Football Features

Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: Arteta draws on the old Wenger ethos to solve his biggest problem (for now)

By Squawka News

Published: 20:04, 26 December 2020

In an incredible evening of football, Arsenal smashed Chelsea 3-1 at the Emirates.

The win was the Gunners’ first in the Premier League since the start of November. Since then they have played seven times, losing five games while on a death spiral that saw them drop to 15th place and, as they kicked-off against Chelsea, were just three points off the relegation places in the league.

What was the catalyst that sparked an incredible victory over Champions League chasing Chelsea? Was it their star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sparking to life? How about the return of super signing Thomas Partey? Maybe the former Chelsea man Willian returned to haunt his old club?

Turns out it was none of those things. The solution was instead rooted in the old Arsene Wenger ethos, the kind of thing the club seemed to have had very little success with in recent years. The solution was the youth, the Europa League legends. It was the kids.

Due to quarantine protocols, Arsenal had to name a much-changed XI. Mikel Arteta made six changes from his previous Premier League XI and in came Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe. Further, youngster Bukayo Saka, often pushed wide or onto the bench to make way for Willian was given the start as well.

This transformed the Arsenal attack to a trio of 30+ forwards on colossal contracts to one selfless and intelligent veteran (Alexandre Lacazette) backed up by a trio of young attackers loaded with pace, invention and daring.

This was not the lethargic Arsenal of the seven game stretch, but a newer, more driven Arsenal side. This was a team that took on the expensively assembled Chelsea superstars and quite simply ran them off the park.

The final score was 3-1 but it honestly could and perhaps should have been more. Arsenal were genuinely thrilling, and while Kieran Tierney won the penalty that opened the scoring, and Granit Xhaka’s stunning free-kick made it 2-0, it was the kids that made it all possible.

Obviously Smith Rowe and Martinelli are not as good as the likes of Willian and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In isolation, you would obviously take the veterans and all the hundreds of goals they’ve scored or created through their careers.

But for this Arsenal, as a team, the kids are better picks.

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The major problem Arsenal have faced this season has been their startling lack of creativity and drive. They can get the ball to the final third, but they do it slowly and have little creative spark when it gets there. Which allows teams to shut them down and break on.

With these youngsters, that’s all changed, because they carry the ball forward at speed. On Boxing Day they showed not only the energy and commitment to chase back and help out defensively but also the stamina to drive forward and be involved in the final third.

Gabriel Martinelli is bursting with verve and movement and seems to have, through last season’s EFL Cup games, developed a chemistry with Kieran Tierney where he knows when to run central and allow the Scot to overlap. The Brazilian is also an exceptional presser (he made three tackles today, only one player managed more) which makes Arsenal more energetic.

Saka is spectacular at dribbling, driving and creating, but is often tasked in more mundane full-back or wing-back roles. Today he was allowed to take full part in attack and he responded by knitting play and scoring a sensational (if unintentional) third goal.

Emile Smith Rowe is a young attacking midfielder who is oozing with confidence and skill. The kind of youngster that Arsenal used to produce at will under Wenger, a talented spark who today against Chelsea just made everything tick that much more rhythmically without dominating and demanding the ball and slowing play like a more static creator would.

The common theme here is energy. Speaking of which: youngster Joe Willock came off the bench and in just a few minutes racked up a game-high four tackles. But that’s what these kids provide, energy and hope.

And that’s what Arteta’s system needs to succeed: energy and hope. The wide players are so important to Arteta’s system because they stretch defences out, keep them unbalanced to force mistakes and create space for others. These roles are incredibly demanding, which makes veterans a poor fit for them.

Playing with these kids in attack meant that at the very least, the Gunners were attacking Chelsea repeatedly, creating the kind of pressure that eventually led to them breaking the Blues down. And when things flowed well, they created great chances and could have scored more than the goals they actually did manage.

“Today they were moving the ball with a purpose,” said Alex Scott post-match. And that’s exactly correct. Obviously these youngsters aren’t as good as Arsenal’s big name veterans, but they are better for the team.

Arsenal played so coherently, so cohesively, so creatively that they not only humiliated Chelsea and got their first win in almost two months, but they managed to give themselves a blueprint for the rest of the season.

The fact that Arsenal’s performance dipped dramatically after Smith Rowe and Martinelli were replaced just about sums up how much influence they had over this Arsenal performance (even as Willock excelled as a defensive presence).

Arsenal’s young guns are the answer to get the team firing once again.