Chelsea 2-4 Arsenal: The competition for a place in the Premier League’s top four and a berth in next season’s Champions League began to resemble a race to the bottom, with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United all stumbling in pursuit of the goal.
It was waiting for someone to take the initiative, and Arsenal made a decisive move with a 4-2 triumph over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The Gunners were in fourth place with games in hand a few weeks ago, only to suffer three defeats in a row: away to Crystal Palace, at home to Brighton, and at Southampton on Saturday.
Arsenal’s old flaws – a lack of battling quality, a tendency to choke under pressure – were all brought up in the build-up to this visit to Chelsea, where they began as underdogs with the pressure growing.
One win, no matter how meaningful, does not address all of the problems, but this was a night when Arsenal demonstrated that they do have hope for progress under manager Mikel Arteta – but they must demonstrate this ability again if they are to reach their objectives.
How they needed this, and how pleased they will be with how they took advantage of the opportunities presented to them by Chelsea’s defense.
Arsenal is still in fifth place, but they are currently only behind Tottenham on goal differential, with a north London derby at Emirates Stadium scheduled for May. What an event that promises to be.
With Alexandre Lacazette misfiring and no replacement brought in, Arteta’s decision to show Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the door by loaning him to Barcelona in January was understandably under investigation.
He needed to pull something out of the bag, and his solution was to bench the struggling Lacazette in favor of 22-year-old Eddie Nketiah.
Arteta admits that he has been unjust to Nketiah
Arteta was amply rewarded as Nketiah was in predatory mode, scoring twice, both times taking advantage of poor Chelsea defense and earning a standing ovation from Arsenal fans when he was withdrawn.
Arsenal now has a chance to finish in the top four, but can they muster the confidence to do so?
That is dependent on which Arsenal shows up. If the team has shrunk in recent games, they are likely to fall short. They’ll have a good shot if they play as they did here.
In a broader sense, Arsenal demonstrated once again that they have the foundation of a very successful team if they can recruit sensibly in the summer – with finding the appropriate replacement for Aubameyang being critical.
Aaron Ramsdale is a growing goalkeeper, Ben White and Gabriel form a solid central defense partnership, and they have two Premier League jewels in Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe for now and the future.
These are the foundations on which Arsenal should develop, and the reasons why were on display here.
Saka was just magnificent, particularly in the hectic first half when he tormented Chelsea’s left flank, setting up Smith Rowe’s goal, generating extra possibilities, and then scoring from the penalty spot in the dying seconds after being fouled by Cesar Azpilicueta.
This must be the result and performance that propels Arsenal into the crucial period of the season.
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Chelsea’s defensive problems have resurfaced
Chelsea had another bad night at Stamford Bridge, and it was yet another indication of the defensive flaws that are creeping into their style.
Chelsea should have enough points to finish third and advance to the FA Cup final against Liverpool, but defensive weaknesses must be a major concern for Tuchel.
They have now conceded 11 goals in their previous three games at Stamford Bridge, four in the league against Brentford, and four in the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.
Chelsea battled from the start, as they did against Brentford, with Antonio Rudiger out injured and Thiago Silva on the bench.
Andreas Christensen is likely to join Barcelona in the summer and looked like he was already in Las Ramblas in a miserable 45 minutes, sending a poor backpass to Nketiah for Arsenal’s goal before being gratefully replaced at half-time.
And then there’s Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku’s £97.5 million summer transfer from Inter Milan was supposed to be the final piece of Chelsea’s jigsaw after the Champions League victory. He appears to be a piece of another puzzle.
He was labored, lost too many physical and aerial confrontations, and snatched at too many opportunities before being substituted. Lukaku needs to produce soon but shows no indications of doing so.
This was Arsenal’s night, the night when belief was restored, the night when at least one of the top four contenders realized it may all still be up for grabs.
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