Saturday saw us recover from 2-0 down with just 14 minutes remaining to salvage a draw at Chelsea, maintaining our unbeaten start to the campaign and stunning the Blues with our resilience.
To assess how it happened, Adrian Clarke has poured through the match stats and action to pick out four key reasons we managed to fight back and earn a point.
Assertive second 45
Chelsea’s aggressive approach knocked us out of our rhythm throughout a disjointed first-half performance. Winning just 41 per cent of our duels, the home side led the shot count 7-2 at the break. Thankfully, from half-time onwards that pattern changed.
Coping far better with any hostility they encountered, Mikel Arteta’s players were more forceful and assured, coming out on top in 55 per cent of their duels in a much improved second half. This helped us wrestle back control of the match, which was vital in our attempt to overturn a 2-0 deficit.
We may have enjoyed less possession from half-time onwards, but far more of the contest was played in Chelsea territory, as you can see below:
This territory shift enabled us to ask more questions of Mauricio Pochettino’s rearguard, testing them with 11 shots, compared to Chelsea’s four from the interval onwards.
Playing 10-20 yards higher up the pitch we denied their twin false nines space to operate in, and successfully pushed the Blues back towards their own goal. This freeze frame below from the 52nd minute shows Gabriel and William Saliba deep inside Chelsea’s half playing a part in the build-up phase. The Brazilian's regular service into the feet of Gabriel Martinelli down the left was also a feature of the second half.
Wingers found their groove
Chelsea shackled our wide men by congesting their space very effectively during the opening 45 minutes, but the longer this match went on, the more joy we experienced down the flanks.
I felt our full-backs consciously tried not to get on top of Bukayo Saka, Martinelli or Leandro Trossard in the second half, tucking inside and staying a little deeper. This drew Chelsea’s wide forwards infield, which in turn afforded our wingers extra space to isolate Malo Gusto and Marc Cucurella in 1v1s.
Moving the ball quicker and longer towards them, they were able to run at their markers with significantly more menace. Our successful dribbles count stood at 0/7 at half-time but rose to 6/9 in the second period.
These touch maps from our wingers highlight how much more penetration they found. Early on Saka and Martinelli could not get anywhere near the Chelsea danger zone:
But during a much better second-half display (including Trossard’s touches), our wide players got in beyond the Blues' backline with far greater frequency:
Saka’s match-up against tenacious left-back Cucurella was a particularly absorbing watch. Marked touch-tight by the Spaniard, Bukayo won only two of nine first-half duels, but from half-time onwards he bettered Cucurella in eight of 11 as he stood up to his physicality.
Dissecting the goals
While good luck shone on Chelsea for both their goals - a contentious penalty and a mis-hit cross that deceived David Raya - there was real quality about our two late strikes. Declan Rice won the ball back eight times inside Chelsea’s half (compared to twice in his own half), and from one such turnover he produced a sensational first-time effort from distance.
Pouncing on a misplaced pass from Robert Sanchez, our summer signing made up two yards on a flat-footed Conor Gallagher with his bright anticipation, to produce the game-changing moment.
Using Enzo Fernandez as a marker, Rice’s exquisite curler gave us momentum to claw back a point that had seemed lost.
Rice was involved again in our equaliser just seven minutes later, intercepting a loose clearance, but a pair of crucial contributions from Ben White also made a huge difference. First, he played a brilliant one-touch pass inside to Kai Havertz that completely opened up the pitch (see pass in red):
Rather than standing still to admire his clever ball, White then proceeded to make a wonderful overlapping run around Saka:
This manoeuvre distracted Cucurella to such a degree that he passed Saka onto Noni Madueke, who was nowhere near tight enough to stop our No. 7 from delivering a pinpoint cross, which was controlled magnificently by Trossard’s right boot at the far post.
White will not claim an assist for this goal, but without his two excellent pieces of play, we would not have produced this leveller.
With Oleksandr Zinchenko on a yellow card while up against the in-form Raheem Sterling, it was a sensible move from Arteta to replace him with Takehiro Tomiyasu at the break.
Our Japanese international proved to be a calming presence, on and off the ball, and defensively he kept Sterling and Cole Palmer in check with his astute decision-making. Tucking inside he also helped us create plenty of central midfield overloads in possession, and his own passing was exceptionally accurate in tight areas as he made 20 successful passes from 21 attempts.
As we chased a way back into the match Arteta also made two separate double substitutions, all of a very attacking nature. Moving Rice into a single pivot, the manager reverted to a 4-1-4-1 shape, freshening up his attack with Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah on 68 minutes, before adding Havertz and Trossard 10 minutes later.
Smith Rowe did well off the ball in his cameo appearance, recovering possession for his team five times in just 29 minutes. Havertz was involved twice in the moments that preceded our equaliser; first winning a header from a long Raya clearance to push Chelsea deep onto the edge of their own box, before slipping that pass to Saka a few seconds later.
Winning three aerial duels, the German allowed us to play longer passes from back to front, while Trossard became the first player ever to score his first three Premier League goals for Arsenal all as a substitute.
It was a strike that means Arsenal have now netted five times from substitutes in the Premier League so far in 2023/24, a tally only topped by Brighton & Hove Albion. For the second match running, one of Arteta’s late changes conjured up a hugely important goal.
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