Arsenal v Chelsea – Eden Hazard in focus
The Belgian was used as a ‘false nine’ once again.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at Eden Hazard’s role and the attacking resources of both sides.
Eden Hazard was named as Chelsea’s ‘false nine’ by Maurizio Sarri for a sixth time in eight Premier League games. The system was a success in the December 8 win over Manchester City – the first time it was deployed this season – but since it has been unconvincing. It could be interpreted as a message to Chelsea director and transfers chief Marina Granovskaia, unusually name checked in Sarri’s pre-match media conference, to hurry up and complete the speculated deal for Gonzalo Higuain.
Again, Chelsea’s strike forced was blunt and Hazard’s brilliance nullified by the position he has been asked to play. The Belgium forward, who is out of contract in June 2020 and has spoken of his daily quandary over whether to seek a “dream move” to Real Madrid or commit to Chelsea, dropped deep in search of the ball. One such moment saw him tackled by Aaron Ramsey, who struck a shot which was saved. Olivier Giroud came on with 22 minutes to go, allowing Hazard to return to his favoured left wing position.
Sarri had lauded Arsenal’s attack pre-match and his fears were realised. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette’s pace and persistence created uncertainty in the Chelsea defence. Aubameyang was not put off by his failure to turn in Lacazette’s cross after four minutes. He almost capitalised on a Cesar Azpilicueta slip and acrobatically turned a Sead Kolasinac cross wide. Lacazette, meanwhile, turned and drilled in a brilliant opening goal.
Arsenal’s full-backs, Hector Bellerin and Kolasinac, and strikers offered the width which was lacking for Chelsea. The Gunners’ midfield diamond was effective, too. At its tip was Ramsey, who is out of contract at the end of the season and expected to move to Juventus. Mesut Ozil, whose own contract was extended lucratively after winding down, is out of favour and was an unused substitute. Unai Emery changed formation to see out the match.
Chelsea’s only loss in their prior 14 Premier League games against Arsenal was the 3-0 defeat which saw Antonio Conte make dramatic changes, switching to a 3-4-3 formation to prompt a 13-match winning steak which led eventually to the 2016-17 title. Expect Sarri to stick with 4-3-3 no matter what. But a recognised striker is likely to replace Hazard and Sarri will hope the Higuain deal can be wrapped up quickly and the Argentinian can hit the ground running.