By Charlie Ryan
I woke up Sunday morning at 8:15 prepared to watch my club’s annual defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Having lost at these grounds over each of the past five seasons and being outscored 13-2, I hoped for anything but a blowout for Arsenal. Hell, maybe we could grind out a draw. After all, Arsenal was long overdue for a decent result at the Bridge. What came next was a performance that could springboard the Gunners into the form needed to claw back to the top of the table where they belong.
Chelsea got the ball rolling under the lazy midday sunshine of West London. Stamford Bridge was a sea of blue with a single drop of red: the Southeast End. Chelsea appeared the better team after dominating the opening stages of the game with spells of quality possession. Early on, Cesc Fàbregas created Chelsea’s best scoring chance of the game after playing Pedro through the Arsenal back line, only to have his shot saved by Petr Čech. As the game progressed, Arsenal’s press forced turnovers by denying space in the midfield for Fabregas to operate. Their high defensive line supplemented the press by forcing Chelsea into their own half, and allowed for the ball to be recycled quickly after winning back possession. Alex Iwobi did well to receive the ball between the lines, combining with Hector Bellerin on several occasions to play him in behind defender Marcos Alonso while Aaron Ramsey’s supporting runs kept the Chelsea defense busy. The best scoring chance came just before the half at the foot of the Welshman, whose mazy run through the opposing defense culminated in a skied rebound from Alexandre Lacazette after the initial shot hit woodwork.
As the second half got underway, it became increasingly clear that we would see a totally different Arsenal side, developing from one that looked progressive and calculated on the attack to one that looked organized and sturdy in defense. Shkodran Mustafi, the subject of a rumored loan move to Internazionale, silenced doubters with his shutting down of Álvaro Morata, one of the league’s hottest strikers. Mustafi matched the stocky forward aerially and physically, making eight clearances, the most of any player on the field. The Arsenal defense was not only fearless while defending, but smart when moving the ball upfield by playing intelligent passes to relieve pressure or to initiate a counter attack. Mustafi sent the away fans into ecstasy after his header from a free kick found the back of the net, only to have the goal called back due to his offside position. The introduction of Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez was matched by that of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, yet neither of the star wingers served to tremendously impact the game. In the end, neither side was able to find the net and the match ended in a goalless draw.
Arsenal left the Bridge having broken the curse that haunted them for five years, while reigning champions Chelsea were left wondering how they have only managed to defeat the Gunners once in their last five meetings. With a tactically disciplined, organized, and promising performance on both ends of the field, this point is one to savor for Arsenal coaches, players, and fans alike.