Marcos Alonso’s late winner allowed Chelsea to get the better of Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, although neither side seemed particularly bothered about their goal difference record.
In what was an exciting clash from the first minute to the last, the Gunners’ defensive frailties from last season – and last week – were clearly evident once again, meanwhile Maurizio Sarri’s attacking nature of play allowed the north Londoners back into the game.
First half goals from Pedro and Alvaro Morata gave the Blues a comfortable two-goal cushion after just 20 minutes; however, slapdash defending from the west Londoners saw the scores level before the break as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi beat the shaky Kepa.
But, Alonso’s 80th-minute striker after further shoddy Arsenal defending wrapped up all three points for Chelsea, and continued the Blues’ 100% start to this season’s campaign.
Key Talking Point
Since Sarri’s arrival, N’Golo Kante has been afforded an uncharacteristic freedom to roam across midfield rather than adhering to his deep-lying destroyer role which the 27-year-old has made his own in the Premier League and on the international stage over the past 24 months or so.
No Chelsea or Arsenal player created more chances (3) than N’Golo Kanté in the first half at Stamford Bridge.
Turns out he can do everything… pic.twitter.com/NdCZNvTQzB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) 18 August 2018
However, with the French World Cup-winner now permitted to probe the opposition defensive line with more regularity – which he has done to great effect so far during the first two games of the season – Chelsea find themselves without their accustomed midfield steel, which was only highlighted by Jorginho’s, although aesthetically pleasing, lightweight style of play.
Kante further forward is a no from me
— Dami (@TheChelseaWay) 18 August 2018
And let’s keep Kante as the DM, okay?
Not everyone is meant to attack or press forward.
— FunmI (@fvnmI) 18 August 2018
Both of Arsenal’s first half goals came via runs from areas in which Kante would have had locked down last term, and it will be interesting to see – as the season develops, and as the likes of Mateo Kovacic get up to speed – whether Sarri persists with his all-out attack-minded style of play as he learns more about the Premier League.
Starting XI: Kepa (5); Azpilicueta (6), Rudiger (6), Luiz (6), Alonso (8*); Kante (7), Jorginho (8),
Barkley (8); Willian (6), Morata (8), Pedro (7)
Substitutes: Hazard (6), Kovacic (7), Giroud (6)
Although suspect in defence at times, Alonso’s impact going forward looks as though it will be a potent under Sarri as it was Antonio Conte last season.
Marcos Alonso is one goal from equaling the Premier League total Danny Welbeck has managed for Arsenal.
He’s played 13 fewer games… and is a left-back. pic.twitter.com/C7QU7r07Fc
— bet365 (@bet365) 18 August 2018
With an assist and the Spaniard netting the winner late on, as well as offering options throughout the second half down the left flank, there is not another player in blue who provided a similar level of impact.
The world’s most expensive goalkeeper did not give Chelsea fans much confidence during his first start at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Kepa making Alisson look like a snip at £67m.
— Leanne Prescott (@_lfcleanne) 18 August 2018
Admittedly, not to Petr Cech’s level of uncomfortableness in a new setting, the 23-year-old failed to show why the Blues had offloaded such a fee over the summer – with the young custodian in a position, arguably, to have stopped both of Arsenal’s goals hitting the back of his net during the first half.
The first, in particular, seemed one a certain Thibaut Courtois would have made his own quite comfortably, and improvements must be shown quickly to avoid it becoming an issue in west London.
Key Talking Point
After just 10 minutes, the question: “Nothing’s really changed about Arsenal, has it?” was muttered. And at the time, it was hard to disagree with the statement.
This new Arsenal manager: he looks like he valet parks cars at a South Beach casino
— Jeremy Clarkson (@JeremyClarkson) 18 August 2018
Finding themselves two goals down against a fellow top six side 12 months ago was not unfamiliar and would have seen the Gunners crumble in adversity; potentially going on to ship a cricket score or, at least, accepting their fate of defeat.
However, Unai Emery’s north Londoners, albeit abysmal at the back, still looked dangerous going forward, and were rewarded justly for their efforts – eventually, despite Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan spurning golden opportunities early on.
Yet, Arsenal’s fightback offered insight into the squad’s renewed mental strength under their new Spanish coach, and despite eventually going on to lose the game, it is a significant positive to take forward for the Emirates Stadium men.
Arsenal have lost their opening two league games of the season for the first time since the 1992/93 campaign.
Tough start for Unai Emery. pic.twitter.com/Umu0bDOPve
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) 18 August 2018
Starting XI: Cech (6); Bellerin (5), Sokratis (5), Mustafi (5), Monreal (5); Guendouzi (7), Xhaka (6), Mkhitaryan (9*), Ozil (6), Iwobi (7); Aubameyang (6)
Substitutes: Torreira (5), Ramsey (7), Lacazette (5)
Despite blazing a golden opportunity over the bar when it looked certain the Armenian would score, the 29-year-old managed to drag his side back into the contest with a goal and well-worked assist.
8 – Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been directly involved in eight goals in his 13 Premier League games for Arsenal (3 goals, 5 assists), one more than in his last 25 for Manchester United (7). Revitalised. pic.twitter.com/7nEpdoVujq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 18 August 2018
Even if the former Manchester United man’s efforts eventually came to nothing but a step towards personal milestones, his influence in the Arsenal side has continually grown since his arrival last January.
And if he can maintain that level of growth again throughout this term, the figure held in such high esteem in Dortmund could finally be realised in the Premier League.
It is a shame ‘the Arsenal defence’ is not an applicable answer as all four were shameful throughout the 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
I will be very happy if I never see Mustafi, Bellerin, and Xhaka ever again.
— Arsenalist (@arsenalist) 18 August 2018
However, the worst of a bad bunch would have to be Mustafi, only due to the fact Hector Bellerin at least offered something positive in the final third of the pitch.
The experienced German, however, looked clueless and lethargic all game, and was at fault for at least one of Chelsea’s goals with his schoolboy style defending allowing Alvaro Morata the opportunity to run through on goal, twist, turn and then slide the ball past Cech.
As already touched upon, it will be interesting to see if Sarri decides to alter his attack-minded style of play over the course of the season; particularly against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
Arsenal lose their opening 2 league games of a season for the first time since 1992-93 under George Graham. They went on to finish 10th but won both the FA Cup and the League Cup ?? pic.twitter.com/BpqJMCOOc3
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) 18 August 2018
However, the biggest issue to take away from the 90 minutes in west London was Arsenal’s simply woeful defending, which at no point in time looked up to Premier League standard.
Despite both of Emery’s side’s defeats coming from two of last season’s top five this campaign, if the Gunners continue to outright neglect their biggest flaw as the term rolls on, Europa League qualification may even have to be thrown into doubt.