Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea: Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny on target as Gunners see off top-four rivals but lose Hector Bellerin to another injury
- The Gunners took the lead after 14 minutes when Alexandre Lacazette scored his 10th goal of the season
- Defender Laurent Koscielny made it 2-0 before half-time with a lucky goal that went in off his shoulder
- Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin left the pitch on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury in the second half
Let us take a brief inventory of life at Arsenal at the moment the first team walked out on to the pitch at the Emirates on Saturday night: the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, has left for Milan, and Sven Mislintat, the head of recruitment, is about to leave. Aaron Ramsey, one of their best players, is also about to leave.
Mesut Ozil, their best player and certainly their best-paid player, might as well be leaving. It appears he has departed spiritually, at least. He was named among the substitutes against Chelsea, which is an advance on his usual fate of being consigned to purdah but he did not play a minute in anger.
The manager says he has no money to spend in the transfer window. The most Unai Emery says he will be able to muster this January is a loan signing here or there. The owner? Well, Silent Stan Kroenke doesn’t say much and he certainly doesn’t spend much.
PLAYER RATINGS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH FACTS
Arsenal: Leno 6; Bellerin 6 (Elneny 72, 6), Sokratis 7, Koscielny 6, Kolasinac 6; Torreira 7, Guendouzi 6, Xhaka 7, Ramsey 7 (Maitland-Niles 68, 6); Lacazette 8 (Iwobi 67, 6), Aubameyang 6
Subs not used: Cech, Mustafi, Monreal, Ozil
Goals: Lacazette 14, Koscielny 39
Manager: Unai Emery 8
Chelsea: Kepa 6; Azpilicueta 7, Rudiger 6, Luiz 6, Alonso 6; Jorginho 6, Kante 6, Kovacic 6 (Barkley 63, 6); Pedro 5 (Hudson-Odoi 80, 6), Willian 5 (Giroud 68, 5), Hazard 6
Subs not used: Caballero, Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu
Booked: Luiz, Barkley
Manager: Maurizio Sarri 5
Referee: Anthony Taylor 6
Team P GD Pts 1 Liverpool 23 41 60 2 Manchester City 23 45 56 3 Tottenham Hotspur 23 25 51 4 Chelsea 23 21 47 5 Arsenal 23 16 44 6 Manchester United 23 13 44 7 Watford 23 0 33 8 Wolverhampton Wanderers 23 -4 32 9 Leicester City 23 0 31 10 West Ham United 23 -4 31 11 Everton 23 1 30 12 Bournemouth 23 -9 30 13 Brighton and Hove Albion 23 -7 26 14 Crystal Palace 23 -9 22 15 Southampton 23 -15 22 16 Burnley 23 -20 22 17 Newcastle United 23 -12 21 18 Cardiff City 23 -25 19 19 Fulham 23 -30 14 20 Huddersfield Town 23 -27 11
Emery had also admitted defeat against Chelsea would end Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Oh, and the academy manager, Per Mertesacker, chose to watch a basketball game instead of Arsenal v Spurs in the FA Youth Cup last week.
Those who thought they would soon be gazing out over a land of milk and honey once the benevolent dictatorship of Arsene Wenger was brought to its bloodless end have been left instead to contemplate a field liberally splattered with cow pats.
In short, it might be said that Arsenal were a side in need of a win when they emerged to face Maurizio Sarri’s team. It felt as if they were under siege, as if all the optimism that went with their long unbeaten run earlier in the season had disappeared and that the Emirates was about to turn toxic again.
In the circumstances, Chelsea – or at least this limp, lame, lamentable incarnation of Chelsea – were sent to them from heaven. Arsenal were superb from start to finish, full of energy and verve, always first to the ball, never allowing Chelsea to settle, swarming all over their opponents and punishing their defensive lapses.
Even if the list of Arsenal’s misfortunes is long, they do at least in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, possess two fine strikers. Which is two more than Chelsea. Gonzalo Higuain is said to be arriving at Stamford Bridge to fix that problem this week but against Arsenal, Sarri’s side were hopelessly without a focus for their attack.
Eden Hazard had one of those games where he looked only semi-engaged and without him at his best, his team lacked threat. Jorginho is still struggling to make a real difference, N’Golo Kante has been emasculated and their defence was back to its porous worst. Sarri-ball, much lauded and much anticipated, has not exactly taken the Premier League by storm.
Lacazette had a lot to do when he collected the ball inside a congested penalty area but he managed to find space to shoot
The French striker unleashed a rocket of a shot with his right foot and players watched on as it soared into the back of the net
Lacazette looked supremely confident as he wheeled away to celebrate after giving Arsenal an early lead against their rivals
It was not a surprise that Sarri eviscerated his side after such an execrable display although the ferocity of his attack was a shock to those not aware of similar outbursts that peppered his career in Italy. Sarri was merciless in his critique of his players afterwards. He called them gutless. He said they did not lose because of tactics. He said they lost because they lacked determination.
