Arsenal set up with an aggressive diamond in midfield to press high and to the sides, similar to the way Spurs pressed Chelsea, to trap Chelsea in the corners and win the ball. In response, Chelsea not only misplaced a number of passes during the opening moments against this pressure, but couldn’t find a way to use switches to break it and thus kept playing into it instead.
When Arsenal recovered the ball, they didn’t face the same intensity of pressure from Chelsea, and could advance with the ball on the right through Bellerin (moving beyond Willian to receive the ball) and Lacazette (running behind Alonso from the inside). Arsenal would create multiple scoring opportunities from these moments on the right flank.
They did not have similar success on the left however, and they would often lose the ball by providing Kante and Azpilicueta opportunities to intercept and recover the ball on longer ground passes.
Arsenal were also able to create chances from set pieces, with Koscielny getting behind Chelsea’s defenders centrally, forcing a big save from Arrizabalaga, and Sokratis finding himself up against Kovacic at the far post — missing another chance. Still, Arsenal would go on to score both of their goals from set pieces.
After the opening minutes, Chelsea began to maintain the ball and were able to move forward into the final third. They attacked the wings with the fullbacks advancing and wingers predominantly remaining wide, but when they got to the box they had the same problem as they have had regularly this season. Azpilicueta’s early cross for Hazard (running across the front of Sokratis) to finish first time was the only success Chelsea had from crossing positions. Otherwise, Chelsea attempted to play low first post crosses into the box, which Koscielny almost always dealt with.
Other than wide attacks, Chelsea didn’t really attempt many other ways of attacking. There was the option to play direct through long passes behind by David Luiz, which created a chance for Pedro, and Alonso hit the post late on in the half from a corner, but Chelsea didn’t attack the middle of the pitch to create the opportunities through rotations as they did in the previous game against Arsenal.
The last play of the half was one of the few moments where Chelsea did play passes central and use the players between lines, with Hazard allowing the ball to run through to find Kovačić making a run beyond, and eventually end up with Willian inside the box.
In the second half, Chelsea pushed up higher to press, Arsenal couldn’t press as high as they did in the first half, and Chelsea’s attacks in the final third changed.
Instead of staying inside the box for low near post crosses, Hazard would leave his position and support the wings to overload, while from wide positions Chelsea would then try to combine with numbers into the box or play passes across the edge of the box to shoot (chance for Pedro) or switch to the opposite wing.
Arsenal had some successful moments when pressing Chelsea’s goal kicks played to Rüdiger’s side, and created opportunities when they could over short distances (winning the ball inside Chelsea’s half) — but Chelsea recovered a number of attempts from deep inside Arsenal’s half. Arsenal’s fullbacks found themselves with the best opportunities to create from these counters, but couldn’t find a man inside the box with their deliveries.
Using substitutions, Arsenal switched to a 4411 defensively with Elneny playing ahead of the central midfielders, Torreira on the right and Iwobi on the left, which gave them better cover on the wings to stop Chelsea advancing as easily as they had been.
For Chelsea, with Giroud on for Willian, they could now go back to attempting the near post crosses they had been using in the first half, this time with a striker to attack them, while freeing up Hazard to become more influential facing play with the ball from the wings. However, despite the promising positions Chelsea got into in the second half with the ball, they didn’t create good opportunities to score.
Arsenal-Chelsea was a game of two halves, but not in the usual way. First half was all Arsenal, second half they were like a bully holding off a smaller kid by the forehead while he flails at the air between them pic.twitter.com/Zagjh7C8Pu— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) January 19, 2019
Arsenal’s aggressive start is something Chelsea have struggled with all season, and that was the case once again as Arsenal took the early lead. While Chelsea did improve with the ball inside their own half after Arsenal’s initial aggressive pressing, most of Chelsea’s attacks did not result in good opportunities. By contrast, when Arsenal attacked, they were almost always generating opportunities for chance creation, and would eventually double their lead before half-time. In the second half, Chelsea attacked the wings with more numbers and pressed higher up to maintain possession and keep Arsenal pinned back for long periods, but Chelsea’s attacks would result in even fewer opportunities to score than in the first half, and Arsenal could maintain defensive control with ease and see the result out.