Monday 23 October 2017

Rout of Arsenal underlines Chelsea's title credentials

Arsenal players dejected as Chelsea record emphatic win at Stamford Bridge
Arsenal players dejected as Chelsea record emphatic win at Stamford Bridge


Arsenal’s away results this season against the two best teams in the Premier League – 6-3, 6-0 – look more like a routine Serena Williams match at Wimbledon than a sequence of football scores.

Yet as bad as Arsenal were, the fact that Chelsea rather than Manchester City should inflict what tennis players would call the ‘bagel’ – a set won without the loss of a game – represents another resounding statement of their title credentials.

Just as Jose Mourinho did in his first spell here, a combination of astute man management and ruthless decision-making is transforming Chelsea from a club on the periphery of the Premier League title race into the team to beat.

Two factors stand out in the vast improvement, especially when compared to the rather sorry example on Saturday of Arsenal.

The first has been Mourinho’s bravery in the transfer market. How many other managers would jettison their supposed best player and spend £21million of the incoming fee on someone his boss had previously let go?

Yet who could seriously now argue Chelsea are not a better team with Nemanja Matic at the base of their midfield than when they had Juan Mata pulling the strings further forward? In the 12 league matches Matic has played, Chelsea have conceded only four goals.

“He can play square passes and keep possession, but he can see the movement forward,” explained Mourinho. “We gave the club two or three options of players and the most expensive was Matic, but we thought his relationship between quality, price and potential for the future would be better.”

The second key difference is the phenomenal work-rate that is demanded of the Chelsea players from front to back. If Mourinho’s team began like a swarm of bees whenever they lost the ball on Saturday, the Arsenal players were more akin to sleepy butterflies floating around the pitch without any comparative semblance of urgency.

Andre Schürrle, Oscar and Eden Hazard might all be best known for their creativity but this match was actually decided by how they, as well as David Luiz and Matic, hounded Arsenal and gave them so little time to play. The contrast with Arsène Wenger’s attacking players – notably Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud – could hardly have been greater.

Chelsea’s first three goals were strikingly similar and clearly a product of Mourinho’s tactics. As Schurrle later confirmed, the game-plan was to press Arsenal high up the pitch and then attack with pace in the knowledge that their opponents would have pushed players forward.

Chelsea had also been galvanised by Mourinho’s sense of injustice from their 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa the previous week. “We were really angry – maybe that was a motivation,” said Schurrle. Arsenal’s left flank of Kieran Gibbs and Podolski – surely a suicidal selection – was especially targeted.

After only five minutes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain carelessly lost possession to Schurrle who passed to Oscar. The ball was returned to Schurrle who played Samuel Eto’o into space down Arsenal’s left. Oxlade-Chamberlain sprinted back but was unable to prevent Eto’o from finishing past Wojciech Szczesny.

It all happened in the space of eight seconds. Even more sudden was how Matic then dispossessed Santi Cazorla and fed Schurrle down Arsenal’s vacated left flank to make it 2-0. The time from Cazorla collecting the ball inside Chelsea’s half to Schurrle scoring was just six seconds.

The penalty and wrongful dismissal of Kieran Gibbs that ended Arsenal’s hopes was the result of yet another counter-attack when Cazorla lost the ball. After that, the only question was how many more Chelsea would score and how complete Wenger’s humiliation would be. It was fairly complete, with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Mohamed Salah sealing the rout.

A 6-0 defeat was Arsenal’s heaviest against Chelsea, the joint worse of Wenger’s career and Mourinho’s biggest margin of victory in England.

Chelsea’s supporters also showed no mercy on Wenger’s 1,000th Arsenal game, parroting their manager’s “specialist in failure” barb.

“I’m not a specialist in success, a specialist in enjoying big matches,” said Mourinho. He was asked if he had ever suffered similarly scarring defeats. “Not many times,” said Mourinho. “I think I never lost 6-0. I lost 5-0 once, Barcelona-Madrid, and never 4-0. There was Atalanta-Inter [a 3-1 defeat], when I wanted to kill the players after the game.”

Wenger may have felt the same way on Saturday.

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