He spoke through an interpreter at his post-match press conference because he wanted to be certain the full force of it was not lost. ‘I want to send a message to my players,’ he said before he began in earnest, ‘and I want my message to be very clear. I’m extremely angry, very angry indeed.’
By the end of the match, in fact, it felt as if Arsenal and Chelsea had changed places when it comes to the problems they face. Much more of this and the Premier League table will reflect that, too. Arsenal would have been nine points behind Chelsea if they had lost this clash. Now the gap between Emery’s side and fourth place is just three points. No wonder the Arsenal boss raised his hands in the air at the final whistle.
Perhaps that was why this felt like such a pivotal performance. It could be the game that changes everything for both teams. Arsenal, with Manchester United breathing down their necks, were starting to look bedraggled and woebegone. Now, having outplayed their London rivals so comprehensively, they are looking up again, not down.
Chelsea No 30 David Luiz became the first player to be shown a yellow card when Anthony Taylor punished him for a foul
Things soon got worse for Chelsea when Koscielny stooped to head the ball goalwards but scored with his shoulder instead
Koscielny, Jorginho and Arsenal No 8 Aaron Ramsey watched on as the French centre back’s untidy effort looped towards goal
Kepa Arrizabalaga (in green) was wrong-footed by Koscielny’s effort which went into the left side of the Chelsea keeper’s goal
A huge Gunners flag was waved by fans at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal players celebrated their second goal of the match
There was only one reason to be downcast for Arsenal and their supporters: Hector Bellerin, just back from injury, fell to the floor without being challenged midway through the second half, his knee crumpling beneath him. He was carried from the pitch on a stretcher, cheers of sympathy ringing around the ground as he was born down the tunnel.
Arsenal nearly scored inside the first five minutes when Bellerin threaded a ball outside Marcos Alonso for Lacazette to run on to. There are doubts about how well Lacazette and Aubameyang gel in attack but this time the France forward found his partner with a fine cross only for Aubameyang to flick it wide.
Arsenal swarmed all over Chelsea in the early stages and forced another chance when Xhaka’s high cross was met by a tremendous leap from Sokratis at the back post only for his thudding header to go wide of Arrizabalaga’s left hand post.
Chelsea were in disarray at the back. Arsenal should have scored after 13 minutes when Koscielny ran on to a free kick unmarked but directed his header straight at Arrizabalaga from point blank range. The ball hit the goalkeeper in the chest and ballooned over the bar.
It was only a brief reprieve. Arsenal took a short corner and Bellerin played the ball in low to Lacazette, who had his back to goal. Lacazette was allowed to turn. He wriggled his way past anaemic challenges by Pedro and Alonso and then drilled his shot high past Arrizabalaga. It was a fine goal, aided by awful defending.
Arsenal captain Koscielny looked more than a little sheepish as he celebrated his goal while wearing a cheeky grin on his face
Alonso, his team-mates and Arsenal’s defenders all watched on as the ball rebounded back off the post just before the interval
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri looked frustrated as he checked his watch while prowling the touchline on Saturday evening
Roused at last from their torpor, Chelsea began to fight back. Luiz found Pedro with a deft chip over the defence and Pedro controlled it, turned and lobbed the ball over Bernd Leno. There was a pause as the ball hung in the air but when it fell to earth, it landed inches wide of the upright.
Chelsea tried to claw their way back into the game but Arsenal nearly extended their lead eight minutes before half time when Kolasinac capped a fine run to the byline by pulling the ball back for Aubameyang. The ball was behind him, but Aubameyang hooked it acrobatically towards goal. It flew just wide.
Again, it was a brief reprieve for the visitors. Again, they failed to clear a set piece and when the ball was volleyed back into the box by Sokratis, Koscielny was left in splendid isolation to try to nod it in. He mistimed his header and the ball looped off his shoulder in a perfect arc that took it lazily into the roof of the net.
Arsenal nearly gained a foothold in the game on the stroke of half-time when Alonso rose to meet a cross from Willian and saw his header cannon off the outside of Leno’s right hand post and bounce away to safety. A goal then would have been more than they deserved.
Chelsea survived a desperate goalmouth scramble midway through the second half that would have put the game out of reach but it was a hollow victory. Chelsea never looked like causing Arsenal any real discomfort. All that was left for them was the wrath of Sarri.
All seemed to be going smoothly for the Gunners but they were dealt a blow when Bellerin went down holding his left knee