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Arsenal deny early momentum, hold on for 0-0 draw against Chelsea — tactical analysis

Chelsea with the ball

Arsenal didn’t press as high during open play in this game as in the previous meeting, choosing to begin their pressure and attempts to recover the ball in midfield. Still, Chelsea would often find space for Azpilicueta or Drinkwater on the right and on either side of Welbeck, with Moses high to keep Maitland-Niles back, Xhaka sitting narrow, and Holding not always able to close down the space to cover Drinkwater.

When Drinkwater thus received the ball between lines and in space, he could find Moses on the outside to take on Maitland-Niles. Unlike in the previous game, Moses had a much better time of taking on Maitland-Niles, and was able to move into the box for powerful low shots towards the near post, or beat him down the line on the outside to put in crosses.

If Azpilicueta was the player who had space on the ball to advance, there were opportunities to play long passes into the box and switches to the left. Since Alonso and Hazard were switching positions early in these moments, the balls into the box could be attacked by Alonso in the air. Furthermore, the switch out to Hazard would create instant chances, either by taking the ball inside the area or pushing back Bellerin with his dribblig before finding Fabregas who was in close support and making runs into the box.

If it was Rudiger, on the left, who found space to receive the ball, he could attempt long passes into the box for Hazard running behind. Morata also made runs behind to defence to receive passes from Hazard and Fabregas. Additionally, when Hazard had the ball on the left and Alonso was wide, he could switch the ball to Moses on the right to create another 1v1 situation.

Arsenal with the ball

Arsenal would keep the ball in their own half, drawing attempted high pressure from Chelsea, before playing long passes behind Chelsea’s defence or attempting to dribble and combine through the middle.

Ospina showed good technique with the ball to play quick and first time passes to find the spare central defender at the back, which allowed Arsenal to keep the ball and break Chelsea’s attempts at high pressing both after they lost the ball and when they tried to push up from midfield.

Upon breaking Chelsea’s pressure, Arsenal’s central midfielders would have space and time to receive the ball (with Chelsea’s midfielders dropping back) where Xhaka and Wilshere could attempt long passes behind Chelsea’s backline to Lacazette and Welbeck in the middle. Chambers would also attempt long passes behind for Lacazette when he could advance with the ball as the spare central defender on the right.

Iwobi would drop into midfield to collect the ball and try to dribble forward or combine, especially in the final third. There was more space for him to carry the ball forward in the middle during Chelsea’s attempts of high pressure and during counters, where he caused Chelsea problems.

Wilshere offered variation in possession, where he could switch the speed of the attacks through his quick combinations and dribbling with the ball centrally.

Second half

In the second half, Chelsea were more successful in pressuring Arsenal deep in their own half and forcing them into less ideal plays forward and out. Chelsea were thus able to increase possession, create more chances, and sustain attacks inside Arsenal’s half by winning the ball quickly (numbers high and early to surround the ball if lost).

Hazard and Fabregas could combine on the left, with Fabregas moving inside to receive the ball from Hazard, where Drinkwater would be making runs behind the defence and Morata was available to receive the ball to feet, turn and shoot on goal.

The best chances of the game however were created through set pieces, where Chelsea were able to often win both the first ball in the air and take shots from inside the box. Christensen had two good chances at the far post, Alonso flicked the ball onto Morata from his front post run, and Moses had a shot blocked inside the box.

Arsenal lost quality on the ball upon Wilshere’s injury, but they found a solution via Elneny playing short passes and moving forward between lines and Iwobi dropping back to midfield.

Sanchez increased Arsenal’s quality upon his entrance, where his ability to receive the ball under pressure, hold off defenders and dribble away from them to keep the ball prevented Chelsea from sustaining a high field position for prolonged periods.

By being able to now keep the ball from counters and advance up the pitch, Arsenal were able to create in the final third, where Sanchez would provide further quality to dribble and combine by dropping deep the receive the ball, leaving Welbeck high on Chelsea’s backline as the striker—though Azpilicueta made a crucial block on his one and only good chance.

Chelsea brought Willian on as a third central midfielder to increase the creative quality on the field for a short period, where he could dribble out of defence, try to put crosses into the box on the right, and had a long shot; but this was short lived, and they soon went back to having a natural central midfielder in Bakayoko and Willian as the second striker for the final stages of the game.

Conclusion

Arsenal’s possession prevented Chelsea from pressing high in the first half and gaining early momentum in the game, while also generating a number of opportunities to play long passes behind Chelsea’s defence to create chances. With the ball, Chelsea could create by taking on Arsenal’s wing-backs with the ball, and playing passes behind Hazard and Morata. Chelsea’s best chances came through set pieces, but they were unable to convert them into goals.