The quiet revolution that allowed Arsenal to overcome Chelsea at last

The improvement between the Arsenal that destroyed Chelsea on Saturday and the team that slumped to defeat against Liverpool on the opening day of the season was stark.

In a relatively short space of time, the team has progressed from porous and befuddled, to resolute and organised. So what was it about Saturday’s Arsenal that proved so crucial to their success?

At face value, you would assume that the scintillating attacking play was what really set the Gunners apart, against a Chelsea side unable to cope with the pace and intelligent movement.

But, for my money, the base for the win over Antonio Conte’s side was born in defence, and the great strides that have been made there in little more than a month.

Of course, the calibre of playing personnel has gone a long way to improving our performances on the pitch. The signing of Shkodran Mustafi and the return of Laurent Koscielny have transformed Arsenal into a different proposition in defence.

Against Liverpool, we fielded Callum Chambers and Rob Holding, two very inexperienced centre backs who are still learning their trade. Though the duo performed well enough, their lack of big match experience was badly exposed and, simply, it was a test that was above and beyond their abilities.

Against Chelsea, Mustafi and Koscielny were imperious for the vast majority of the match. They handled Diego Costa perfectly and have the makings of a genuinely world class centre back pairing.

But that’s not the whole story. Mustafi and Koscielny, in and of themselves, are only part of a larger picture, and not the masterpiece.

The real revolution, it seems, has been the vastly improved team effort in defence. Instead of leaving the job of stopping the opposition to Petr Cech and the back four, as was arguably the case against Liverpool, we now begin the process of winning the ball back from the front.

We have become proactive, instead of reactive, and the results are starting to speak for themselves.

According to Squawka, against Liverpool our tackle success rate was a measly 27 per cent, we won 56 per cent of our aerial duels, managed 17 interceptions, and made 11 clearances.

By comparison, we were much more successful against Chelsea. Our tackling was 47 per cent, we won 41 per cent of our aerial duels, made 24 interceptions, 22 clearances and completed 12 blocks.

And the involvement of those who sit in front of the defence was also more telling, and much more proactive.

Arsenal’s lone front man, Alexis Sanchez, was a case in point. Against Liverpool, from a defensive point of view, he made one tackle. Against Chelsea, he made two tackles, two interceptions, and a block.

He was far more focussed on winning the ball back and pressing the Chelsea defence than he was at Liverpool and the reward was obvious.

When Alexis’ effort is combined with the midfield (including substitutes) Arsenal made eight interceptions, three clearances, 11 tackles, and eight blocks in total.

Against Liverpool, they made seven interceptions, five clearances, six tackles, and four blocks in total.

The difference, therefore, has been decisive and it has been extremely effective. Arsenal have pressed more aggressively, tackled better, and retrieved the ball more proactively.

Instead of being caught over-committed in attack, they have been sensible and much more organised in their shape. And, crucially, instead of Alexis waving his arms around and urging his team mates to press as a unit, they have done it automatically.

There were a few instances were the high press created gaps for Chelsea runners beyond the advanced midfield but, thankfully, Mustafi and Koscielny were alert to deal with that threat when it arose.

All things considered, it was a super performance from the Gunners. It bore all the hallmarks of rigour and discipline that is needed to compete in the Premier League and sacrificed little of the attacking, free-flowing football that Arsene covets above all else.

It has been a long time since we have seen the sort of cogent performance that we saw yesterday, in which everybody was acutely aware of their role in the team, allowing everybody to pull in the same direction – both in attack and in defence.

It looked as if we had a style, something that has been missing, arguably, since the tiki-taka days circa 2008-2012.

It was a near flawless performance and doesn’t it feel good to say that.

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