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 ]

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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.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Chelsea

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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A massive test for the Top Four hopes of Arsenal and Chelsea kicks off at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Mesut Ozil is on the bench for Arsenal, while Alvaro Morata is out of the 18 for Chelsea.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Aubameyang, Lacazette. Subs: Cech, Mustafi, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Ozil, Iwobi.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Kovacic, Jorginho, Kante, Pedro, Hazard, WillianSubs: Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud.

Chelsea talking with Hudson-Odoi, who is focused on playing time

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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The BBC says Chelsea has renewed talks with Callum Hudson-Odoi in the hopes that the winger will stay at Stamford Bridge.

Hudson-Odoi, 18, has been the subject of three bids from Bayern Munich, the latest nearing $50 million.

[ MORE: Bundesliga 2nd half preview ]

He has 18 months left on his contract at Stamford Bridge, and the club is reportedly offering him a big raise.

But he wants to play, and that is going to be a bigger challenge (at least immediately). Hudson-Odoi turned 18 in November, and has played just 575 first team minutes. Many of those came since late November.

Chelsea has just invested more than $73 million in Christian Pulisic, but Eden Hazard is 28, Pedro is 31, and Willian is 30. There will be chances for a players to prove themselves in the very near future, especially with so many of the club’s loan players doing anything but lighting their respective leagues on fire.

Sarri: Chelsea fell asleep after first goal, but woke up just in time

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Chelsea went from in complete control, to thoroughly deserving to concede an equalizer after falling asleep, to waking back up and taking their deserved victory over Newcastle United on Saturday.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

That’s how Blues boss Maurizio Sarri saw it, at least.

After going 1-0 ahead through Pedro in the 9th minute, Chelsea “slept for 20, 25 minutes, so at the end of the first half [they] were in trouble,” in Sarri’s words. Newcastle were able to find their footing and work their way back to 1-1 in the 40th minute. Smart money is on Sarri reading his players the Riot Act at halftime, thus the post-game criticism as well as the strong response in the second half — quotes from the Guardian:

“After the goal I think we thought, ‘Now it’s easy,’ but it wasn’t. We slept for 20, 25 minutes, so at the end of the first half we were in trouble. We need to improve in the mental reaction. After our first goal something happened. We need to improve.

Presumably related to his side’s up-and-down showing, Sarri also jumped at the chance to campaign for reinforcements during the January transfer window. With Cesc Fabregas leaving to join Monaco this week, central midfield is the first area Sarri would like to see strengthened, but he isn’t so sure he’ll get what he wants — quotes from the Standard:

“Today Jorginho was in trouble and, on the bench, there wasn’t a player for that position. I need an option for Jorginho.”

“I have no idea. …The club knows very well my opinion.

“I need the player there, it depends on the club decision, I think. I cannot do anything more.”