This Win Meant Something: Chelsea Report & Ratings

Get in you beauty

You see what you want to see, don’t you?

After our 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge last night there was a divide in the great confederation that is Arsenaldom. Some supporters saw positive signs in a gutsy, defensive effort and others saw a continuation of a sterile, cautious and uncreative brand of football.

I am unashamedly in the former camp.

Chelsea, as I said in yesterday’s Post, have become darlings of the pundit class since Thomas Tuchel took over as head coach.

Coming in to last night’s game the Blues had lost only one of their last 16 matches (a strange aberration against West Brom), a run that included victories over Man City and Liverpool. They have also made it to the FA Cup final and the final of the Champions League.

After completing their transfer ban they spent £220m on players in the last year or so and have a squad full of talent envied even by the other rich teams.

So for us to go there and beat them matters, it really does.

We took the chance they handed to us and secured an early lead, then we put in an all-team defensive effort that fans would have loved in the days of George Graham, reducing Chelsea to very few clear cut chances despite all the possession they had.

And I’m not buying the idea that the Chavs weren’t really trying. They were desperate for the win because there’s certainly no guarantee they’ll win the Champions League final, meaning they need a top four finish to guarantee CL next year.

We rode our luck a couple of times, first at 0-0 when Gabriel and Mari contrived to put Havertz through on goal for a one-on-one that he should have converted but skied over the bar. And later in the game when Chelsea hit the crossbar twice in quick succession (the first from an excellent Leno save).

But we also might have had a penalty in the closing stages when Partey was tripped in the Chelsea box. He was booked for diving but replays showed he had been clipped by the defender. It would have been a soft penalty, but by the way the rules are interpreted it should have been given.

What most encouraged me was how all our players worked hard for each other and for the team as a whole. There were some great blocks, some brave headers in the box and a huge amount of effort from a well organised group of players.

So what of the lack of creativity issue? I saw comments from people saying it was embarrassing watching Arsenal last night, so limited were our ambitions.

There’s a consensus building among a section of the support that we are too cautious under Mikel Arteta, to the extent that we don’t create chances and are boring to watch.

Sorry, not buying it. In the context of last night’s game – protecting an early lead against a talented team who really needed the win – there is no shame in doubling down on defence.

Do the supporters’ memories not extend back to last Sunday, when we put three past West Brom? Or to the Sunday before when we cruised to a 2-0 win at Newcastle?

Under the supposedly useless and over-cautious Arteta we have lost only two out of our last 11 Premier League games (Liverpool and Everton) in a run that has included wins over Leicester, Spuds and now Chelsea. In that run we have scored 23 goals (an average of more than two goals per game) and conceded 13. Not bad for a rubbish team with a ‘tactically constipated’ manager.

I understand the doubts. Arteta has made plenty of mistakes in his first full season in charge not just of Arsenal but of any football team. But I think the odour of disappointment that descended on N5 after our tame exit from the Europa League has infected us all and distorted what’s really going on.

As I mentioned in my pre-match yesterday (in which I also predicted an Arsenal win, ahem), our defensive record under Arteta this season is excellent, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Only Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs have conceded fewer goals in the EPL.

Someone might have pointed out that fact to Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith who was co-commenting for Sky and seemed amazed that we did not concede the hatful of goals that he expected, the miserable Brummie git.

I was one of those who advocated that Arteta’s first job was to tighten up the defence after the comical profligacy of the Unai Emery reign. He has done that and done it really well. It feels worse than it is because all the self inflicted wounds we suffered this season are still fresh in the memory.

Now the test will be whether Arteta can move to the next stage and add greater creativity in attack. We have several players already in place who can help with that pivot, notably Smith Rowe and Saka.

You see what you want to see. Last night I saw signs that things are starting to come together for Arteta’s Arsenal and that we will be significantly more competitive next season. Perhaps I’m deluded, but that’s where I stand.

Player Ratings

Leno – 8

I have had plenty of criticism for Leno this season, but he was excellent last night. Tipping Zouma’s late header onto the bar was an outstanding piece of work. He was also decisive and commanding in the box.

Holding – 7.5

In a back three Big Rob defended strongly and well. He was also mostly secure when playing out from the back despite the high press from Chelsea.

Mari – 7

One early mistake aside, he was solid and dealt well with Giroud when he came on.

Gabriel – 7

A shaky first 20 minutes during which he looked uncomfortable on the ball, but settled afterwards and defended well.

Saka – 6

Looked tired and not entirely comfortable in the right wing back position. The boy needs a rest.

Partey – 7.5

In the first 15 minutes he made quite a few mistakes, giving the ball away under pressure. After that he found his feet and had a really good game. With Chelsea dominating possession his main work was defensive and he did it well. Should have had a penalty late on but was ludicrously booked instead.

