Arsenal and Chelsea battled to an apathetic draw at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger was forced to make a few changes to the side that lost to Manchester City, as Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny were unavailable. Olivier Giroud led the line ahead of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mesut Ozil, while Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta sat in the double-pivot.
Jose Mourinho made three changes to the side that defeated Crystal Palace. Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and John Obi Mikel were included in the starting XI, while Oscar, Juan Mata and Andre Schurrle were on the bench.
Chelsea’s reactive approach frustrated Wenger’s side in a dull match between two of the top sides in the Premier League.
One of the main issues Arsenal’s encountered when facing Jose Mourinho’s side has been penetrating space between the lines and behind Chelsea’s backline. Mourinho has preferred to take a reactive approach when facing Arsenal, and here, the Portuguese manager stuck to his beliefs.
Chelsea dropped into a narrow 4-5-1, and opted not to press the Arsenal centre backs. Mourinho’s men maintained a compact shape limiting space between the lines, while Ramires, Lampard and Fernando Torres took turns pressing Arteta – Cesar Azpilicueta quickly closed down Theo Walcott when he received the ball out wide, and the Englishman often drifted centrally, congesting the middle of the park.
Chelsea’s defender’s pushed higher up the pitch knowing that Giroud didn’t possess the pace to exploit their back line, and their positioning ensured that there was minimal space between the lines. Mourinho’s approach stifled Arsenal’s midfield, as they struggled to get into their preferred zones to create chances – it took the Gunners 83 minutes to record their first shot on target.
On the other hand, Arsenal’s approach without the ball was quite peculiar. Similar to Chelsea, they also dropped into their shape, but the distance between the midfield and defence was vast. Also, their midfield five didn’t press in central areas, and Mourinho’s men easily found gaps between the lines to exploit. Mikel and Lampard sat deeper, and they were able to play passes to Ramires, and the two attacking wide players in these zones.
Wenger’s men looked much better in wide areas – Walcott quickly closed down Azpilicueta when he received the ball, and despite Rosicky drifting centrally when Chelsea was in possession, the Czech midfielder scurried out wide when Ivanovic received the ball. Chelsea’s fullbacks were pegged back, and their wingers were stifled in wide areas.
Hazard found it difficult to get the better of Sagna, whereas Willian was also quiet near the touchline – the Chelsea duo influenced the game when they drifted centrally and attacked space between the lines.
Wenger’s side comfortably nullified Chelsea’s threat in wide areas, but their inability to prevent Mourinho’s men from playing between the lines was naïve.
Chelsea’s source of offence was evident from the first whistle. Torres was an isolated figure upfront who struggled to trouble the Arsenal backline, and with the midfield soaking up pressure, Chelsea’s best chance of scoring was on the counter.
This is why his selected attacking trio behind Torres was logical – they were capable of tracking back to complete their defensive duties, but their zing posed a threat on the counter. Willian, Ramires and Hazard drove Chelsea’s counterattack forward on several occasions, but were unable to beat Wojciech Szczesny. Chelsea’s best chance came when Hazard drifted infield and chipped a ball over the Arsenal defence, which led to Lampard’s volley off the crossbar.
Besides that, Willian’s tame efforts didn’t trouble Szczesny and he often played a poor final ball, Ramires nodded a cross over the net, and Lampard’s shot from distance flew straight into the Arsenal goalkeeper’s arms. Chelsea tormented the home side on the break, but their quality in the final third was disappointing.
There was a slight improvement in Arsenal’s display in the final 25 minutes, and it nearly led to the home side nicking a winner. Chelsea was suddenly sloppy in possession, and they constantly conceded the ball to the home side.
Ozil became a prominent figure in the latter stages of the match, as he glided towards each flank attempting to create overloads – specifically the right.
However, Lampard tracked his runs into these zones to prevent 3v2 situations, and the Englishman – who enjoyed arguably his best performance this season – made key tackles in these areas.
As the game wore on Ozil’s decision to drop into deeper positions was interesting. When the German adopted these deep/wide areas, Rosicky began to find space between the lines to receive the ball and spread play wide to push Arsenal forward and vice-versa. Arsenal’s best chances stemmed through Rosicky’s advanced positions – his driving run from midfield led to Giroud’s effort that went wide, and his one-two with Gibbs on the left flank forced Petr Cech to make a key save to deny the Arsenal striker.
Mourinho’s substitutions were strictly player swaps that maintained balance and his side’s shape, while Wenger didn’t make any alterations, and his side looked leggy in the final minutes, as Chelsea pushed for a winner.
Neither side gambled for a winner due to the fear of losing the match, and they both displayed the flaws that may inhibit them from winning the league. Arsenal had difficulties playing through Chelsea’s shape and press, as Mourinho’s tactics stifled their creative midfielders and direct threat in Walcott.
“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.
Arsenal’s lack of options on the bench is an issue the Gunners may encounter – as Arsenal’s congested schedule approaches, Wenger’s men are slowly showing signs of fatigue. However, while Chelsea displayed that they can get results away from home against the top-sides, this match was a perfect indicator as to why they may actually need a top striker.