Talking Tactics: Arsenal V Chelsea – The London Demolition Derby

September 25, 2016

This analysis comes courtesy of our new technical partner Footballytics

The highly anticipated London Derby between Arsenal and Chelsea turned out to be a “Demolition Derby” as the hosts Arsenal trashed Chelsea with confidence. Although Chelsea went into the match with a huge psychological edge as they have won three of last five encounters at Emirates (3W 2D 0L), Arsenal came into the match unbeaten in their last six competitive games. Chelsea, on the other hand, lost to Liverpool and needed an extra time to go through next round of League Cup against Leicester in midweek.

In terms of line ups, Arsene Wenger opted for Coquelin and Cazorla in deep midfield roles and left Granit Xhaka on the bench despite some great performances in recent weeks. Since Cazorla was dropped deeper in midfield, Alex Iwobi found his place on left wing and that was pretty much it. On Conte’s side of the pitch, Oscar lost his place and was replaced by former Gunner Cesc Fabregas as center midfielder while rest of the squad was left untouched compared to their previous EPL games.

From the beginning of the match Chelsea was set up to defend very deep avoiding any pressure on the Arsenal midfield trying to force the ball to the wings provoking the crosses to rather small forward line. It looked like Conte’s plan was to invite the opposition deep into attacking third and upon seizing the ball searching for direct balls to Hazard and Costa who would hold onto the ball until rest of the squad arrived if an immediate counter attack wasn’t possible.

However, early an mistake from Cahill who was caught in possession leading to Sanchez’s wonderful chip of Courtois and before they had time to bling, Theo Walcott was making it 2-0 and Chelsea had a mountain to climb after only quarter of an hour.

Chelsea defended deep and put no pressure on the ball, inviting Arsenal to pick their passes and have freedom of movement off the ball. With movement and depth - Arsenal were able to successfully stretch the Chelsea defence and create chances.

Chelsea defended deep and put no pressure on the ball, inviting Arsenal to pick their passes and have freedom of movement off the ball. With movement and depth – Arsenal were able to successfully stretch the Chelsea defence and create chances.

Above you see the screenshot of the teams a few seconds before Walcott scores the second goal for Arsenal and can observe all the problems Chelsea has with their defensive plan.

First, the defence is sitting very deep above the box, but that wouldn’t be a problem if anyone from the midfield bothered to pressure Cazorla. He has all the time and space to pick his next pass, and above all, he is already facing Chelsea goal.

Besides the deep defensive line and no pressure at all on ball carrier, there is another flaw intrinsic to Chelsea’s overall game plan. As they basically wait for Arsenal to “hopefully” turn over the ball, Hazard is exempt from defensive duties since he is waiting to burst forward in counter attack leaving Azpilicueta 1 on 1 with Bellerin (big mistake). Since Chelsea essentially try to play with five in midfield, Conte can afford himself to spare Hazard some of defensive duties, however, the rest of midfield has to work much harder to get to ball if Conte wants to get away with Hazard’s laxidasical role.

A few wonderful passing combinations later, Iwobi finds Bellering running into the box from the right who then deftly makes the pass to assist on  Walcott’s goal.  Hazard for his part, recognizes the danger but its too late – his positioning is off and with no pressure on Iwobi, the Arsenal forward can make the pass to Bellerin as if it were a training exercise..

Arsenal have always done well when they have effectively employed the press and versus Chelsea this was again the case. It became one of the bigger problems for them in the match as Chelsea were never able to effectively move the ball out of their defensive third. This intense pressure by Arsenal limited the formation of any real threat from the visitors.

Arsenal's high press takes away any passing lanes from Ivanovic who gets the ball from Courtois.

Arsenal’s high press takes away any passing lanes from Ivanovic who gets the ball from Courtois.

If you want to play from goalkeeper and gradually move the whole team from defensive to middle third, you need to provide space for your defenders to play around the opposition pressing. However, if you look at above screenshot you see Ivanović and Cahill in 5 yards of space. This allows Iwobi and Özil to close down three Chelsea players. Ivanović should be at least 10 to 15 yards ahead of his position which would move Iwobi away and give much needed room for Kante, Cahill and Luiz to operate. But again it is the high press from Arsenal that is taking all this away from the visitors.

It is difficult to understand what was Ivanović thinking, however, it wasn’t an isolated incident but a pattern that went on through whole first half. With Arsenal determined to chase down every ball, this put the defence under a lot of pressure and who lost a lot of balls in their own defensive third and when Arsenal didn’t get the ball, it only produced rushed clearances that Arsenal had no problems mopping up.

The third and final nail in the coffin came from Chelsea losing possession deep in the Arsenal half. With everyone working their defensive duties the ball is passed out to Özil who gets the ball and with a half turn for the ages, leaves N’Golo Kante in the dust and creates a 2v2 where the smarter players (Özil and Sanchesz) were easily heads above their opponents. When it developed, you knew this was a goal.


The 2nd half was changed up a bit as Conte reverted to his preferred 3-5-2. But by then it was too late. The home side were comfortable and confident with everyone from the keeper to the striker keyed into their duties on and off the ball.

Although Chelsea was pock-holed with mistakes and wrong choices throughout the match, it doesn’t really take anything away from the great performance by Wenger’s Arsenal.

They went and played aggressively from the first whistle and took everything Chelsea had offered. They closed down their transition and exploited all of the mistakes Chelsea made. Iwobi was particularly good with his direct and quick short passing showing that despite his tender age he can contribute massively to the Arsenal play style. Another important thing for Wenger will be the way Granit Xhaka has stepped in his role of defensive midfielder offering his passing range and long shots to a squad that seems to be scoring from everywhere at the moment.

If anyone doubts that the Arsenal defence has shed the “weak underbelly” moniker ask Diego Costa how he felt about battling both Mustafi and Koscielny. This was an interesting case study in defending as whenever one player played 1v1 versus the Chelsea striker, the other was only a few yards off to clean up if the other missed. Given the fact that Chelsea didn’t support Costa in any way, this made their job even easier.

Finally, lets single out both Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott. Both were all over the place. They were so good with and without the ball. Theo Walcott put in a performance for the ages and if this is what we can expect from Arsenal’s longest tenured player for the rest of the season, it bodes well for the Gunners. Trying to focus on Özil is hard, he flittered in out of the Chelsea lines. Like the rest of his teammates, he was too much for Chelsea and in the end the demolition of Chelsea should hopefully go a long way to excoriating any voodoo the blues had over Arsenal


  1. crispen - September 25, 2016 at 17:41

    That was Wenger-Ball


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Founder, editor, writer, designer of When he’s not following the Arsenal,he’s busy coaching various age groups the right way to play the beautiful game

I am neurotic. Well, Arsenal tends to do that to you and due to this maddening love affair I have with this team across the sea, I rise and fall like everyday (given our current state some times more than 5 times a day.) I love this team and hope it comes through even slightly with this blog.

If I am not here blogging away, I am either working or writing coaching sessions. All in all, I'm loving it. UTA!

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