Elneny – 7

Tireless effort from Mo, including some very intelligent off-the-ball positioning at times to help stifle Chelsea’s attacking moves.

Tierney – 7

Not vintage Tesco – he seems still to be not fully match fit following injury – but there was still a lot to like about Kieran’s effort.

Odegaard – 6.5

He seemed to fade in the second half but ran his socks off and made a big contribution in the first half.

Smith Rowe – 8 (MoTM)

My favourite player had an excellent game. The way he receives the ball on the turn and accelerates away from markers is a joy to watch and was important in relieving the pressure on our defence at times last night. Got another goal too.

Aubameyang – 6.5

Did really well to pick out ESR for the goal assist. After that the game state meant he was inevitably not too involved. Was he disgruntled to be taken off? If so, why?


Bellerin – 6.5

Replaced Saka and looked sharp until his injury.

Lacazette – 6.5

Typical hard-running Laca effort.

Chambers – 6.5

Came on in the 88th minute and helped us hold out for the win.



18 Responses to This Win Meant Something: Chelsea Report & Ratings

  1. LBG says:

    You see what you want to see, Rocky, and I stand side by side with you seeing new shoots.
    Dont know how you can listen to Smith, but having said that I listened to leather man Redknapp and “I was always a blue, you see, they paid more” Cashley, and anyone else who calls themselves a pundit – Jason C***y – cry ‘unfair’, lucky old Arsenal, so I cant criticise.
    I am smiling this morning and hope for two lost finals and fifth place for Chelski.
    Thanks Rock.

  2. allezkev says:

    Great post.

  3. Pete the Thirst says:

    A win’s a win.

    I agree the defence has tightened up, but the attack needs some serious work.

    We seem to play better away from home and against ‘bigger’ sides. Our style is suited to the counter attack and nicking a goal. Not sure how far that will take us.

  4. Pete the Thirst says:

    I agree with you on Smith. He gets right up my nose. He hardly ever gives any credit to Arsenal. He must have forgotten where he won his medals?

    One day I will bump into him and ask him ‘What happened at Arsenal to make you so negative towards the team?’

  5. LBG says:

    If you bump into him, give him a wack from me!

  6. fred1266 says:

    Rocky you think we should persist with back 3 or go back to back 4

    Me personally back 3 after the run we had in fa I think it suits or players

    Also instead of playing Gabriel we can play Tierney LCB and saka LWB I know playing LCB with limit him going forward but if I not mistaken he played there already and it didn’t hamper him much

  7. RockyLives says:

    Good day all and thanks for the comments.

    Arteta clearly felt that a back three was the right tactical approach against Chelsea, but whether it makes sense against lesser teams is up for debate.

    The trade-off seems to be that you sacrifice some creativity in central midfield and that was certainly a criticism made by some fans last night.

    But if you’re playing West Brom or Newcastle it’s better to go with a back four and have the extra body in MF.

    I honestly don’t know the answer.

  8. RC78 says:

    We had the debate at the beginning of the season and many of us felt that a back-3 was a good set-up especially since we were playing Luiz back then…I would not waste Tierney as a LCB nor Saka as a wingback. Tierney’s crossing and runs are great and we should not deprive ourselves from them and Saka is a player than can make a difference in the final third so for me it is best to keep him where he can help us create and score goals.

    I didn’t watch the game but besides ESR apparently one of the stand-out performers yesterday was:
    – El Neny. One has to say that when he played, he delivered good performances and as such, he should maybe be kept as a squad player next year;
    – Leno who helped kept a clean-sheet.

    Arteta wants us to play in a 4231 and prefers a back four.
    A) Our issues with the back four are our right back and goalkeeper.
    B) Our issues with the midfield are that we are missing that one player than break the lines with runs and passes. Partey was supposed to contribute to this and definitely Ceballos but none have given full satisfaction there.
    C) Our issues with the forward line is that the system is not 100% well suited for our best striker in Auba and that our left wing needs a more industrious player.

    If Arteta were a bit daring, I d love him to try a 433 with:

    Ryan – Chambo, Holding, Gabs (or Mari), Tierney – Saka, Partey, ESR – Pepe, Laca, Martinelli

    Saka and ESR understand the game well so they could drive and cover our midfield well…I d give it a try if I were Arteta. Worse comes to worse, move Saka up and bring El Neny in the squad instead of Pepe (or Martinelli).

  9. JM says:

    I would only guess that Saka had started at RWB ahead of the more natural right-sided defenders in Bellerin, Cedric and Chambers is that he offered better in our control of the midfield area, maintain our defensive shape and retain whatever minimal possession of the ball. Similarly to why Partey, Elneny, Ødegaard, Smith-Rowe and Tierney were chosen to start. The average positions for the 6 of them are in midfield, with Saka and Ødegaard slightly inwards. Aubameyang was also playing between the AM and CM positions on average. It was somewhat like a 3-6-1 or 3-7-0.

