’s main wage earner at £350,000 a week – remains in the wilderness. Nobody can reasonably claim that Özil doesn’t have much more talent on the field than Smith Rowe, but the accusation made so often against the first is that he is overwhelmed by the intelligence of his teammates. Smith Rowe has distinguished himself in this respect.
Until the replacement on the 65th minute. No player had more ball possession than the 20-year-old in the first minute, and he did it six times. To underline the point, Smith Rowe’s replacement Joe Willock scored three points in the last 25 minutes to advance Martinelli’s team. It was this pressure from the front that frustrated Chelsea from the start, with an intensity that the visitors could not match at the end of the game when the game was already lost.
Gabriel, David Luiz and Willian missed the game with questions about COWID. Gabriel’s test was negative, but he had to isolate himself after having been in contact with a person with a positive test of his bladder, while Luis and Willian had symptoms but also tested negative. It is doubtful whether all three would have come into action, but due to Willian’s absence in particular, Arteta was able to perform a rear quartet that offered much more movement and dynamism than the static performances of the past few weeks.
They needed another penalty, a beautiful free kick and a lucky goal for them to take a 3-0 lead with only two first-half penalties. Alexandre Lacazette scored from 15 meters after 34 minutes after a tackle by Reece James on Kieran Tierney, before Granit Xhaka reduced the score by 25 meters just before half time. Eleven minutes after the restart Saka seemed to give up a cross, but his right shot went past Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy and past the far post.
Tammy Abraham struck five minutes later, but although Jorginho missed a penalty after Pablo Marie brought down Mount Mason, Chelsea was the better team throughout the game.
It is clear that this is a very big victory for us, Arteta said. We were very disappointed and frustrated by the results, not so much the performance as the results. The players have suffered, our fans have suffered, and today is a very special day. It doesn’t get any better: On Boxing Day, play in the London derby in the Emirates and win like us.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Arsenal needs a victory against Chelsea to turn around an otherwise disappointing season. David Price/Arsenal FC through Getty Images
I hope it’s a turning point and that it strengthens the confidence of the team, because I know they can play at this level. It’s about how consistent we are throughout the game to maintain that level.
Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli flourished, unlike the much more expensive trio on the other side of the field, when Chelsea allowed their third defeat in four games.
It is doubtful that Frank Lampard knows his best team after spending £220 million last summer, leaving Kai Havertz on the bench and Christian Pulisic unable to reach the heights he has reached in the restart project. Timo Werner was great in the first weeks of the season, but he has now gone eight games without a goal and increasingly looks like a marginal figure on the left with every passing week. He will be replaced half-time by Callum Hudson-Odoi in a double replacement by Mateo Kovacic instead of Jorginho.
The last replacement makes it all the more understandable that Chelsea Declan continues to keep an eye on Rice, alongside other defensive midfielders, given the team’s imbalance in the Emirates. N’Golo Kante has his merits as he plays further forward, but it seems illogical if Chelsea Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny lose in midfield.
The first half wasn’t good enough, the second half was better but too much, Lampard said after the game. Not good enough in the basics in terms of sprinting, pressure and running, passing speed, play attempts and turns. The fundamentals were all wrong.
There was a slow approach in the first half, so whether you play against Arsenal in a difficult moment or against another Premier League team, it doesn’t work like that. I’m worried about what’s happening on the ground, but I’m not sure it’s complacency. The fact is that you’ll have a hard time getting results if you go in slowly and play on and off the court. The message was clear: We really had to attack, and we didn’t.
The arsenal needs more than one result to turn the tide. It took them 683 minutes to score three goals and they managed to pull level in 22 minutes, which will certainly give them new confidence for their matches against Brighton & Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion on both days of the new year.
Another defeat in one of those games would have been a blow to a fragile group and a manager under pressure, but you had to start somewhere and a convincing victory against an opponent on the other side of town was an impressive way to do it.