LONDON — The London derby delivered. Big time.
Chelsea and Arsenal played out a thrilling encounter in England’s capital as both Maruizio Sarri and Unai Emery will have seen plenty of things they liked, and plenty they didn’t.
The Blues raced into a 2-0 lead through Pedro and Alvaro Morata, but Arsenal fought back as they squandered several chances but eventually scored twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi to make it 2-2 at half time.
Marcos Alonso scored a late winner for Chelsea as Sarri made it two wins from two, while it’s two defeats on the spin for Emery to open up his time in charge of Arsenal.
Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in West London as two new managers in the Premier League saw their teams entertain.
ARSENAL EXCITE BUT SAME ISSUES REMAIN
Arsenal have never had problems creating chances and that will continue post-Wenger. On numerous occasions they carved open Chelsea’s defense as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have scored and went close, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was also guilty of a shocking miss before he scored and Mesut Ozil went close too. Alex Iwobi scored and missed a sitter. That was all in the first half. And it all came from clever build-up play out wide as Arsenal’s gameplan was clear: isolate Chelsea’s full backs and get players arriving into the box late.
Eventually Chelsea figured this out but Arsenal showed enough to suggest they can go toe-to-toe with the best attacking teams in the Premier League.
The problem, as it has been for quite some time, has been defensively. Both Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis looked exposed when Chelsea got the ball wide early and Hector Bellerin was particularly culpable for Chelsea’s first goal as two long balls caught out Arsenal’s entire defensive unit. That simply cannot happen.
It is still too early to judge Unai Emery based on these defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea to open the season. Arsenal’s defensive issues have been magnified by two Premier League heavyweights early in the campaign but it seems their attacking prowess remains intact. The exciting thing is that it may even be better under Emery than it was under Wenger.
CHELSEA CENTERED AROUND Jorginho
Sarri-ball needed a general and Jorginho is just that. The deep-lying playmaker Chelsea paid $72 million to Napoli for this summer is Sarri’s main man and he made them tick against Arsenal. You can point to his lack of physicality but like Cesc Fabregas, who he will likely replace in Chelsea’s midfield, he plays the game at his own pace. The way he found Marcos Alonso for Chelsea’s first goal was a thing of beauty as he curled the ball into his path from 50 yards away.
Jorginho is Chelsea’s quarterback and he is capable of doing wonderful things offensively. Like this.
But it wasn’t all perfect for Jorginho and Chelsea. Far from it. Sarri scratched his head as Arsenal got in down the flanks on seven occasions in the first half and scored with two of their attempt as Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang were both guilty of horrible misses. Not having Kante in the central defensive role left it down to Jorginho to plug the gaps and time and time again Arsenal’s attacking midfielders had so much space.
Willian and Pedro didn’t give Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta much support defensively and that will concern Sarri, but eventually they tweaked the system with Kante dropping more centrally in the second half.
With Jorginho pulling the strings, N'Golo Kante plugging the gaps and Ross Barkley putting in another strong display, midfield is where Sarri’s vision is taking shape as Mateo Kovacic and Eden Hazard delivered impressive cameos. Defensively there is plenty of work to do for Chelsea and playing four at the back may not be how they set up for much longer.
NEW REGIMES PROMISE PLENTY
Aside from the defensive deficiencies of both teams, it is clear that both Sarri and Emery will aim to entertain and attack in their maiden seasons in the Premier League.
That’s a good thing for both clubs as they aim to get back into the top four by playing different ways, almost polar opposites, to last season.
Arsenal look more incisive and better equipped to break down stubborn defenses than they did in the past. There is a Plan A, to get the ball wide and time runs to perfection. Plan B is about fluid passing and dictating the tempo of the game just like it was under Wenger.
For Chelsea, it’s the opposite. Under Antonio Conte they looked to launch counters and get behind opponents as quickly as they could. Now they possess the ball, get Jorginho on it and have the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian dropping deeper to open up gaps.
It will be intriguing to see how these players adapt to these new philosophies over the coming weeks and months. Saturday proved it will be nerve-wracking for their fans but quite a lot of fun for neutrals.