    Our attacking side was around 50% from the left and 30% from the right while we were mainly blocking the middle against Chelsea.

    Whether we play either 3 or 4 at the back, I personally believed it should be ideal to have at least one starting player who could play competently both in defence and midfield. Chambers could be that player.

    In our remaining two matches against Palace and Brighton, I would experiment with Partey and Chambers in DM/CM and one of Smith-Rowe/Ødegaard/Saka/Ceballos in CM/AM. With CB pairing of any of Gabriel/Mari/Holding. Chambers can drop to RCB to form a back 3 with the other 2 CBs, and the CM/AM move to partner Partey. Tierney at LB/LWB, Cedric at RB/RWB. The attacking trio choices between Aubameyang/Lacazette/Martinelli/Pépé/Saka/Ødegaard/Nelson/Nketiah/Balogun.

  10. Aaron says:

    See some shoots yes, but the rest is turtle up and hope to nick a W.

    Personally, I do not care what the chavs do, but if they somehow win the CL, then their methods are better than ours. Yes, I know they spend, and that is not what ksE will do.

    However, if we are to become a mid pack team, play the youth, all of them, don’t waste your money on older players with nothing left to care about. Get a Bielsa type or similar, and play one’s hearts out. They were exciting in the Championship last year and are in the EPL this year. Watch them finish higher than us, and that will be the last word said on this.

    3 at the back, 5 at the back, damn, that is what the AFC has become.
    We need goals, we need goals, we need goals, all for tightening up at the back, but at what expense?

    Our home record is one of the worst ever, our points total is horrendous, and we are not playing attractive futbol.

    Like I said, start the team with a bunch of average older players, and expecting a different outcome is the definition of…You all know.

    You can choose to look at it anyway you wish, but the reality is Mikel has had this group for 18 months and lost to a very average Villarreal club, and we did not score from open play over 2 games, and got bounced from euro competitions for the first time in 25 years, another record. It would be so AFC to fall into 7th and get us into another quagmire that would not get us any money next year, wear our players out more, and leave us with less energy for the EPL.

    With fans back, Mikel will not have the luxury of another slow start, and those are the facts. If Mikel starts the year average, he will have the club in deep $h*te by x-mas.

  11. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky, I’m solidly behind you on this one. Its a sad day if we can’t enjoy a win. I know those who have an analytical approach are looking deeper into the performance … but come on, we’ve had a dreadful season and yet we just did the double over a team that are in the CL final – what’s not to love.

    Saka must have a problem more than just being played in a different position. My guess is he’s not 100% fit/well or it’s just fatigue. Leno was faultless so if he can consistently pull off performances like that he and the defence will keep improving.

    What more can we say about ESR? I’d say set the team up around him next season. Play him where he can most influence the game and get the ball to him early.

  12. Aaron says:


    It is not sad to not want to watch a moaniho type of performance week in and week out without the trophies in the cabinet. Yes, I love the FA Cup victory as much as anyone else. But the way we are regressing is abysmal, over a period of 6+ years.

    Like I said play the youth, develop the youth, buy the youth, and start moving this club forward again and allow us to have something to cheer about.

    Ambition will be clear if the club does not move on certain players and replace them with younger, more athletic and hungrier ones. I did not say an entire squad clear out as that is impossible. However, if, if, if, we start the year with those certain pensioners then we all know what is happening next year regardless who is the coach.

  13. Rasp says:

    It wasn’t a comment aimed at you Aaron, just the way I see things. We could behave as if we were ‘entitled’ in the early Wenger years but since the billionaire owners arrived everything has changed. I still have faith in Mikel. He’s making mistakes and learning on the job, but what if we sacked him and the next manager failed to impress… where will it stop? I think Mikel has ambition and he has a plan and style of football. He said that the loss of Xhaka in the warm up messed up the game plan they’d worked on all week for the Villarreal game and I believe him.

  14. Rasp says:

    We could do with Villa beating Everton tonight … but a draw is the next best result for us.

  15. VP says:

    we’ve had a dreadful season and yet we just did the double over a team that are in the CL final – what’s not to love

    I agree Rasp

    Excellent post Rocky

    I think Arteta is actually doing quite well overall. First full season in charge and as a new manager having to contend with the challenges of COVID and the SuperLeague debacle whilst changing the teams culture and style of play.
    Things could be a lot worse, look at the spuds, look at Liverpool this season.
    I believe we will be a better team next season and we will be in contention.

  16. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky

    I think I said most of what I wanted yesterday which I’m aware hasn’t gone down too well. It’s not about not enjoying the win or being a fan that wants ones team to lose, but about perspective.

    That perspective can be applied both to when we win and when we lose so that a loss is maybe not as much if a disaster but a win isn’t necessarily as rosy as we think.

