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Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to keep their top four hopes well and truly alive as they’re now just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.

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Two first half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny did the damage against a lackluster Chelsea, as Maurizio Sarri‘s men continue to struggle to score goals and badly need to complete their business in the January transfer window.

Here’s a look at what we learned as Unai Emery got a huge win in this London derby.


NO CENTRAL STRIKER HOLDING BACK CHELSEA

With Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian deployed as the front three and the former playing as a false nine, time and time again the ball just kept coming back at Chelsea’s midfield. Even with N'Golo Kante around they couldn’t deal with it. Chelsea’s midfielders and attackers looked as if they were treading through treacle in the final third and they were lacking a focal point. In the second half they improved, but they hardly had Arsenal’s defense worried. With Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out of the club and Gonzalo Higuain close to arriving on a loan move, it is clear Sarri wants a focal point in his team and Higuain is the answer. But Chelsea’s play has to get the best out of a central striker and that will take a significant shift in the the Sarri-ball style. The high-pressing style wasn’t clear to see in a big London derby against one of the top four rivals. If Higuain, 31, isn’t the answer, Sarri has big problems in his debut campaign in England as Manchester United and now Arsenal breath down their necks in the top four battle. They still have United, Man City and Liverpool to play away from home, and Chelsea will be looking over their shoulders nervously. Hazard and N’Golo Kante are being played out of position and Sarri is showing signs of being stubborn. Things are not heading in the right direction.


ARSENAL’S HUNGER REIGNITES TOP 4 HOPES

In contrast to Chelsea’s slow, predictable play, the pressure from Arsenal’s attacking players was relentless and set the tone for this victory. It also showed why Mesut Ozil’s days are likely numbered at Arsenal under Emery and how big, and correct, of a call that was. The way both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayeng tracked back from the front was infectious, especially in the first half when the damage was done. With the Gunners now just three points off the top four, it shows they are still in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League spot despite their recent defeats against the likes of Southampton, West Ham and Liverpool amid a defensive injury crisis. The Gunners simply had to win this game against Chelsea and they were well organized and as soon as they went 2-0 up, you never felt like they were going to blow this lead. The hunger of their frontline to deliver was key, and Emery’s men now have a run of four very winnable games (and a trip to Man City) in their next five PL games.


EMERY OUTPERFORMING SARRI

When these two teams met in August, it was Sarri’s Chelsea who prevailed 3-2 as two new managers were getting used to life in the Premier League. There were signs in that clash that Arsenal were turning the corner after a slow start. And you can now say that Arsenal look more likely than Chelsea to kick on in the second half of the season. Going forward they have more dynamism, more flexibility and more options. In midfield both teams posses masterful technicians and impactful destroyers. Emery and Sarri both have their strict philosophies and love to press high, and although Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies weren’t exposed by an extremely toothless Chelsea, that is the area Emery will want to improve. He has improved an awful lot at Arsenal since he arrived in the summer and you can make a very good argument that this win highlighted the greater progress he has made compared to Sarri. Chelsea started the season superbly, but Arsenal are just three points behind them with 15 games to go. The race for a place in the top four between two giants juggling the Europa League this season will go down to the wire.

Arsenal closes ground on Chelsea (video)

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  • Chelsea with 64 percent possession
  • Arsenal takes 2-0 halftime lead
  • Arrizabalaga strong in defeat

Chelsea had most of the ball but Arsenal produced almost all of the danger in a 2-0 defeat of the visiting Blues at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny scored for Unai Emery‘s men, who avenged a 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge in August to move three points back of the fourth place visitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chelsea’s opening moments were anything but stable, with a couple silly fouls and a flubbed chance by Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette off a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang feed.

Blues goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga bailed his team out when Laurent Koscielny jabbed a hard header at him off an Aaron Ramsey free kick.

The ensuing corner kick saw Lacazette put the Gunners ahead with a hard chipped finish past Arrizabalaga at the near post.

Koscielny’s shoulder turned a Sokratis shot over Arrizabalaga and inside the far post at the 40th minute.

Chelsea was a bit of a mess, but Marcos Alonso nearly pulled the deficit back to one when he headed off the post in the 45th minute.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Pedro blazed a cutback pass from Willian over the bar after running into a promising 56th minute position.

Sead Kolasinac inspired danger in the 64th minute, but Arrizabalaga stood tall for Chelsea.

Arsenal suffered a significant setback in the second half, as Hector Bellerin‘s knee appeared to buckle on a non-contact injury. His leg was strapped down and the Spaniard was stretchered off the pitch.

Emery on possible exit for Ozil, reason for his absence

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The strange dynamic between Unai Emery and Mesut Ozil remains intriguing, as Arsenal’s manager has been talking about Ozil’s absence from his recent squads.

Ozil, 30, wasn’t selected in Arsenal’s 18-man squad for their defeat at West Ham last weekend and after that game Emery said it was because others “deserved” to play ahead of the German playmaker.

But with the highest-paid player in Arsenal history now fit after a few injuries, Emery believes he could be in contention to play against Chelsea this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the Emirates Stadium.

Is he ready to play in a massive London derby?

