by Lewis Ambrose
Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 at Wembley on Sunday to win the Community Shield ahead of the new Premier League season.
It quite clearly hurt. José Mourinho followed his first defeat to Arsenal by throwing a slight at the Gunners at every opportunity, so I’ve used his digs in an interview with BT Sport after the game as inspiration to look at a few of the positives from the Arsenal display at Wembley on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger’s team has often struggled to take the lead in big games in recent years. Think back to big defeats and Arsenal are generally found conceding a second or third goal because they are scrambling to get back into the game.
Against Manchester City and Manchester United last season Arsenal took the lead and managed to defend well in order to hold onto it, but Chelsea is another test altogether. As we all know Wenger – and Arsenal – had not won in 13 games against Mourinho going into the Community Shield on Sunday. What happened?
Wenger sprung a small shock by using Theo Walcott up front and Santi Cazorla out wide. By using four players who could all play centrally in midfield Arsenal could stay compact, while the running and pace of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey would allow Arsenal to attack directly and at pace. Mourinho has usually nullified Arsenal sides by not allowing them to counter-attack but on a huge Wembley pitch his Chelsea couldn’t do it.
Juan Cuadrado would have been a wise choice against a narrow Arsenal but Mourinho also wanted to fill the midfield and had a ‘workhorse’ in Ramires on the right. Eden Hazard was the star player in the Premier League last season but the Chelsea boss played into Arsenal’s hands by playing him in a central role, which doesn’t suit him as much as the left wing.
“They had a couple (of chances) in counter attack situations.”
If you are going to play direct football you need a robust midfield that can turn defence into attack. Together Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey provided that for Arsenal and were involved in every positive move. Using Cazorla on the left leaves Arsenal with more urgency in midfield, moving the ball forward with less precision but more drive, exploiting any open spaces in the Chelsea half.
A switch of play from Mesut Özil and then Walcott saw Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the only goal of the game, darting inside Cesar Azpilicueta as the run of Héctor Bellerín prevented Nemanja Matić from doubling up on the Arsenal winger. The Englishman rifled the ball into the top corner.
Arsenal used the counter well to create more opportunities. Ox threatened again, standing a cross up that Branislav Ivanović had to head over for a corner before Nacho Monreal finished off the move.
Boss: “Every time we attacked we had chances. We had many chances today and the best chances came from our side.” #AFCvCFC
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 2, 2015
The best chance Arsenal fashioned in the second half could have wrapped up the game, with Ramsey driving onward and waiting to find Santi Cazorla’s run. The Spaniard couldn’t beat Courtois but once again Arsenal created a clear-cut opportunity thanks to a fast break.
“Arsenal play with a very low block, they defended with 10 men with very good organisation.”
Arsenal’s low block was excellent, reminiscent of the win against Manchester City at the beginning of the year. If you get too tight to players like Eden Hazard and Cesc Fàbregas they will turn you and exploit the gaps you have left by chasing them like mad. You shouldn’t give them time but you should restrict them from having any space to run or pass into in areas that could actually harm you.
Arsène Wenger did what José Mourinho has done time and time again. His players sat off on the edge of their own box and kept to their shape. There was pressure on the ball but usually just when it was in an area that could harm Arsenal. By respecting Fàbregas and Hazard enough to sit off them Arsenal could prevent most attacks. Chelsea then didn’t use the channels enough to stretch Arsenal.
In second half of the game the Blues had two great chances. Eden Hazard shot over the bar and Laurent Koscielny made a superb saving tackle to win the ball from Radamel Falcao. Both times saw Nacho Monreal dragged slightly wide as Chelsea finally utilized the right wing. More space was created in the middle but, thankfully, they didn’t do it often enough. With Cazorla naturally playing very narrow on the left this is something Chelsea could have used more, particularly with the attacking instincts of Ivanović.
Star man Hazard is exceptional at taking on a defender on the outside but Mourinho actually nullified the close control and burst of acceleration that Hazard uses so well by playing him centrally, even opting to use Oscar out wide rather than the Belgian. Arsenal didn’t cut off supply to Fàbregas and Hazard but, as Chelsea didn’t stretch the Arsenal defence enough, the Gunners crucially managed to cut off the supply from Mourinho’s two chief creators.
Wenger: “Our game is based on solidarity, defending and attacking well. We wanted to protect our lead when we were 1-0 up.” #AFCvCFC
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 2, 2015
The key to Arsenal’s season is making sure we have a lead to protect in the big games. The first goal is so vital, and we managed to score it on Sunday.
“I think (Chelsea were) the team that had more initiative, controlled the game by having good ball possession.”
This sounds much more like a quote from a defeated Wenger after a game against Chelsea, doesn’t it? For so long Mourinho’s low block and counter-attacking tactics have seen Chelsea control games against Arsenal without having the ball. It is actually quite spectacular that a man who is very much the antithesis of Pep Guardiola is now talking about controlling the game via ball possession. Mourinho’s philosophy is that the team who makes fewer mistakes invariably wins. If you don’t have the ball, he thinks, you limit the number of mistakes you can make.
Jose Mourinho accuses Arsenal of “leaving their philosophy in the dressing room”.
— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) August 2, 2015
It is not a surprise that José Mourinho is a hypocrite. It is a shock to see him contradict himself so blatantly within minutes.
I said it back in January, but Arsenal have played this football before. We saw it a lot back in 2013, including the win over Bayern Munich, and it made a comeback last season. This is not new but it is something Wenger is more willing to do. He has faith in his defence, which is only strengthened by the addition of Petr Čech, and he has an array of players who are perfectly suited for counter attacking football. It isn’t an option against everyone but it is something we can see implemented more and more often against big teams. Arsenal have more than one way of playing, and are ready for whatever the new season throws at them.
Chelsea, well, they ran out of options. José Mourinho got so desperate that he changed to three at the back, subbing John Terry and throwing on Victor Moses. Hilariously unplanned. The man who drills his teams to the letter of detail reverted to a formation he never uses and put on a guy he never uses in sheer desperation to get something out of the game.
If that’s his plan when teams are sitting deep Chelsea will struggle to retain the Premier League title this season.
Arsenal have options for different opponents, different game states, and different personnel. Chelsea? Not so much.