It may have been only a pre-season game and as we all know, all pre-season games are fake ones. But it was still a big occasion in the form of a rematch against Arsenal following our embarrassing loss to the Gunners in the FA Cup final. Thankfully the Chelsea players also treated it as more than just a mere fitness build-up exercise — Conte wouldn’t have it any other way, undoubtedly — dominating chances created and limiting Arsenal's offence en route to a 3-0 victory to continue pre-season on a great note after last week’s 8-2 win over Fulham.
Both managers decided to go with their best options available in their starting line-ups. On Antonio Conte's side, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matić, both of whom are set to leave the Bridge, gave way to Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fàbregas, respectively, while Pedro took over the left side of our attack for the injured Eden Hazard. Meanwhile in Arsène Wenger's corner, Alex Iwobi took over for Alexis Sánchez who is seemingly not too keen on staying with the Gunners. Wenger also had new record signing Alexandre Lacazette as centre forward, former non-league player Cohen Bramall at left wing back and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as a centre back in place of Shkodran Mustafi.
Chelsea showed plenty of intent from the get-go, putting pressure on Arsenal and winning two corners in the first two minutes of the match. However, neither the Blues nor the Gunners looked all that coordinated or coherent at first.
Still, Chelsea were much sharper than Arsenal (double training sessions at work!), who committed a number of mistakes throughout the match. Maitland-Niles started their cavalcade of errors with a badly placed pass that was intercepted by Willian, whose amazing combination of pace and acceleration allowed him to break free and run at David Ospina’s goal. Willian missed the goal by a few inches, but it was a good start for the Blues.
Whereas Chelsea did well in turning pressure and midfield dominance into chances, Arsenal were not nearly as successful as Chelsea restricted them largely to non-dangerous areas on the wings. Thibaut Courtois was not threatened at all for most of the first half until a late tight angle effort from Aaron Ramsey, and Arsenal’s star striker Lacazette barely touched the ball. Unlikes Alexis, Ramsey couldn’t do it all by himself for the Gunners.
Chelsea's barrage of attacks continued with Batshuayi on a mission to prove his worth to Conte and the public. That mission did not start too well, as he failed to anticipate a great cross from Moses, failed to make the obvious pass to Willian on a couple occasions, and had a few weak efforts on goal from distance. After the first 20 minutes or so, Batshuayi’s play improved markedly, and he should’ve had Chelsea’s opening goal were it not for an incorrect offside decision. Bats would eventually get his brace however.
But before then there was concern as Pedro had to leave with a concussion after a strong “challenge” from Ospina, who ended up punching the ball and the Chelsea winger at the same time. Pedro was replaced by Jeremie Boga in the 29th minute, then headed to hospital for overnight observation.
Injury was followed by a water break — temperatures of 26°C along with high humidity made that mandatory — after which Chelsea picked up the tempo of the game and proceeded to blow Arsenal out of the water.
Willian got the party started, collected the ball from Batshuayi and picking out the inside of the far post to ping in Chelsea’s opener.
Here is Willian's goal in the Bird's Nest...#CFCTour pic.twitter.com/vbgldoNyxa— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 22, 2017
Boga got the "secondary assist", the pass before the pass, and he was just getting started. More on him later.
It took less than a minute for Chelsea to double the lead, Batshuayi curling one around Ospina this time, from the other side with the other foot. The turn and the quick shot is Batshuayi’s bread and butter and he executed it to perfection with his weaker foot.
Not bad from Michy on the left foot... #CFCTour pic.twitter.com/HWCqsx4LCT— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 22, 2017
Batshuayi could’ve had a (moral) hat-trick before the half was out, were it not for an Arsenal defender to save Ospina’s blushes after the goalkeeper gave the ball away to Fàbregas.
The second-half started with a few funny scenes as Wenger threw a touchline tantrum due to Olivier Giroud getting left off the team sheet and thus unable to come on as a substitute. The issue was eventually resolved, though the same couldn’t be said for Arsenal’s issue on the pitch where Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings.
Any token Arsenal resistance was broken within five minutes of the restart as Batshuayi scored the goal of the match, his second and Chelsea’s third. Fàbregas showed incredible vision and technique to find Marcos Alonso in acres of space on the left with a raking crossfield pass. Chelsea-linked Oxlade-Chamberlain made a valiant attempt to recover but was only left looking a fool while sitting on his backside. That one play was not indicative of The Ox’s overall levels of industry in the game, but it certainly soured many observers on any potential Chelsea transfer.
Once Alonso was free, he took his time and picked out Batshuayi arriving at the top of the box. Michy unleashed another left-footed finish, this one rocketing unstoppably into the roof of the net.
Oh, Michy! #CFCTour pic.twitter.com/GPoeifRo7C— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 22, 2017
Michy's fourth goal of the pre-season sealed the fate of the match. The only thing left to do was for Arsenal to flail about as Boga repeatedly made fools of them, nutmegging what seemed like half the team over the course of several minutes and receiving many kicks for his troubles. Hashtag #PrayforBogasCalves.
Conte, in classic Conte style, waiting until the 68th minute to make massive changes to the team, with Loïc Rémy, Lewis Baker, Fiyako Tomori and Kenedy taking over for Batshuayi, Willian, Victor Moses and Alonso respectively. The second wave of introductions came on the 75 minutes as Mario Pašalić, Kyle Scott, Tomáš Kalas, Andreas Christensen and Jake Clarke-Salter came on for Kanté, Fàbregas, César Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
The substitutes fared as well as one would expect from a group that have spent last season at various different clubs and have been playing together for about a week, showing the expected lack of cohesion that arises out of such a predicament. In this setup, Boga was the main attacking outlet though Chelsea, in classic Chelsea style, wasted every single promising counter to add to the scoreline. Lewis Baker had a chance to show off his free-kick prowess at the very end, but his attempt was not quite strong or accurate enough.
And that was the final play of the game, as the whistle blew and the thousands of local Chelsea fans in the stands celebrated.
Chelsea's sharp performance certainly caught the eye, even if it was just a pre-season affair. The collective play in all phases of the game by the starting eleven, especially in comparison to what Arsenal showed, was certainly a major positive take-away.
Now Chelsea head to Singapore to meet our two new signings in Antonio Rüdiger and Álvaro Morata, who must be eager to show their worth. Up next are Bayern, coming from a humbling 4-0 defeat to AC Milan and probably looking for a rebound in Tuesday’s match.
It may only be pre-season, but you can never complain about winning. Onwards!
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