In the build up to yesterday’s game, it felt like the team sheets, when they were released, would offer a lot insight into how the game would play out. Both Arsenal and Chelsea have two default ways of approaching a tie – either they go with their preferred, more expansive 4-2-3-1 formations; or they play a more conservative 4-3-3 shape. When the line-ups were announced it looked as though we were in for an exciting, open contest with plenty of chances for both sides, with each manager having selected four attacking midfield options. But what we got instead was an extremely tight, cagey, tactical game of football, in which neither side dominated, but in which one side also was in complete control throughout.
It has to be said, this was probably the most impressive away performance Arsenal have given at a top Premier League side for some time. Despite conceding a not negligible height and weight advantage in the middle of the park they remained solid and gave as good as they got in terms of pressing – even without their two most reliable central midfield players, I thought they did an admirable job.
We most certainly weren’t to be out done however. These gritty, physical match-ups are what Jose Mourinho sides are built for. They’re also what players like Oscar are made for, with the Brazilian on hand to make so many crucial blocks and interceptions, despite starting in relatively advanced position. Contributing excellently to both sides of play, this was Oscar at his best, always in the game and always constructive with possession. Even Cesc Fabregas was contributing defensively, most memorably in one passage of play, taking the ball off Mesut Ozil and leaving the German flat on his face.
Ultimately, Chelsea’s superiority shone through in two areas, the first being what is commonly referred to as ‘game management’. In matches such as these, where chances are so few, it’s imperative that you are able slow the game down during positive spells of possession for the opponent, and also that you take full advantage of your own more productive periods. Chelsea did this exceptionally well yesterday. Every time the visitors began to build up a head of steam, we dropped back, stifled them and kept possession in our own half until the game returned to a comfortable pace, remaining continuously in control.
And of course, the other area in which we comprehensively outshone Wenger’s men was through the individual quality of our players. Often it takes ingenious isolated contributions from the best players to win games of this nature – moments of ‘individual magic’ – and yesterday we managed to produce two. Eden Hazard’s beautifully incisive glide through the defence, had it not been illegally ended by Laurent Koscielny, arguably would’ve resulted in one of the best goals ever scored at Stamford Bridge (how the Frenchman only received a yellow card was baffling). The Belgian still managed to finish with some class, rolling in the penalty kick with audacious effortlessness.
Our other moment of top quality then came in the second half, when Fabregas played through Diego Costa to score his 9th goal in just seven league matches. It’s a testament to the sheer consistency of Fabregas’ brilliance that despite the fact Costa wasn’t in camera shot when the long pass forwards to him was made, there existed absolutely no doubt in my mind where the ball was going to end up. The pass was perfect in its weight and accuracy and Costa’s finish was wonderfully composed also, waiting as he did to just lift the ball over Wojciech Szczesny’s head and into an empty net. Already just seven game-weeks into the season and I think I’ve ran out of ways to describe the just how sensational both Costa and Cesc have been since arriving at the club. Both seem to be occupying their ideal roles at the moment. Their understanding with their teammates and with each other in particular has transformed this side into quite possibly the most well-balanced, technically skilled Chelsea team I have ever seen. It’s extraordinary just how average they’ve managed to make some of the best defenders and midfielders in the country look so far and long may they continue to do so.
Two negative points to make however following yesterday’s win, firstly include some strangely suspect work from the medical staff who allowed Thibaut Courtois to carry on playing for a further 10 minutes, following a collision with Alexis Sanchez, before eventually taking him to hospital with a concussion and with blood coming from his ear. Far be it from me to suggest to Dr Eva and co how they should do their jobs, but even if there is a chance of a potentially serious head injury (as their clearly was) and with one of the best goalkeepers of the past 20 years sat on the bench, why would they not order a for a substitution to be made? Very strange, I thought.
The one other disappointment to be aired was another poor performance from Andre Schurrle, who struggled to impact the game going forwards in any meaningful way. At the start the season I felt the German was worth persevering with in the first team, for the goals he will inevitably provide. In this form however, it seems wholly unfair that he should be denying a player like a Willian a place in the XI. His spot must surely be under threat after this international break.
And so we’ve arrived once again at one of those most unwelcome and annoying breaks in the club calendar season where everyone goes off to play a bunch of tediously predictable and largely irrelevant international qualifiers. They do at least (these breaks) provide an opportunity for more considered reflection upon the season to date, and right now, this season makes for some very enjoyable reflection from a Chelsea point of view. Five points clear at the top of the table. Tough games against Everton, Arsenal and Man City all very nicely negotiated already. New signings perfectly settled in, the entire squad all near enough fully fit and in-form, there really isn’t much that isn’t going absolutely spot on at the moment. All we can do for now and sit back and hope that Diego Costa returns with fully functioning hamstrings and that Courtois can make a full recovery in time for our next game against Crystal Palace. The blue flag is flying extremely highly at the moment.