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Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea, FA Cup final: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s infuriating loss at Wembley

First half

Chelsea and Arsenal approached the match differently, but both had chances early on. Arsenal looked to get behind Chelsea’s backline early, to take advantage of the speed of their frontline and wing-backs, while Chelsea looked to find spaces between lines to either turn and face Arsenal’s backline with the ball or to play off Giroud before attacking.

Chelsea also found success in recovering the ball in midfield by pressing Xhaka from both sides, and then countering quickly, but were unable to take full advantage. They would however take advantage of playing through Arsenal’s midfield line for the front three (playing narrow to provide close support off Giroud) to break at the backline, get behind on the outside of Arsenal’s wide central defenders and play the ball across the three inside the box to find Pulisic to give Chelsea an early lead. Pulisic was often the difference maker to create problems for Arsenal through his carrying of the ball past defenders and finding spaces with and without the ball to get shots on goal.

Chelsea pressed more aggressively than Arsenal in the final third, but this would come at a cost. With Giroud moving onto Martinez to pressure back passes to the goalkeeper, David Luiz would be left free to receive the ball (Giroud often pressing from the right of Martinez, while David Luiz moved into the space on the left of the goalkeeper) and look to play long passes behind Chelsea’s backline and into the corners.

Arsenal had a lot of success playing such passes into the corners, and would eventually draw level from one. Tierney’s long ball for Aubameyang, running behind from inside his own half, saw him beat Azpilicueta and the rest of the backline to the ball — Lacazette’s movement towards Tierney to show for the ball initially would take Zouma just too far forward to provide cover — before drawing the foul for a penalty.

After the goal, Chelsea’s backline dropped deeper in order to give themselves a few extra yards to deal with Arsenal’s long balls behind their backline, before Azpilicueta was forced off with an injury. He was replaced by Christensen, going on to play in the middle of the three, while Zouma moved out to the right of the back three to deal with the long balls behind.

However, there was still not enough speed in the backline to compete with Aubameyang. Chelsea continued to drop off at the back, leaving more spaces ahead of the backline for Arsenal to play through the pressure and push Chelsea to defend deep. It would also create a situation where, with Chelsea’s backline dropping, even when Chelsea recovered the long ball behind them, Arsenal’s frontline were high up to press and would recover the ball inside Chelsea’s half more often (Chelsea now playing on back foot opposed to the opening stages of the game).

Second half

Chelsea regained possession of the ball for the second half, but were dealt another blow, with Pulisic going off injured.

Chelsea still had problems dealing with Arsenal’s forward passes, where they were losing the second ball ahead of their backline (still more spaces with backline dropping off) from where Arsenal could again use the speed of their frontline and wing-backs to attack Chelsea’s backline upon recovering the ball. Pépé initially winning the ball would result in a 3v2 that led to Aubameyang having a shot on goal blocked, before later in the half, Bellerin carrying the ball forward would again see Pépé finding Aubameyang with another 3v2 against Chelsea’s backline, and this time he would make no mistake.

Shortly after, Kovačić was sent off, leaving Chelsea an an even more difficult situation to recover. They made a number of changes from the bench to look for an equaliser, while Arsenal would sit deep and compact to keep Chelsea out, and look to extend their lead from a counter. Chelsea did well to prevent Arsenal from causing problems from counters for the remainder of the game, but were unable to find the goal to take the game to extra time.

Conclusion

Chelsea started the game on the front foot, going on to take an early lead. Arsenal found success through long passes into the corners, in particular on their left side, to which Chelsea never found a solution. Following Arsenal’s equaliser, Chelsea’s backline dropped off and Arsenal gained the initiative for the remainder of the half. Chelsea lost Pulisic early on in the second half and continued to have difficulties in the backline, which Arsenal and Aubameyang took advantage of to take the lead. Chelsea were dealt a further blow soon after with the sending off, and from then on, Arsenal would defend deep to see the game out.