    I’ve been a minority whose backed the team with certain losses and backed Arteta as well. I actually still back Arteta because I think he can potentially take us on an upward curve but feel that we could and should be further on than we are now.

    Arteta by necessity had to take us back to the drawing board when he took over to address a brittle frailty and porous trait that we had exhibited fir years. He has solidified us so then you look for the next transition, maybe there are 2-3 transitions needed overall.

    At the end of last season we weren’t ready to compete on a more equal footing with the likes of Man City, Liverpool, Chelaea so Arteta took the extra resilience that he had installed and set us up in a formation with a back 3 to contain these teams and hit on the break.

    It worked and we beat all those teams which helped us win the FA cup. However we mostly had to concede the initiative in those games and play as the inferior team trying to do a number on a team a lot better than us. It was a cautious approach but one born of necessity and accepted at the time.

    We strengthened in the summer and had a group of young players that were getting better and better. However we by and large continued with the same cautious approach with the same formation entering this season.

    What was right then wasn’t right now and it resulted in a run of 7 games against meagre opposition where we secured 2 from the 21 points on offer. That run killed us in the EPL and it was almost impossible to recover from that

    Arteta then changed the formation for that first Chelsea game and we looked a different team but the simple fact is that he took too long to make that change and it has cost us. Ok so we move on because he is a promising young coach.

    We then had a run which was much better with some excellent performances, dare I say top level ones, but somehow never keep the consistency with those performances and seem to revert too often to something overly cautious again.

    That was highlighted in the first leg against Villarreal. Where we should have been going for them in that leg pushing for away goals we went cautious and handed the initiative to them. This subsequently cost us.

    And so we have had a couple of good wins recently and then met Chelsea last night. One thing I said at the end of last season was that by the end of this one we should be much closer to the top teams in terms of standing toe to toe with them in a game.

    Not that we had to be exactly at that level, but far closer. That is what my main point was. Yes we won but we did it as the inferior team, conceding the initiative in the game….almost identical to the end of last season.

    That makes me question how much progress we have actually made, despite strengthening in the summer and the continued emergence if our quality youngsters.

    I know what Chelsea have spent but it’s not always the only way of explaining things. We spent on Partey and Gabriel and before this Pepe. We bought Tierney whose value had likely more than doubled. We have young players like ESR, Saka, Martinelli whose current open market value is now probably pretty hefty.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the open market value of both teams yesterday wasn’t a lot closer than you would think. I’m not saying that Chelsea don’t have some superiority in terms of playing personnel over us but I’m not convinced it’s that superior player for player.

    I made the comparison of the 2 teams yesterday on each area if the pitch and I wasn’t bowled over by a vast superiority with the Chelsea team and we had a lot of the players out there that we all feel are the key to our future.

    So as I was happy with the win I still ask why we looked so inferior to Chelsea in that game, something born out by the stats of possession, passes and shots on goal. I think the one that stunned me most was when it was stated that we had only managed 5 touches in their box while they had amassed 50 in ours.

    I don’t feel it’s totally explained by the playing personnel on a player by player basis and I remain convinced that we are playing within ourselves and are remaining overly reserved.

    We should have made that next transition by now and shouldn’t have looked so far away from Chelsea now at the end of this season. We should have bridged that gap more. This has to come from the manager and I feel there is something psychologically holding Arteta back.

    Despite that I still back him because I think he will work it out and we will eventually reap the rewards but this season I think he has been too slow to make the changed fir the next transition and is doing so again now.

    He needs to release his own psychological handbrake and thus release the team but he needs to do it quicker because unfortunately time is never a friend at this level of management.

    I enjoyed our victory but not the performance, and sometimes the latter has more relevance in what it means moving into next season, so why should it be such a taboo subject to question the manager and performance even after a victory. Is it only allowed after we lose?

  17. LBG says:

    Good job you said most of what you wanted to yesterday……😉
    Would never challenge your right to question Manager and team performance, just dont agree with your assessment that a “transition” should already be in motion. The fragility of our squad has, I believe, been underestimated. The influence of deadwood, (including some newly arrived, for which Mikel must take some blame, although the influence of Brazilian agents and Edu has been significant and perhaps beyond MA’s control), has weakened us for many years. (Everyone is learning on the job from Vinai down).Talented young players were not often given their chance and even, in some cases, took their lead from the mediocrity of their “seniors”. (A case in point for me would be Guendouzi, who, perhaps willingly, copied Xhaka and it proved his downfall.)
    I believe Mikel’s efforts to produce his own coat of many colours is still only in the patchwork stage, and needs to be stitched together. In the meantime pragmatism will do me, especially if it results in upsetting Chelski and a host of pundits and experts who want to repeat the “you never know what to expect from Arsenal” mantra ad infinitum. I still expect improvement, slow and steady, and trust I will be around to see the fully tailored end product.

  18. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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