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Tactics Board: Arteta outsmarted and outgunned by Tuchel and well-oiled Chelsea

Shane Keegan breaks down the big Premier League games every Monday.
Aug 23rd 2021, 1:07 PM 5,450 8

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HAVING MANAGED A number of clubs in the League of Ireland, Shane Keegan is one of the country’s top coaches.

For the 2021/22 season, The42 is introducing a new series that will provide an additional layer of quality analysis when it comes to our Premier League coverage.

On Mondays, the former Dundalk analyst will focus on a key fixture and break the 90 minutes down tactically in order to give readers a better understanding of what they watched over the weekend.

Here, he examines Chelsea’s win at Arsenal yesterday. 

arsenal-manager-mikel-arteta-reacts-after-the-final-whistle-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-emirates-stadium-london-picture-date-sunday-august-22-2021 Source: Alamy Stock Photo

FOLLOWING A POOR start which saw them lose to newly promoted Brentford in their opener last weekend, Arsenal could have done with an easier challenge than a London derby against Tomas Tuchel’s Champions League winners as their second game up.

Could the already under fire Mikel Arteta spring a shock result to alleviate the pressure?

Starting line ups

Arsenal continue to deal with Covid issues in their camp, with recent signing Ben White the latest to be ruled out. This was a significant blow as it forced Mikel Arteta to change from a back three, which Arsenal had apparently trained in all week, to a back four on the day of the game.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was only fit enough for a place on the bench and there was still no return yet for Willian or Alexandre Lacazette leaving Arsenal short of options in the final third.

The big team news from Thomas Tuchel saw the return of Romelu Lukaku to the Chelsea side.

The new signing from Inter Milan has been brought in to give Chelsea the one thing they lacked last season, an out-and-out goal scorer, with Gary Neville commenting on Sky Sports’ coverage that the Belgian brought a guarantee of at least a 20-goal season.

The most obvious observation from the two team sheets was just how much the gulf in the quality of player at both clubs has grown in recent seasons. It would not have been unreasonable to suggest that at least six of Chelsea’s sub bench would have made the Arsenal starting 11.

Early Arsenal press dissipates as Kovacic comes to the fore

Despite their issues, Arsenal started this game really well, particularly in terms of how they pressed when Chelsea tried to play out. Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe, who lined up as a three behind Gabriel Martinelli, shifted very effectively from side to side to stop Chelsea’s outside centre backs from advancing out with the ball.

While one of the trio blocked the path forward, the other two would close down the Chelsea centre midfield pairing of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, denying them space to play out through the middle.

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This forced Chelsea to go wide in their build but again Arsenal were aggressive in these areas with Kieran Tierney (Image 2) and Cedric Soares (Image 3) pushing right up and close down the opposition wing backs. In both of these examples Chelsea were forced to play long under pressure allowing Arsenal to turn the ball over and build their own attacks.

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So what changed?

Smith Rowe, the central player in the Arsenal trio, spent the majority of his efforts trying to minimise the influence of Jorginho. This was an understandable tactic as Chelsea have laboured at times in the past when the Brazilian playmaker has struggled to get on the ball.

The problem for Arsenal was that with Kovacic playing to the left-hand side of Jorginho this required Pepe, a significantly poorer defensive player than Saka, to be the man to continually press the Croatian and while he may have stuck to his duties initially, he was highly unlikely to keep it up for the game.

With clever and continuous movement Kovacic started to find spaces, get turned and play forward passes and this got Chelsea motoring. It was no surprise then when it was he who found the feet of new man Lukaku, playing a one-two before spreading the ball wide to Reece James who then crossed for the big Belgian to tap home for the first goal.
Kovacic would go on to finish the game with 5 more successful passes played than his usually dominant midfield partner Jorginho, despite being substituted in the 72nd minute.

Chelsea front 3 show the perfect balance

In terms of Chelsea’s attacking intent, all eyes were naturally going to be on the effect or otherwise of Romelu Lukaku.

Scoring one goal, and only denied a second a second by a stunning save by Bernd Leno, he delivered an all-round masterclass in what a team would want from a lone front man. He looked like he relished the physical battle, bullying Pablo Mari in particular, while completing 19 of his attempted 20 passes and creating 3 shooting attempts for his teammates.

Equally impressive though were the roles played by Mason Mount and Kai Havertz.

Mount was functioning in a slightly different position than he would be used to and was not massively involved in the overall game by his own standards. But the contributions he did make were key, even when it meant not actually touching the ball.

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The England international operated high in the channel to Lukaku’s right, essentially up against Arsenal left back Kieran Tierney. The problem for Tierney though of course was that he also had Reece James to worry about and this was a huge issue for both goals.
For Lukaku’s opener, Mount makes a perfectly timed out-to-in run that takes Tierney away with him and gives James the time and space he needs to deliver the assist.

For the second goal, he drifted infield to receive a pass from the Chelsea left but was still in a zone that again affected Tierney’s positioning, before sliding the ball outside of the Scot for James to finish himself this time around.

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Havertz meanwhile was causing huge problems for Arsenal on the opposite side by dropping deep in the build up phase but then reappear on the end of chances inside the box just seconds later.

The below images 6 and 7 are a little over 10 seconds apart and likewise images 8 and 9. This sort of movement is a nightmare for opposition players to try and track and the young German should really have ended up with at least one goal for his efforts

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Summary

There were two reasons why this was such a comfortable victory for Chelsea. Firstly, there is now a vast difference in the quality of player available to each manager. Funds certainly play a role in that but so to do the recruitment strategies at both clubs, an area Chelsea seem far superior in.

Secondly, and more worryingly for Arsenal, is how far Tomas Tuchel appears to be tactically ahead of Arteta. His clever use of Mount and Havertz positionally is in stark contrast to Arteta’s inability to see the need for Saka and Pepe to swap sides.

Chelsea have the look of a well-oiled machine already and while they may have tougher tests ahead it would be a brave man who would suggest that the addition of Lukaku hasn’t made them real title contenders.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Arsenal with new signing Sambi Lokonga showing flashes of quality while Smith Rowe was central to everything they did well, but with champions Manchester City up next things may get a lot worse before they get better.

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Shane Keegan

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