Jose Mourinho threatened to take a step backwards to instill consistency in Chelsea’s results, after their shocking Capital One Cup defeat against Sunderland. Mourinho stated his reluctance to shackle his attacking players and implement a counterattacking game, but a trip to the Emirates called for it.
Mourinho’s flawless record against Arsene Wenger isn’t a coincidence – Wenger’s possession-based philosophy plays into the Portuguese manager’s meticulous approach, and there was no surprises in either starting XI, despite many continuing to question Juan Mata’s exclusion.
A cagey opening half displayed dissimilar defensive approaches without the ball. Chelsea sat off the Arsenal midfield and limited space between the lines, whereas Wenger’s wingers quickly closed down Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic – Azpilicueta mirrored this approach on Theo Walcott, but from an offensive perspective the Chelsea fullbacks impact on the match was minimal.
Eden Hazard and Willian – Chelsea’s most in-form attackers – played on the flanks, while Ramires operated behind Torres, but often took up positions in midfield to prevent the Gunners from overloading central areas. While many questioned Mourinho’s preferred front three, the Portuguese manager’s selection was logical.
The trio possesses a devastating threat on the counterattack, but have the tactical discipline to diligently track back to maintain Chelsea’s compact shape and protect their fullbacks. Ramires helped Torres press Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta when building out of the back, and Chelsea’s wide men continuously launched swift counterattacks – yet, their decision-making and final ball were poor.
Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna scampered forward when the opportunity presented itself, but their deliveries were short. Arsenal’s midfielders couldn’t locate space between the lines to penetrate, and Olivier Giroud was an isolated figure – albeit, receiving Arsenal’s best chance to win the match, but Petr Cech’s quick movement off his line led to an important save that kept the match goalless.
But for the umpteenth time this season, Mesut Ozil failed to impose himself against a top-side. Ozil isn’t the type of player that dictates matches – he weaves around the opposition’s final third and provides flashes of brilliance, but that feat was anonymous, as was the German playmaker – despite completing the most passes in the final third. The most fascinating component in Arsenal’s attacking approach was Ozil and Rosicky’s movement. Ozil constantly drifted into deeper positions, which created space between the lines for Rosicky to drift into and vice-versa. The duo combined admirably, and Arsenal’s best chances were created through their movement.
Chelsea made player swaps in wide areas by introducing Andre Schurrle and Oscar, and David Luiz replaced Fernando Torres to secure a vital away point – shockingly, Wenger didn’t turn to his bench. The away side created the best chance of the match – despite their reactive approach – when Frank Lampard’s volley smashed off the crossbar. The 35-year-old midfielder occasionally made forward runs towards the box, when Hazard or Willian moved into wide positions, and he assiduously worked hard in the second half to protect Azpilicueta, when Ozil attempted to overload the left flank.
Arsenal stuck to their philosophy on a wet, windy night at the Emirates Stadium, but Mourinho’s side was well-equipped to contain their threat. “They played their game but it was the game we wanted them to play. They tried to win the game but we played tactically well,” Mourinho said.
More so, another game between the Premier League’s top teams – disregarding Manchester City at home – was uninspiring, as the overall display from both sides was equivalent to the weather conditions – dismal.