Arsenal’s defensive masterclass starts at the top as victory at Chelsea sends them to the top of the Premier League

A 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge restored Arsenal’s lead over Manchester City

LONDON (AP) — The torrent that swamped Stamford Bridge in the hours leading up to Sunday’s game was little more than a touch compared to the storm that tore through west London for 90 minutes later in the afternoon. The biblical torrent led by Gabriel Jesus swept through Chelsea, the sky opened for Arsenal once again on their return to the top of the Premier League.

They look good there. No one seriously believes that this will last another 25 league games. Sooner or later, Manchester City will overtake them, but they will have to do very well to get away from them. Led by their ruthless forward three, Arsenal won’t let anything go once they get their claws in.

Edouard Mendy and company can attest to that. Arsenal’s forward three harassed him and the Chelsea line, giving them barely a second to check their angles and build from behind. All Thiago Silva could do was throw the ball into mid-range, where Gabriel and William Saliba were available to return it.

That is, of course, if they could carry the ball that high up the pitch. Only one Blue Chelsea player beat Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli’s six ball recoveries. Jesus won a pair of tackles and recorded the same number of interceptions, again as many as any opponent. He could even be found on his own third clearing the ball to safety. William Saliba deservedly won man of the match ball for his control of Chelsea’s attack, but the award for best defensive player could have gone to almost any player on this side.

Mikel Arteta is not always a manager who gets carried away by the praise of individual players or a select group, preferring to focus on the collective (or even the supporters who, according to him, “have transformed the club”). But he couldn’t help it when asked to reflect on the off-ball work of his forward three.

“They’ve been phenomenal,” he said. “They have a real will to do it. Now they are physically capable because they are a little more mature to do it and sustain it. The difference is to require them to do it and to feel what they are doing and how important and beneficial it is.

“Starting with Gabby [Jesús]. What he did today was phenomenal. Do you enjoy it? Yes, you have to do it,” Arteta said.

For Arsenal, defense started from the front. For Chelsea, there were two thick lines of papier-mâché to work through before anyone really looked capable of stopping their opponents. If this was part tactical (there seemed to be a deliberate strategy to let Oleksandr Zinchenko gravitate onto the pitch with Raheem Sterling poised to attack the space he left behind), there was much that could be attributed to the individual players lacking the intensity for the game. meeting today.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had said before the match that everything that happened was “nothing personal”. That was obvious. He did not play like a man with a point to prove against the team that had paid him to play elsewhere, the manager who had blamed him squarely for the fight that cost him the Arsenal captaincy a year ago.

For a moment in the first half it looked like Chelsea had Ben White trapped just inside the final third, Marc Cucurella paired up alongside Aubameyang. The Arsenal right-back took a step upfield towards the number 9, who offered no resistance. Entering their setup game was the Gunners, who spent much of this match running rings around an opponent over whom they now hold a 13-point lead.

The same difficulties suffered Kai Havertz. Where Arsenal defended as a unit, Potter seemed to have left his forwards out of defensive work. That could be justified if the strikers proved to be killers with the ball at their feet. Could not be farther from the truth.

Nearly all of Aubameyang’s eight clumsy touches, just two from the penalty area, were cheered sky high by the boisterous visiting full-back. His only shot was a tame effort skewed towards an opponent, a chance to capitalize on a rare Saliba parried error. Havertz was one of the main beneficiaries of Zinchenko’s space down the left, but when given the opportunity to attack him, he either missed his crosses or shot too close to Aaron Ramsdale. There is a prodigiously talented player, but one has to wonder if he is showing it consistently enough to justify a system that seems designed to maximize his qualities as a second striker, apparently at the expense of a seemingly inadequate midfield. and overflowed.

However, there is more to this than the individual. Arteta has had 150 games, 89 of them won but with many setbacks along the way, for Arsenal to function as it did today. Potter has had eight weeks, few of which have included significant time in training camp.

“We huff and puff, I thought,” acknowledged the Chelsea head coach. “You can see the difference between the two teams in terms of trust, points they have, structure and working together.” Those last two facets ring true. Potter built tactically astute sides in Brighton, but he took time, just as he will in West London. There were no moments when Chelsea clicked off a passing move the way Arsenal did en route to a Gabriel Martinelli effort in the first half. The Gunners have learned where their teammates will be at all times, with injuries confusing them. Chelsea still aren’t sure who they’re supposed to be with at all times.

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