Chelsea sealed their ninth straight home Premier League win on against Arsenal as the Blues ran out 3-1 winners.
Many of their qualities which they have shown for the past few months were yet again on show to great effect.
The deep defending, the lethal speed of their counter-attacks and the advantages offered by their 3-4-3 formation.
Despite the attacking flair that strikers Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro brought, it was the wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso that played a crucial role in the game.
Chelsea took the lead when Victor Moses and Pedro attacked Arsenal down the right and enabled Diego Costa to beat Hector Bellerin to a cross, before Marcos Alonso converted the rebound. Down the other end, Arsenal were more predictable, and created their best chances from set pieces.
The Gunners were weakened when Bellerin got injured but they still had Nacho Monreal, who became their main attacking outlet and delivered some quality crosses into the box. While Arsenal had lacked a target man and a physical presence up front for long periods of the game, Olivier Giroud came off the bench to score a late consolation goal.
By that stage Chelsea had bombarded Arsenal with counter-attacks, winning duels in midfield and breaking forward with great quality and intensity. Eden Hazard Chelsea’s second goal and Cesc Fabregas added the third goal.
The Threat of Chelsea’s Wing-backs
Since Chelsea changed their shape, the main role that opponents never seem to figure out entirely is the role of the wing-backs.
The opposing teams need their wingers to track Moses and Alonso in order not to get exposed, as Pedro and Hazard drift inside to create problems for the full-backs and central defenders. When the opposition allow the wing backs to push onto the full-backs it allows Hazard or Pedro free to roam unmarked and cause all sorts of problems for the rest of the defence.
In this respect, I believe Wenger picked the wrong personnel by starting Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi in the wide midfield areas. In a 4-3-3, the Arsenal manager fielded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil ahead of Francis Coquelin, but expecting Iwobi and Walcott to chase Moses down the line was always overly optimistic.
On the other hand, you can see why Wenger set up with them as they are very quick, direct players on the counter attack.
In my opinion, he should have set up with wingers who will give you more help defensively so they could nullify the threat that the Chelsea wing-backs bring.
It was shown on the first goal. With Iwobi out of position, Moses got the ball out wide and released Pedro down the line, who drew central defender Laurent Koscielny out of his shape and crossed for Costa.
With Hazard also in the box, Arsenal were two-vs.-two in front of goal. Shkodran Mustafi marked Hazard, while it was Bellerin who had to deal with Costa. Costa won the header and hit the crossbar, before Alonso rose above Bellerin to nod home.
Like Iwobi, Walcott was positioned further upfield, which meant both wing-backs had gone unmarked in the same attack. Walcott did not spot the danger quickly enough, if he had acted quicker he may have prevented Alonso from scoring.
Chelsea continued to have a lot of joy down the flanks. Later in the half, they won the ball deep and released Alonso, with Walcott again caught too far up the pitch; because of that, Gabriel (Bellerin’s replacement) had to push up on Alonso, who could now set up Hazard against Mustafi just behind.
The concept was identical to the one leading to the goal and, on this occasion, Mustafi fouled Hazard and got booked.
Arsenal Nullified in Open Play
Without the ball, Chelsea defended deep in a 5-4-1 in which the presence of the three centre-backs enabled the wing-backs to close down the Arsenal full-backs while still retaining cover.
Perhaps Chelsea’s greatest concern was down their left, where Bellerin faced Alonso, with Walcott potentially able to set up a sprinting duel with Gary Cahill just behind.
But Bellerin was replaced by Gabriel after 17 minutes, this meant that Gabriel a natural centre-back, carried very little threat going forward while Arsenal were in possession of the ball.
That was bad news for Wenger, as Bellerin’s attacking quality is a big part of Arsenal’s threat going forward.
In the centre of midfield, Chelsea midfielders Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante had control of the game, while the centre-backs closed down whoever threatened the tiny space between the lines.
Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez found himself very isolated and had to drop deep to get involved as he was getting frustrated by the lack of ball he was receiving into feet.
This left Arsenal hoping for mistakes and set pieces in order to create goal scoring chances.
Chelsea’s Devastating Counter-attack
Part of Chelsea’s dominance this season is their ability to mix their play up. If they want to attack and control a game they can do, and if they want to defend and play on the counter attack they can do that with great effect.
At the start of the second half, a series of Arsenal attacks had broken down in which Chelsea won the ball in midfield and launched quick counter attacks.
In one instance, Kante robbed Mesut Ozil inside the Arsenal half and played through Costa, only for the offside flag to go up.
For Chelsea’s second goal, Hazard intercepted a pass and moved forward to anticipate Costa’s flick, before brushing off Coquelin and skipping past Koscielny to finish off a superb solo goal.
Other counter-attacks were threatening but no goals were scored. Another instance was when Hazard led a three-v-two which was broke down by a misplaced pass.
Monreal’s Impact on the Left Flank for Arsenal
As for Arsenal’s attack, it improved as the game went on. With Bellerin injured, Monreal became more involved down the left, particularly in the second half and with Pedro often positioned further infield, the full-back was able to attack Moses and swing in a number of quality crosses.
One of the most dangerous came when he cannoned in a ball at the near post that Walcott nearly reached. Soon after, Monreal put in another low cross that zipped past the goalmouth with nobody there to convert.
That suggested Arsenal needed a stronger presence in the box and they eventually got that when Giroud came on for Coquelin. The two combined in stoppage time, Giroud heading in Monreal’s cross, but Fabregas had already punished Petr Cech’s error to add Chelsea’s third.