Chelsea made sure to ensure that a sub-par Arsenal performance did not go unpunished and dismantled Arsene Wenger’s side 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte’s side finally got the avenge that 3-0 defeat that they suffered at the hands of the Gunners earlier in the season with a resounding victory of their own.
It was that defeat against Arsenal, in which Conte had first switched to the 3-4-3 formation and yesterday and yesterday the visitors witness the full extent of Chelsea’s 180° turn in fortunes since that fateful day in September.
This result helps Chelsea maintain their 9 point lead at the top of the table after Tottenham’s narrow victory against Middlesbrough. They are now 9 points ahead of second placed Spurs, 12 points ahead of 3rd place Arsenal and 13 points ahead of 4th placed Liverpool and 5th place Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
This is now Chelsea’s title to lose, and this victory is a large step toward getting both hands on the trophy come May. We take a look at some of the key talking points from a Blues masterclass at Stamford Bridge.
‘Kante’ Stop, Won’t Stop
The newest joke doing the rounds on the internet is that N’golo Kante’s treadmill gets tired before he does. As funny an over-exaggeration as it may be, those who have followed the Frenchman’s rise from his days at Leicester will know that it isn’t as farfetched as it is meant to sound.
Kante ran the show from the middle of the park and Arsenal’s injury crisis in midfield made it all the more easier for him to establish his dominance. A midfield of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coquelin were hardly a match for Kante alone. Bring Matic into the fray and they never stood a chance.
The 25-year old was immense for the Blues in midfield. He ran Arsenal ragged, breaking up attacks, intercepting passes and just constantly putting pressure on any opposition player who happened to come in possession of the ball in the middle of the park.
Recently, Wenger revealed how he missed an opportunity to sign N’golo Kante for himself. Such a statement could not have come at a worse time as he had to watch the former Leicester man harass his players and destroy his side’s gameplay all over the Stamford Bridge turf.
If conceding an early goal wasn’t bad enough, Arsenal also lost out on Hector Bellerin soon after. After Diego Costa’s header rattled off the crossbar, Alonso and Bellerin leapt for the ball in an attempt to win the 50-50 challenge.
Alonso won the header, but many argue that the goal should have never been given as Bellerin took an elbow to the face from Alonso mid-flight as he headed it past Petr Cech. Bellerin took a nasty fall, with his head and back bearing most of the impact and as a result, had to be taken off.
It is impossible to get adequate air time on a jump like that without the use of one’s arms and unfortunately, Bellerin was on the receiving end of a flailing elbow. Thankfully, the Spaniard made a return to the stands in the second half quelling any fears of a head injury or concussion.
Both sets of fans and their managers had different opinions on whether that goal should have stood or not, but there was no intent on Marcos Alonso’s part to harm the Spaniard. Whether the goal was a foul or not is debatable but a retrospective sanction, which some are wishing on Alonso, is surely out of question.
Despite Chelsea’s dominance, they did need Courtois’ brilliance to save them on a couple of occasions. The Belgian’s outstanding performance has gone slightly under the radar due to his compatriot’s exploits on the other end of the pitch, but Courtois’ contribution should not be understated.
The Belgian’s 3 notable saves kept Chelsea in the lead and you could see how enraged the Belgian was at giving up his clean sheet after he helplessly watched on as Giroud headed in Arsenal’s first Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge in 4 years.
Had it not been for Courtois’ saves against Ozil, Welbeck and Gabriel, it would have been a completely different story and Conte will hope Thibaut continues his fine form if Chelsea are to maintain their stronghold at the top till the end of the season.
With rumours of Courtois’ summer departure to Real Madrid not going away, it remains to be seen how Chelsea and Conte deal with the problem of keeping him at Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, or worse, having to replace him in a market such as this.
Room For Improvement
‘Work, improve’. The 2 words most prevalent in each Antonio Conte press conference. The Chelsea boss will be livid at the way his side conceded a goal late in the game, and their missed chances over the course of the 90 minutes.
The fact that his side eventually did go on to win the game 3-1 is mere consolation for having given up the clean sheet so late. It will likely be the complacency in their defending that will anger the former Juventus gaffer the most. This was Conte’s reaction when Gabriel won a header,
— Deavy (@Deavy) February 4, 2017
That was assistant first team coach Angelo Alessio on the receiving end of Conte’s anger. Premier League rules don’t allow managers to step into the pitch themselves, a rule that the Blues will certainly be thankful for. Needless to say, those players certainly owe poor Alessio an apology.
Defending on the right is certainly something the Blues will have to work on. Victor Moses, despite his brilliance this term is still their most inexperienced defender in the eleven. Apart from that, Cesar Azpilicueta’s diminutive frame and inexperience at centre-back is something other teams have tried to target.
Diego Costa’s missed chances to score and set up his teammates is another thing Conte will want to talk to him about. Arsenal’s injury issues played an important role on Saturday and the aforementioned imperfections are something Conte will be wary of.