Arsenal (0) 0 Chelsea (2) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 22nd August 2021. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli; Nicolas Pépé.
Substitutes: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Nuno Tavares, Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Folarin Balogun, Sead Kolašinac, Aaron Ramsdale.
Yellow Cards: Pablo Marí, Rob Holding, Albert Sambi Lokonga
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 35%
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistant Referees: Constantine Hatzidakis, Neil Davies
Fourth Official: David Coote
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Chris Kavanagh; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
Welcome to the Emirates for the first home game of the season; today our opponents are Chelsea. The good news is that we have secured the services of Martin Ødegaard and Aaron Ramsdale, although the former is not available to play today because he is awaiting visa clearance. The bad news is that Ben White has been taken ill and Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson and Willian have all tested positive for COVID-19, and as such are unavailable for this match, but the fourth member of this particular group, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, has since tested negative, so he will be on the substitute’s bench this afternoon.
Within a minute, we had the first shot on goal, as Emile Smith-Rowe’s effort brought on a comfortable save from Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal. As expected, both teams spent the opening minutes of the match probing each other’s defence, and out on the left hand side, Kieran Tierney was finding spaces in order to get some low crosses into the Chelsea penalty area. The pace of our forwards were causing the visitors issues at the back, and it was against the run of play, when after fifteen minutes, Chelsea took the lead when their new striker Romelu Lukaku had the easiest of tasks to shrug Pablo Marí away to tap it into the net from point-blank range. Chelsea now had their tails up and their confidence on the ball became evident to see with constant raids on our goal. However, after twenty-three minutes, we managed to break out and Nicolas Pépé released Bukayo Saka in the left channel with a superb ball, but he was unlucky not to get a snap shot on the Chelsea goal, as a strong block from Cesar Azpilicueta meant that the chance had gone. Every time the visitors came forward they exposed our weaknesses at the back, and at times things look quite messy and disorganised. Ten minutes from the break, Kieran Tierney was exposed out on the left, and as Mason Mount slotted the ball over and into our penalty area, Reece James was left with the simple act of scoring the second goal of the match for the visitors. Shortly afterwards, we had a surefire penalty call denied when Bukayo Saka was clumsily brought down in the Chelsea penalty area by Reece James but unbelievably referee Paul Tierney ignored our pleas. Just before the break, we started to apply pressure on the Chelsea goal, and won a couple of hard-earned corners, but we ended the half two goals down, sadly.
Chelsea started the second half in earnest and almost immediately placed us onto the back foot by pressurising us into our own half. Kieran Tierney lifted the crowd with some inspired play, and using his example as a lead, we took the match to the visitors, and a long-range shot from Bukayo Saka was tipped over the bar by Edouard Mendy. Pablo Marí was unlucky not to score when his header went over the bar, and a few minutes later, Bukayo Saka was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and almost immediately his presence lifted the team; in fact within a minute or so, he had an excellent goalscoring chance which was pushed aside by the Chelsea goalie. We started to look a little more lively, and sadly Kieran Tierney picked up an injury which left him with a limp. Minutes later, he was replaced by Nuno Tavares, who promptly got himself booked for a foul on Romelu Lukaku. Somehow, a header from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the penalty area gave a chance for Emile Smith-Rowe to score, but sadly Edouard Mendy was first to it. Bernd Leno made a fantastic save from a header by Romelu Lukaku when he pushed the ball onto the bar and over, and with ten minutes remaining, Folarin Balogun replaced Gabriel Martinelli, which invigorated the team, as we started to push the ball around better and created chances in their penalty area. We appeared to run out of steam towards the end of the match, which the visitors sensed and tried to grab a third goal, but thankfully we managed to stand firm at the back. In the three minutes’ injury time, we simply did out best to contain the ball and keep Chelsea out, which we achieved, but either way, the two goals that were scored in the first half were the difference between the clubs today.
Not surprised at the result, but disappointed overall. Despite spending more money than any other club in Europe on transfer fees in this window (£130m), the hard and bitter truth is that clubs such as Chelsea are so much ahead of us now, and with no European football in the near distant future at the Emirates, it’s hard to see how we can attract top, experienced players to turn this around. Never in our history have we been in this position quite so early in the season, and with Manchester City being our next opponents in the Premiership, this situation is starting to look bleaker every week now. What is to be done? We know that we have several players to return from injury and illness, but even so, they may not be enough for us to finish in a high enough position at the end of the season in order to be in Europe for the next campaign. The senior players are not stepping up to the plate, there are no on-field leaders and the team appears to be directionless; even if Mikel Arteta stepped down tomorrow, we would still have the same set of players and as it stands, that may not be enough to get us where we should be historically, as many of our squad are young, inexperienced players. This is truly going to be a more difficult season than most of us ever imagined. Tough times ahead for us all.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Wednesday, 25th August at 8.00pm (EFL/Carabao Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.