Chelsea dominated the opening stage of the game with their possession and pressing to maintain high position as a team, where they could then look to create chances against Arsenal’s high backline.
Chelsea’s initial attempts to play from the back were unsuccessful and resulted in them losing the ball. But, as the half went on, they were able to hold onto the ball under pressure, find the spare man, and then look to move forward. Their first goal came from successfully keeping the ball to beat Arsenal’s pressure, before playing forward, rotating on the wing, and exposing the height of Arsenal’s backline to create the chance.
From midfield, Chelsea were comfortable with the ball and could sustain possession and a high position (with a great reaction to press high when they lost the ball) for long periods of the half. They would again find space behind Arsenal’s backline through runners (the front three and the two advanced central midfielders) when Jorginho or David Luiz were on the ball and out of pressure in midfield to play passes behind. Chelsea’s pressing of Arsenal’s goal kicks was also fairly successful, even with Arsenal taking advantage of the rule of not being able to receive the ball inside their own box, to avoid the press when they could.
When Arsenal were able to have the ball in midfield and beyond in open play, however, Chelsea struggled to maintain good organisation and opened up too much in their attempts to press when the distances to the ball were too great—leaving space behind their midfield line and in wide areas. Arsenal used these spaces in wide areas with overloads and speed to create a number of chances, where their finishing would let them down tremendously.
The first problem with Chelsea’s pressure was the approach. There were moments when all of the midfielders were high (or Jorginho was the only one remaining deep) but the pressure on the ball was insufficient, which allowed Arsenal to easily play forward passes into space and behind Chelsea’s backline.
This then led to the second problem in trying to deal with the passes made to wide areas. Chelsea’s midfielders were not getting back quickly enough to track midfield runners, and the wingers were too high to get back to cover Arsenal’s advanced fullbacks (who could draw one of Chelsea’s central defenders or Jorginho wide of the box). With the backline dropping back towards the goal, due to the speed of the attack, the option for the pullback cross was generally wide open.
Even when Chelsea’s midfielders were able to drop back into the box to support crosses, all of the outfielders were standing in positions without anticipating or moving to block the potential options inside the box—allowing the pass to be made and relying upon the reaction of the numbers in deep positions to make blocks.
Arsenal’s misses would cost them, where they would miss one clear chance at 1-0 to then concede immediately after it from Morata exploiting the space behind the backline. Even when Arsenal came back and scored their two goals towards the end of the half, and were playing with momentum and confidence, they continued to miss crucial chances, before the halftime whistle brought their best moment of the match to an end.
In the second half, Chelsea regained control of the game through their possession and thus their ability to maintain a high position to press high and recover the ball in midfield. Arsenal struggled to find outlets when they were able to recover the ball, and won few free kicks or throw-ins to break Chelsea’s pressure and push them back.
For the opening few moments Arsenal continued some of the momentum that they had with the ball at the end of the first half, but this was short lived. Chelsea regained possession and kept the ball in midfield to break Arsenal’s momentum, before changes were made.
The quality of Chelsea’s changes made were significant, with both Hazard and Kovačić arriving at the hour-mark; both had a great influence on the game. Hazard continued to play freely and use his quality to create chances individually, while Kovačić displayed his qualities: always open to receive the ball, a quick mind for combinations, ability to dribble past opponents with mobility, good passing, and his defensive recovery speed to recover the ball in midfield.
With Chelsea increasing the quality of their attacking talent on the pitch, while continuing to dominate possession and maintain a high position, they could create chances more frequently than in the first half. Pedro joined Hazard by moving freely on the inside and switching wings to create overloads on the left, which would then see Alonso getting higher on both the outside and the inside, while Kovačić moved both high and deep on the left in support. After regaining the ball from their high pressure, Hazard managed to create the chance for Alonso to join the box and score for Chelsea to retake the lead.
Chelsea continued to press high and aggressively after retaking the lead, and continued to seek another goal instead of just running down the clock and wasting time, but the one goal advantage was enough to secure the three points.
Passmaps & xGplot for Chelsea against Arsenal. #passmap #xGplot #autotweet pic.twitter.com/BxefHcgwLr— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) August 18, 2018
An open game with both teams making defensive errors. Arsenal had many more clear chances to score, and missed these chances at critical points in the first half. Chelsea dominated most of the game through their possession and high pressing, and took their chances well, but their defending from midfield and inside the box still requires significant improvement. After regaining control of the game in the second half, the quality Chelsea could bring on from the bench was enough to make the difference and win the game.