Football Features

Lampard’s in-game tweaks pay off as Arsenal surrender lead to Chelsea

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:29, 29 December 2019

In an inevitable afternoon of football, Chelsea came from behind to beat Arsenal 1-2 at the Emirates.

The Gunners started fast and took an early lead but they didn’t build on it and a goalkeeping error let Chelsea back into the game and the Blues then won it late. What did we learn?

1. Big Time Tammy

Tammy Abraham started this season in the kind of white hot form that made a mockery of the doubts surrounding his ability to play at Premier League level. He scored nine times in his first 11 games and looked unstoppable. But, of course, form is a fluctuating thing and he eventually had some dry streaks, and they often coincided with Chelsea’s bigger games.

So many suspected that Abraham would be the kind of flat-track bully to mangle the smaller sides but fail to be as effective against the big boys. Well, here in a ‘big six’ clash the Englishman showed up supremely. He battled hard with minimal service and then at the end he drove the ball into the heart of the Arsenal defence, released Willian and then picked up the cross with a touch that left Shkodran Mustafi for dead before finishing calmly through Bernd Leno’s legs. A match-winning strike that showed he is a striker capable of impacting games big and small alike. Tammy’s finally hit the big time.

2. Jorginho vs. VAR vs. Arsenal

Jorginho changed the game. The Italian was left out of the starting XI by Frank Lampard but came off the bench after just half-an-hour as his side had been atrocious. Instantly Jorginho settled his side down and with him around Chelsea began to grow into the game steadily, eventually dominating the ball and the tempo of the match.

Jorginho even showed up to stab home the equaliser for Chelsea. Obviously it was a huge goalkeeping error but Jorginho was still making a fantastic run in behind and was thus ready to tap the ball home. So in terms of Jorginho vs. Arsenal, he definitely won.

Of course, should he have even been on the pitch? He had committed two obvious yellow card challenges but the referee declined to book him for an clearly cynical tug on Matteo Guendouzi.

And this is where people actually want VAR to intervene, not in terms of goals but judging stuff like this. It was obviously a foul from Jorginho, thus a second yellow, and had the ref been checked and corrected then who knows if Arsenal would have ever let their lead slip?

3. Ozil shows his class

Mesut Ozil is a gift of a footballer who, for years, has been maligned for reasons that make very little sense. The German is glorious at what he can do but not great at things he can’t do, and this is oddly held against him. Still, Mikel Arteta has quite sensibly made him focal of his own Arsenal side and today Ozil showed why that was such a smart decision.

The German was sublime against Chelsea, his every touch was so perfectly weighted. He pulled markers in and flicked the ball past them, he linked with his team-mates and drifted into space almost effortlessly. No Arsenal player created more chances and completed more passes in the opponent’s half than he did. He was supreme to watch and that he left the field to a standing ovation was so telling given he has often been one of the most polarising figures at the club. Today, though, the Gunners faithful showed love to a player who showed his class.

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4. Lampard really trusts the kids

Part of the idea behind appointing Frank Lampard and Jody Morris was that they had proven in their year at Derby County that they could work with young players, and Chelsea’s transfer ban meant that the Blues were going to have to, for once, use the younger contingent in their loan army if they were to field a competitive squad. That experiment worked, mostly, and Chelsea have been a delightful side this season and have done very well to find themselves in fourth place and the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

With their transfer ban finally over, many expect that they will spend big to bolster the squad. And whilst there will no doubt be some spending, today’s game at the Emirates displayed the depth of Lampard’s commitment to youth. After starting in a 3-4-3 proved to be a bad idea, Chelsea switched to 4-3-3 but that left them with Fikayo Tomori out of position at right-back.

Now most managers would have brought Andreas Christensen on and moved Kurt Zouma to right-back (a position he has played before). Or they would have brought on a midfielder and used N’Golo Kanté’s boundless energy there. But Lampard brought on Tariq Lamptey, handing the teenager his Premier League debut in a match of this enormity. It’s not like he was turning to wonderkid Reece James, Lamptey is a more ‘ordinary’ prospect and Lampard still trusted him. This is a manager who young players know will always give them the chance, no matter the size of the opponent.

5. The darkness of Arsenal

Before today, Lampard’s Chelsea had never won a game after conceding the first goal. In fact they had never even drawn. Six games, six defeats. But today they managed to turn a deficit around and pick up a huge win that extends their lead over Manchester United in the race for a top four spot back to four points.

Now, yes, a lot of that has to be credited to Lampard’s willingness to make changes. In a Jose Mourinho-esque move he made a sub in the first-half, bringing Jorginho on and switching formation to 4-3-3. Later on he changed to a 4-2-3-1 and thanks to that formation, they both won the foul that got them their equaliser and then had the men in position to break and score the winner.

But so much of the result turned on Arsenal simply being Arsenal. Arteta played a blinder, picking the right side and sending his team out in the correct shape with the right gameplan. The Gunners dominated the early going and opened the scoring, but they only scored once, missed other chances to extend their lead, and got too comfortable defending a 1-0 lead. They were just tempting fate and in the end, fate responded as expected. A goalkeeping error was followed by some overzealous defending and getting rinsed on the break.

This is the size of the task facing Arteta at Arsenal. He has to change the entire club culture and the thought process of players. They have to be more ruthless and confident. That will come in time and the early signs are promising that Arteta has the skills to change things. But the night is darkest before the dawn so before that dawn comes there will be a lot of darkness, which right now they are swimming in.