Arsenal 2 Chelsea 0: Gunners take aim at top four with gritty win

Dynamism was the dish of the day at the Emirates on Saturday as Arsenal powered their way to victory over Chelsea in the Premier League.

Stung by an abject effort at West Ham last week, Arsenal fans were looking for a reaction from the team and the XI who took to the pitch provided it, moving into a commanding lead before controlling the second half of the match impressively.

Victory moved Arsenal back up into fifth place in the league, just three points behind Chelsea, and four points off Tottenham, who play on Sunday.

The first-half performance, while not perfect, was everything the West Ham match was not. It was packed to the rafters with energy and intent, it was a glorious throwback to September and October when Unai Emery was stamping his style on this team.

Somewhere over the Christmas period the team lost its shape and its identity, perhaps in a miasma of injury and workload, but this was back to basics stuff.

Many were unhappy with the trio of Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi in midfield but, as I said on Twitter, it stank of pressing and tenacity, and so it proved in the opening 45 minutes.

That’s not to say Chelsea didn’t have their moments, but it was the sort of blood and thunder stuff from Arsenal that was so absent from the London Stadium seven days ago that it caused genuine worry for fans.

Clearly, work was done on the training pitch during the week and it showed. Players were controlling space, harrying and hassling, and forcing errors from their opposite numbers. It didn’t always work but what was important was that they worked and stuck to their task.

As listless as they were against West Ham, they were all singing from the same hymn sheet against Chelsea. Even the front two, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who were so anonymous last week, were involved in winning the ball back.

The only thing missing from the half was the goal that Aubameyang’s overhead kick deserved. It would have been a real moment to savour from a special player indeed.

With the lead established, the job for the second half became less about adventure and more about the sort of conservatism we have seen on occasion from Emery’s side, much more so than his predecessor, who advocated the pursuit of goals at all times.

It made for a squeakier bum than most of us would have liked, particularly given our defensive record, but it spoke to a greater pragmatism from the new boss.

Our threat going forward was much reduced in the second half and the decision to remove Ramsey and Lacazette reinforced the changing momentum of the game.

Chelsea had plenty of possession in dangerous areas in the second half and threw numbers forward in a bid to get back into it but Arsenal did superbly well to funnel them into tight spaces, making it difficult for them to really test Berndt Leno’s goal.

In fact, it is difficult to recall a clear cut chance the visitors fashioned in the second half as the Gunners rearguard performed mightily under pressure, even up against the talents of Eden Hazard.

The only real point of frustration was the carelessness from Arsenal in possession for most of the second half, especially after Ramsey and Lacazette left the pitch. For about 25 minutes we failed to string more than two passes together and, when we won the ball back in our defensive third, more often than not we chose to pump it into space instead of find a more sensible out ball.

It allowed Chelsea to build a great deal more pressure than any of us would have liked and it more or less neutralised Aubameyang in the second period.

Most pleasing of all (aside from three points, of course) was the clean sheet for Leno and the beleaguered back four. We were certainly due a blob in the conceded column and it was good to have done so largely because of our own good work, and not through good fortune.

The only think to mar an otherwise enjoyable evening was the serious injury sustained by Hector Bellerin. So soon after returning from a calf injury, our foremost right back suffered what looked to be a nasty knee injured. Given the obvious pain he was in on the pitch and the manner of his departure from it, I would be dumbfounded if we saw him again this season.

However, that remains a problem for another day. For now, we can rejoice in a performance that was much more about personality and determination than anything we have seen from Arsenal this year.

If we can work from this as a blueprint, we will give ourselves a chance of competing for much longer this season.

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