“Now? He’s training consistently with his work over the past two weeks and I think he can be,” Emery said. “I like to create the same spirit for all, and that spirit is every players gets and gives consistent work and moments with their performances but it’s not easy. Sometimes you are better and sometimes you are worse. I’m working with every player in the same way. The most important thing for me is how he can help us and how every player can help us with their consistency.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement as to how important Ozil is for Arsenal as they aim to push Chelsea and others all the way to finish in the top four.

Asked if Ozil could leave the Gunners in January due to his lack of game time and the obvious fact that he just doesn’t suit Emery’s high-pressing style of play, the Spanish coach was a little coy.

“I’m not thinking about that [Ozil leaving in January]. I’m thinking about how he can help us this year with good performances,” Emery added. “He’s had injuries and not been okay to play matches, but now after these two weeks maybe this Saturday will be okay for him.”

Ozil’s future at Arsenal seems anything but certain, but if he was to play against Chelsea on Saturday, how would Emery slot him into this team?

He could perhaps play as one of two attacking midfielders just off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as Emery has used a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation at times this season.

Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette could play underneath Aubameyang, but that would be a little harsh on Alex Iwobi who has played well on the left in recent months and it could also upset the balance of Arsenal’s side as one of Ozil or Lacazette would be expected to track back defensively.

It’s easy to see why Emery is having a tough time slotting Ozil into the lineup but given the lack of creativity the Gunners showed in the final third against West Ham, the German could be handed an olive branch by his manager for this huge clash. It is up to Ozil to now take it, and if he doesn’t his time at Arsenal could be all but over.

West Ham upset Arsenal (video)

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  • Rice scores first West Ham goal
  • Arsenal’s 2nd defeat in last 3 PL games
  • 16 of the last 18 PL goals scored in this fixture have come in the second half 

West Ham United beat Arsenal 1-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday as teenager Declan Rice was the hero for the Hammers.

Fresh from signing a new long-term contract and just a few days before his 20th birthday, the West Ham academy graduate smashed home the winner early in the second half to secure a huge win for Manuel Pellegrini‘s Hammers.

The win was just their second in their last 22 PL games against Arsenal, as Unai Emery‘s side struggled to get going and have now lost two of their last three league clashes.

West Ham move up to eighth on 31 points, while Arsenal sit in fifth on 41 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

West Ham started well and Felipe Anderson danced his way towards goal but the Brazilian curled his effort off target.

At the other end Arsenal ripped West Ham apart as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette combined as the latter first had a shot blocked and then fired the rebound over.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Before half time the Hammers fought their way back into the game as Samir Nasri dragged an effort wide of the near post. A long ball over the top nearly led to the opening goal of the game as Marko Arnautovic controlled and played the ball to Nasri who teed up the onrushing Anderson who drilled inches wide of the post.

Matteo Guendouzi then fired an effort just off target and Declan Rice then headed wide as the game continued to open up.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

West Ham had the perfect start to the second half as Arsenal failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Nasri who found Rice in the box and the teenager slammed home to make it 1-0.

At the other end Arsenal were almost level right away, but Lukasz Fabianski saved well as the ball ricocheted off a West Ham defender and towards their own goal. Guendouzi then fired wide as Arsenal pushed hard for an equalizer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Emery sent on Lucas Torreira and Aaron Ramsey in the hope of rescuing a point, and it had an impact. Aubameyang fired over under pressure from Aaron Cresswell as the Gunners threw men forward but they failed to open up the solid West Ham defense.

Late on Arnautovic seemed to wave goodbye to the West Ham fans as he was subbed off, as an unnamed Chinese Super League club continues to try and sign him.

But at the final whistle there was nothing but jubilation from everyone connected with West Ham as they secured their first home Premier League win against Arsenal since 2006.

Gunners school Fulham on New Year’s Day

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  • Xhaka strikes first, 25′
  • Lacazette caps team goal
  • Kamara pulls one back
  • Ramsey puts it to bed

Arsenal responded to its weekend drubbing by turning the lopsided score line on Fulham with a 4-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all scored for the Gunners, who move two points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Aboubakar Kamara scored for Fulham, who remain 19th with 14 points.

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Arsenal was on the front foot from Moment No. 1, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was closely-marked by American defender Tim Ream as he popped an Alex Iwobi pass over the goal from close range.

The visitors nearly surprised when Tom Cairney opened up Ryan Sessegnon on the counter attack, but the youngster missed the far post after beating Bernd Leno.

If Sessegnon could’ve scored the first, he should’ve scored the next: Andre Schurrle swept a gorgeous effort around the Arsenal back line but the winger totally missed the ball.

And how often do you see it? The underdogs miss a chance to go ahead, snapping the favorites into life. Xhaka was the man in the middle to push an Iwobi pass beyond the reach of Rico.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Lacazette made it 2-0 on the business end of a terrific team goal off a throw-in. Aubameyang and Sead Kolasinac were the last two to play the ball en route to the Frenchman for his 56th minute finish.

Jean-Michael Seri cued up Mitrovic for a 69th minute chance, but the Serbian nodded right to Leno.

This time, Fulham responded to the danger by scoring. Kamara got on the end of a Sessegnon cross after Seri stole the ball and set the wheels in motion.

Ramsey restored order with a calm finish into the side netting when a loose ball came his way in the 79th minute.

Rico stayed big to block a 1v1 Aubameyang chip in the 82nd, but was defied when the same striker’s deflected shot hit the back of the net in the 83rd.

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