Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 29th December 2019. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
Substitutes: Nicolas Pépé, Shkodran Mustafi, Emiliano Martínez, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Joe Willock, Emile Smith-Rowe, Tyreece John-Jules.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13 mins)
Yellow Cards: Ainsley Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Mattéo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Alexandre Lacazette.
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 42%
Referee: Craig Pawson
After just thirteen minutes, the answer to this question looked affirmative. A corner from Mesut Özil found the head of Calum Chambers, who deftly knocked the ball into space for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to open the scoring in our favour from point-blank range. From then onwards we were dominant, with superb passing moves, everyone knowing what they had to do and reducing space in the middle of the park. Mikel Arteta’s excellent 4-3-1-2 formation completely and utterly ran the show, with Mesut Özil triumphant in his fantasista role conducting proceedings. David Luiz was masterful, winning every ball, and being first to the tackle wherever he was needed. Unfortunately, we lost Calum Chambers after twenty-one minutes to an injury (replaced by Shkodran Mustafi) but still, the show went on. We were unlucky not to get more goals before the hiatus, but Arsenal went into the half-time break confident and ebullient.
It was a real shame that the match was not finished after the first half, as Chelsea started slowly and surely, to wake up and get into the game. Frank Lampard changed their formation during the break, and suddenly their 3-4-3 first half line-up (which we found to our advantage) turned into an nightmarish 4-3-3, which we found difficult to both contain, and ultimately break down. Now the match became a feisty and high-spirited one with tackles and subsequent free-kicks appearing all over the park. The game’s most controversial moment also became the turning point for the visitors. Jorginho, who was already on a yellow card for an earlier foul, pulled back Mattéo Guendouzi; surely this should have been a second yellow card and a sending off. Nope. At least not according to referee Craig Pawson, who decided to turn a blind eye to the incident. The visitors felt confident now, and the game was starting to turn in their favour; seven minutes from the end of the match, Bernd Leno unfortunately misjudged Mason Mount’s free-kick that gave the controversial Jorginho an easy task to equalise the scores. Three minutes later, we were caught again by a classic smash-and-grab movement; breaking out from one of our attacks on the Chelsea goal, the ball arrived at the feet of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who crossed the ball to Tammy Abraham, losing Shkodran Mustafi as he span around, and simply slotted the ball low and into the net past Bernd Leno. Despite a late strike by Joe Willock that went past Kepa Arrizabalaga’s post, that was it, really, sadly.
A very, very disappointing end to a match that started so well for us. But there were positives to take away from the game, namely the Mattéo Guendouzi-Lucas Torreira-Reiss Nelson midfield axis that worked well, as did David Luiz in defence, Mesut Özil as an unorthodox inside-left and the strike partnership looked committed and sharp as ever. Our work rate was superb, our commitment unquestioned; but we just could not hold on to our lead. Mikel Arteta has got a lot of work to do here, and with the transfer window about to be upon us next week, he must surely look to strengthen the squad as soon as possible. But, before all that, we have Manchester United here on New Years’ Day, and we simply have to win in order to get points on the board, otherwise we shall just drop down the Premiership table like a stone in a well. 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: Manchester United at The Emirates on Wednesday, 1st January 2020 at 8.00pm (Premier League). 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.