Patience is a Virtue, It’s Also How Arsenal Can Beat Chelsea
All Arsenal fans know the history between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. Wenger has never beaten his nemesis and Arsenal in general haven’t beaten Chelsea since 2011, when a Robin Van Persie hat-trick gave the Gunners a 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge. At the Emirates, Arsenal’s last win over Chelsea came in 2010. Earlier this season, Arsenal were 2-0 losers in a fairly even contest which was decided by an Eden Hazard penalty and a classic counterattack goal from Diego Costa. Last season featured the now infamous 6-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge on Wenger’s 1000th game in charge at Arsenal. Despite occupying the 1 and 2 spots in the Premier League, in all likelihood Sunday’s contest will have little impact on the title race. Chelsea are currently 10 points ahead of Arsenal, with that gap being cut to 7 if the Gunners manage a victory this weekend. It’s probably too big a mountain to climb but it’s just as important as a marker for next season. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger need to show the league, Chelsea, and themselves that they are capable of beating a Mourinho led Chelsea side. A win this weekend would send a resounding message that Arsenal are prime contenders to lift next years Premier League trophy.
Two DM’s, Two Blocks of Four
This issue of how to beat Chelsea stems from Mourinho’s setup in midfield. In big games against sides capable of dictating play, Mourinho often solves that problem by selecting a lineup with two defensive midfielders and setting up in two blocks of four. In essence, Mourinho is dictating how the game will be played before the two teams ever step foot on the pitch by conceding the initiative to the opponent. This was evident in last weekends Chelsea – Manchester United tie. Mourinho choose to go with Nemanja Matic and Kurt Zoma in midfield, not so much to stop United from playing but to clog up the open space the closer United got to Chelsea’s penalty area. Predictably, United dominated possession with 67% but only managed 2 shots on target, the same as Chelsea. Possession stats are illusory to Mourinho, against the top sides he has conceded the ball before the opening whistle blows. For reference, Chelsea have averaged 55.5% possession this season. In games against teams incapable of dictating play to Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas would play a deeper role alongside Matic, but expect two defensive midfielders this Sunday with Fabregas in a more advanced role.
Apart of team selection and tactics, Mourinho’s philosophy is fairly simple: it’s easier to defend than attack. Part of the reason it has been so successful against Arsenal is Arsene Wenger is one of the great football purists of all time. Wenger wants to play an attacking style that thrives off possession and movement. In past results, this has played right into Mourinho’s hand. Arsenal dominate possession, fail to create meaningful chances, leave openings at the back as they push harder and harder for the goal, Chelsea hit Arsenal on the counter. Wenger and the squad have tweaked their tactics this season to allow for a more controlled setup with emphasis team shape off the ball. This new emphasis, combined with a few other elements, could provide Arsenal with the blueprint of beating Mourinho.
The Blueprint: Drop off at First, Patience, Stay Alert on Set Pieces, Follow Ozil
If Arsenal are to beat Chelsea on Sunday, patience and ruthlessness will be the order of the day. Former Arsenal midfielder Charles Nichols suggested Arsene Wenger should come out and copy Mourinho’s formation by deploying two holding midfielders. Wenger won’t do that but he will likely direct Arsenal to sit off early on and concede possession to Chelsea. In essence, draw Chelsea out of their two block set early on by adopting a similar game plan to the one Wenger used to beat Manchester City. Coquelin will sit very deep and Santi Cazorla (or Aaron Ramsey) will partner in the middle of the park while sitting deeper than usual to assit Coquelin in defensive duties. If Chelsea come out of their defensive set, gaps in the middle of the pitch will open up, isolating the two holding midfielders from the rest of Chelsea’s forward players, and forcing Chelsea to operate outside of their comfort zone. Jose and his players are used to defending for large stretches in big games. If Arsenal drop off in their own defensive shape early on, they may just catch Chelsea off guard.
Furthermore, Arsenal need to be extraordinarily patient against Chelsea. Mourinho’s philosophy thrives on the opponent’s frustration. Teams grow disgruntled and irritated by Chelsea’s negative tactics, lose their heads, bomb forward, and concede on the other end. Luckily, Arsenal now have a true defensive midfielder in Coquelin that is capable of breaking up opposing counterattacks. However, it will take a team effort to stick to the game plan when Chelsea drop 8 to 10 players behind the ball. Defenders and fullbacks cannot bomb forward and leave the team exposed. Instead, Arsenal’s creative players must keep probing and believing the breakthrough will eventually come while maintaining their composure defensively. Though Mourinho deployed Zouma and Matic against United in part to negate the threat of Marouane Fellaini (Zouma was instructed to man mark him at times), it’s in keeping with his history of tactical decisions in big games. A result of his decision to play two defensive midfielders, Chelsea almost always have the size advantage over their opponents. This will be the case against Arsenal and the Gunners must be vigilant on set pieces as Chelsea will try to steal a goal with a myriad of aerial threats that include Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, Zouma, Matic, and Costa.
Mesut Ozil, who Mourinho has notably called the worlds best No. 10, is the ideal player to mastermind his demise. Ozil is often criticized by the English media because of his perceived languid style. He never rushes, is always patient, and won’t force the pass if it isn’t there. Ozil is a cerebral assassin. Against Chelsea, Ozil must control Arsenal’s attack by keeping the team fluid, patient, and composed at all times. Instead of growing impatient and forcing the ill-advised pass that allows Chelsea to counter, make the safe pass and keep probing for an opening. Ozil does this better than any player in the world and when the opening comes, there’s no one better at exploiting it. Ozil cut 9 Reading players, who were all ironically enough sitting behind the ball, out with one pass for the opening goal in the FA Cup semifinal. The openings will be smaller and tougher to find against Chelsea, but Ozil is the player patient enough to wait for and exploit them. The game is as much mental as it is physical, and Arsenal need a team of players on the same intellectual level as Ozil to beat Cheslea.
In the past, Arsenal haven’t had the game-plan or the personnel to beat Mourinho’s two blocks of four. Jose’s tactics have frustrated and foiled the Gunners for years. This time around, Arsenal’s growth against the top teams and particularly how they have gone about winning those games, should give them the confidence of achieving a result this Sunday. While Arsenal have shown growth by beating the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool, if the Gunners can’t eventually find a way to beat Chelsea they may never win the title. While it’s only two League games a year, the inability to beat Chelsea drives a mental message that Arsenal still haven’t reached the same plateau as the Premier League’s best. Furthermore, Arsene Wenger needs to find a way to beat his adversary. I believe Arsene Wenger is most definitely the man to lead Arsenal going forward. Arsenal have their most complete squad in almost a decade, with a nice mix of youth and experience, are on the verge of two major trophies in as many years, could finish second in the league, are in an incredibly strong position financially, and have seemingly solved the issue of performing in big games. It all seems to be a vindication of the Arsenal way and Arsene Wenger’s work. To finish the job, Wenger and Arsenal need to beat Mourinho and send a message that next year’s Premier League title will reside at The Emirates.