Hazard proves too hot to handle as Arsenal lose five-goal battle at Chelsea
Arsenal start season with two losses as Emery says he is looking for better 'balance'
18 August, 2018 — By Richard Osley at Stamford Bridge
FA Premier League
CHELSEA 3 (Pedro 9, Morata 20, Alonso 81)
ARSENAL 2 (Mkhitaryan 37, Iwobi 41)
NEITHER of these teams are likely to win the Premier League this season; Arsenal are now starting with a six point handicap after being flattened by two ‘top six’ teams, and Chelsea gave us more than a glimpse of their own fragility in defence and then a reliance on one standout player when the scoreline turned sticky.
The final result may sound familiar, but it was not quite same old Arsenal. Would Arsene Wenger have withdrawn Granit Xhaka at half time, or hooked Mesut Ozil after one of his more anonymous shifts? On a different day, they may even have come away with a point at least, given that both Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng and Henrikh Mkhitaryan painfully blasted gimmes over the bar in the first half. There were hints at something brighter this season. Alex Iwobi looked better than he has before and Mkhitaryan emerged from a slow start to look more threatening than he did during last weekend’s tepid defeat to Manchester City.
This apparently renewed battling spirit and a more dynamic response from the new Arsenal manager Unai Emery, however, could not mask trademark difficulties. The defence at times looked confused and, put baldly, too slow. Once more you wondered why the club’s former defender Steve Bould, still sitting on the managerial bench as an assistant, can watch the charades. What does happen in training?
It is of course a shame for Emery that he did not have a couple of simpler assignments in these opening two weeks to fasten the new personnel and tactics together. Chelsea happily accepted the invitation to run into vast spaces between defence and midfield and beyond the full backs. Pedro may not quite have believed how much room he was permitted to turn the opening goal past Petr Cech on nine minutes.
Alvaro Morata also had the luxury of Stamford Bridge to begin a foot race with the cumbersome Shkodran Mustafi shortly afterwards, twisting through before rolling the ball past Cech, who had already begun a slow motion dive the wrong way.
Chelsea’s own problems with defending were to be exposed, however. Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin was awol in defence but became a useful point of attack for Emery’s side. His combinations with Henrikh Mhkitaryan gave Marcos Alonso the same headache that Arsenal were suffering at the other end.
The Gunners drew level with two goals in four minutes. Alex Iwobi battled through to set up Mkitarayan, who powered a shot into the bottom corner. The Armenian then returned the favour of the assist by setting Iwobi up to crash home the equaliser. Chelsea had gone from coasting to crying out for the half time whistle.
Arsenal could not keep up the momentum after the break, despite a bright start and began to fade. And just as they did, Chelsea reached for Eden Hazard, the killer weapon, the best player on the pitch who you could forgive for considering his options. He could not be stopped here. The Arsenal players either could not get near him or were frightened of fouling him. He had almost set up a couple of goals by the time he steamed to the touch line and found Alonso for the decisive goal late on.
There was too little time for Arsenal to respond again, and despite all the excitement here, they have begun this crushing start to the new season with two defeats.
“I think today the team, after 2-0, the reaction was very good,” said Emery afterwards, answering press conference questions in English after they had been translated in Spanish. “We created more chances to score. 2-2 may have been short for us because we created more chances to score.”
He added: “In the second half, we had less moments and we conceded, when Chelsea had more chances to score. We need more balance, also with young players. We finished the match with midfielders who are 22 ad 19 in central midfield.”
There was then a hint of his more ruthless streak as he explained that he had taken Xhaka off at half time for “tactical” reasons and also because he had picked up a yellow card. Ozil, meanwhile, came off because the manager said he wanted Arsenal to “push” more.
CHELSEA: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Rudiger, Luiz, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley (Kovacic 60), Willian (Hazard 60), Pedro, Morata (Giroud 75)
SUBS NOT USED: Caballero, Christensen, Moses, Zappacosta
ARSENAL: Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Sokratis, Mustafi, Xhaka (Torreira H/T), Guendouzi, Mkhitaryan, Ozil (Ramsey 68), Iwobi (Lacazette 75), Aubameyang
SUBS NOT USED: Leno, Elneny, Lichtsteiner, Welbeck