Arsenal v Chelsea: The pit and the pendulum

THE ONLY real surprise at the Emirates was the scoreline; Arsenal should have won far more healthily than they did. A two-goal margin really did flatter a Chelsea side that gave new meaning to the term, “Ragbag Rovers”. In little over a year, the club’s new ownership appears to have dismantled two decades of achievement through misinterpreting the asset class they have bought and the nature of team-building. The commitment is there, but the product knowledge is lacking. And Arsenal were hungry and desperate enough to take advantage of Chelsea’s miserable state.

Nobody can blame a lack of money on the part of the new Chelsea regime – they have spent like macho City traders celebrating bonus week, but the cash looks to have been wasted on a selection of players that look like they do not want to be there. Many have been signed because of potential and promise, yet the culture of the club continues to be about immediate success, not delayed gratification, as demonstrated by the reinstallation of the revolving door. Unless there is a swift change in mindset, Chelsea may be launching a fire sale without a fire in the summer. 

Arsenal, apparently, had been on a poor run. Chelsea fans would have given their right arm for that sort of bad sequence of results, a few draws and a defeat. For all the money spent, Chelsea do not have a goalscorer but they do have a disorganised defence and Arsenal revelled in its chaos. 

It took seven minutes for the game to be up, Granit Xhaka, Arsenal’s renaissance man, sent over a cross and Martin Ødegaard sent a superb shot in off the crossbar.  Before the Gunners’ scored their second, Ben Chilwell almost put Chelsea level with a left-foot drive on the run that Aaron Ramsdale did well to push away. But then came two goals in a five minute spell that highlighted Chelsea’s inadequacies, the first a near carbon copy by Ødegaard and then a scrambled effort from Gabriel Jesus. Thirty-four minutes one and it was 3-0. Chelsea were dead and buried and more goals beckoned for the rampant home side as their fans chanted, “you’re going down” at the visitors.

Frank Lampard, who probably cannot get away from “my club” quicker, changed his team in the second half and this, along with Arsenal’s realisation they didn’t have to do too much to keep control, meant the Blues grabbed a consolation in the 64th minute from the willing horse that was Noni Madueke, the former PSV Eindhoven striker who cost a mere € 33 million. Chelsea introduced Mykhailo Mudryk and Arsenal’s loyalists demonstrated their resentment that he chose London SW6 rather than Finsbury Park in the last transfer window by jeering the Ukrainian striker and foolishly and a little tactlessly aiming lasers at his face and body.

In the end, 3-1 really did not do justice to the balance of play over 90 minutes, but Chelsea must have been relieved the game didn’t run dramatically away from them. At half-time, it looked like it could have been a Manchester City-type runaway result. 

The composition of the two teams underlined the current state of the two clubs. Arsenal’s starting line-up and used substitutes cost the club £ 459 million in transfer fees, while Chelsea spent £ 630 million on theirs. Only two home-grown players were employed by both teams. And yet, for all the young talent bought by Chelsea, they had no less than four players over the age of 30 in their first XI. Thiago Silva has been an outstanding addition since he joined, but Cesar Azpilicueta – fine player that he has been – spent the entire game shouting at clouds. Something is very wrong and one wonders how many of the club’s acquisitions in this chaotic new era will be at Stamford Bridge come the middle of 2023-24 season.

As for Arsenal, they have just one nagging problem: Manchester City. This is the Gunners’ season, possibly their best chance of the Premier title because City won’t be weaker next year, they will work tirelessly and economically to put more sky blue water between themselves and their main contenders. Arsenal couldn’t have had a better opponent after their recent run than a directionless Chelsea, but unfortunately for Mikel Arteta, City have to play Chelsea aswell. Arsenal can still win the title, but City have to slip-up. As Liverpool have discovered in recent years, it’s hard to compete with them – and it is not just about money (as Chelsea have shown), it’s also about hoe you spend it.

Chelsea will not get relegated, but ultimately they have to thank the manager they started the campaign with for keeping them up. Thomas Tuchel had a win rate of 50% when he was sacked in September after six games and those 10 points gave them to cushion to survive the 2022-23 season. His record has been much better than the three characters that have followed him in the role.  They might want to think about that one in the dress circle at Stamford Bridge in the coming days.

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