Arsenal – Chelsea: Lampard’s Lifeless Lads Succumb To Another Loss (3-1)

This clash was between two contestants whose results over most of April did not align with the quality of their rosters. But an hour and a half of action laid bare a seismic gulf in class. One side unleashed dormant firepower, while the other looked no closer to morphing into a unit.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Chelsea have been the laughing stock of the English elite this season. Frank Lampard’s return to the dugout at the start of April reflected a depressing state of affairs. But his familiar face has not inspired a renewal of the club’s fortunes. A pair of comprehensive defeats against reigning champions Real Madrid knocked the outfit out of the Champions League. No points and one goal have come out of their last three performances in the Premier League. The end of May cannot come soon enough.

This pitiful state has been close to home for the fans of their opponents. Arsenal have been in the doldrums for many years, entrusting Mikel Arteta to bring the outfit to a position worthy of its standing in the game. The project has peaked in the last eight months, carrying his charges to the summit. However, capitulation has struck again amid a four match winless streak. If they intend to break free from the accusation of being bottlers, these young guns must rediscover their composure.

Arteta went for his standard 4-2-3-1 shape, rotating three of his players. In place of William Saliba, the manager has chosen to install Rob Holding next to Gabriel Magalhães at the heart of the defense. That duty now belonged to Jakub Kiwior here. Jorginho sat in front of the pair at the base of midfield, coming in for Thomas Partey against his former club. Leandro Trossard joined forces with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus to the left of the front three, forcing Gabriel Martinelli out of the lineup.

Lampard switched from a 5-3-2 block to a 4-3-3 formation for this fixture. Trevoh Chalobah was the man he sacrificed from the defense that lost 2-0 to Brentford. Enzo Fernández, Mateo Kovačić, and N’Golo Kanté stayed as the trident in the middle of the park. Conor Gallagher was the other player to lose his spot in the starting eleven. Noni Madueke took his place as the right winger in the offense, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was out of the wilderness to face his old club on familiar ground.

Arsenal advance with aggression

Arsenal set themselves apart from the guests from the outset with their work off the ball. Gabriel Jesus split to the left to Wesley Fofana in a 4-2-3-1 pressing scheme, and captain Martin Ødegaard often set off pressure on the ball. The usual principles of tight tracking from the fullbacks, arcuate pressing from the wingers, and jumping cover from one of the midfielders all compacted the pitch. Time and again, Chelsea cheaply gave away the possession, inviting the home team to probe.

35th minute: classic pressing sequence from Arsenal. Jesus and Ødegaard step forward to the central defenders, while Xhaka moves higher to cover Fernández. Immediate ball pressure and compacting from Ødegaard encourages a back pass and further encroachment from the hosts. The front two sweep laterally to push Chelsea to their left, where Bukayo Saka closes down Ben Chilwell. Behind him, Ben White eventually regains ball possession, motioning ahead of Sterling to intercept a pass.

The hosts then settled into their usual 3-2-2-3 structure on the ball. A more fixed triangle of White, Ødegaard, and Saka was on the right of their offense. To the left was the typical carousel of rotations in front of Gabriel. Oleksandr Zinchenko moved into the halfspace, Jesus and Trossard exchanged positions, and Granit Xhaka forayed into the final third. Lampard adapted to these synergies with a specific role for Kanté. He assigned him the duty of getting close to one of Arsenal’s conductors.

That man was Zinchenko. When Kanté ended up deeper, the left back’s connective strengths were able to break the lines. Once the midfielder stepped higher, his teammates also adjusted. Madueke tucked behind him to guard the inside channel while Fernández and Aubameyang shadowed Jorginho. Arsenal searched for their rhythm, but crushing counterpressure kept the territory in their favor.

Same structure, different dynamics

Though Arsenal have stuck to the same structure on the ball this season, fluid movements inside this layout can pose different issues to defenses. On several occasions, Zinchenko did not move inside and held the width on the left. He searched inside for options to break the lines diagonally behind the advanced Kanté. That space was readily available and central to goal creation in the 18th minute.

11th minute: offensive sequence from a throw in. Arsenal break through with similar spacing to their first two goals. Zinchenko is high and wide on the outside; Trossard attracts the attention of Madueke and César Azpilicueta, while Jesus lures out Fofana, allowing Xhaka to arrive in the box from deep.

Trossard and Jesus roamed in the inside left channel, inviting Zinchenko to break the lines diagonally. Trossard pinned Wesley Fofana into the penalty area, and Jesus spun a pass out to Xhaka on the flank. He drilled the ball to the edge of the box, where Ødegaard had slipped free from blue shirts at the far post. The captain stroked a sweet strike beyond the reach of Kepa Arrizabalaga to open the scoring.

The sequence from the first goal repeated itself just past the half hour mark. Jesus and Xhaka doubled up in the halfspace: the forward drifted to the left flank, releasing the passing lane for Zinchenko into the path of his teammate. Trossard then engaged, and the three rotated to force Chelsea’s defense deeper. Xhaka again delivered the assist from the wing, teeing up Ødegaard to bag his brace. 2-0.

Within minutes, the lead increased to a margin of three. On this occasion, White breached the box with a cross to the far post. Jesus squared the ball to Xhaka, whose flat footedness caused him to miscue control. Fofana and Silva scrambled to clear the danger, but the ball fell loose at the feet of Jesus. The forward thrashed an effort under Kepa. Three goals and three points were looking secure.

Chelsea cannot shake the spirited Gunners

Lampard could easily have hauled off most of the players at half time. He opted to replace only one individual: the return of Aubameyang to his old stomping ground had run its course. Kai Havertz now featured as the central forward, but the guests’ fortunes were no closer to turning around. Madueke had been one of the rare shining lights in this showing and earned his due reward in the 65th minute.

Space and time on the ball allowed Kovačić to raise his head and spray a lofted pass to connect to Madueke. Zinchenko’s eyes were solely on the midfielder, losing sight of his opposite man in motion. The winger broke into the penalty area and buried a shot to the right of Aaron Ramsdale to reduce the deficit. The search for a first clean sheet at the Emirates since the 1st of March goes on for Arsenal.

That would be as well as matters went for the guests. With half an eye on the trip to St. James’ Park, Arteta still felt comfortable to ring the changes. Arsenal wrapped up their first victory in just over a month and had generated a platform from which they now look to finish the season on the right note.


Arsenal’s first sixty minutes on the field were able to put them out of sight, and more goals could have fallen their way. The movement and dynamism of their rotations on the left and ball pressure made a welcome return, only loosening the grip of control once the contest was over. Results are what define the narrative at this stage of the campaign. The initiative might lie with Manchester City, but Arsenal can ensure they are in striking distance of the top spot if the reigning champions are not faultless.

It was another miserable outing for Chelsea, whose labored look in transition and pale performance on the ball did not rise to the occasion of a London derby. Once more, Lampard alluded to the issue of conditioning at the final whistle. Indeed, the weariness of this display conveyed the fatigue that had beset a fragmented squad. The club’s standing in the form table has taken a turn for the worse under his direction, but all figures of authority must take the blame for what has been a year to forget.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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