LONDON — Arsenal took the moral victory at Chelsea on Sunday in a bruising draw against their London rivals at Stamford Bridge.
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They have yet to win a game away at a top six rival since a 2-0 victory at Manchester City back in January 2015 but the display on Sunday proved they have a blueprint for success away from home against the top teams.
Call it a moral victory, if you will.
Arsene Wenger‘s 3-4-3 formation has made the Gunners, overall, look more solid against a counter-attacking unit as they recovered from their ghastly defensive display away at Liverpool before the international break and thwarted Chelsea for the third time in as many games since the end of last season.
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Speaking after the game, Wenger was delighted with the mental toughness of his players in what he called a “total battle” in the sun in west London.
“I felt it was a game of total intensity where two teams went for it and it was a battle all over the pitch,” Wenger said. “We responded well in domains where we were questioned. I like when a team shows that kind of response. Overall, I feel that it is a deserved point. With a bit more freedom and inhibition we could have really won it. Overall it was important for us not to lose today and you could feel that in the team in the last 20 minutes with a little bit of that in our mind.”
Following their 4-0 mauling at Liverpool and defeat at Stoke City, it was understandable that any positive result away from home would have been welcomed.
Stopping a five-game losing streak at Chelsea in the PL was welcomed as Arsenal carried on where they left off from their FA Cup and Community Shield victories at Wembley against their London rivals.
“People forget that two months ago we beat Chelsea in a cup final and they don’t give you a cup, you know?” Wenger smiled. “It is true that you have to accept that when you deliver the kind of performance we had at Liverpool that you are criticized. You have only one way to respond. That’s on the pitch and that’s what we did today. Of course it was a question today of what will happen at least with the attitude, response and determination, it was vital for us, even above the result, to come out with a solid performance on that front.”
Wenger saw Shkodran Mustafi put in a solid, dominant display in central defense as he and Laurent Koscielny shackled Alvaro Morata and the Gunners had the better chances to win the game with Aaron Ramsey hitting the post, Alexandre Lacazette knocking the follow up over and Mustafi having a header correctly disallowed for offside.
Chelsea were frustrated in their first 0-0 draw since February 2016 as they were outbattled by Arsenal with David Luiz sent off late on as he lunged into a challenge on Saed Kolasinac and you could feel the Blues’ temper rising as the Gunners continued their shut down of Chelsea’s usually effective counter-attacks.
Antonio Conte brushed aside questions about Arsenal’s physicality knocking Chelsea out of their stride and reminded the assembled media of the Gunners’ quality.
“We suffered a bit in the middle of the first half but don’t forget, sometimes you forgot that Arsenal is one of the top six in England. For this reason we all know the type of game we have to face today against them,” Conte said. “Arsenal is a really good team, a strong team and they have a lot of top players. It is normal to find this situation when you play against them.”
Yet, this wasn’t a normal Arsenal performance as Wenger and his players substituted their usual panache for grit and their admirable free spirit for concentration.
The atmosphere among Arsenal’s players, fans and manager at the end of the game was far from euphoric but this felt like a step forward for Wenger’s men.