Chelsea nullified Arsenal’s recent form and attacking threat to secure the point that Jose arrived at The Emirates for. We predicted it. The majority of the press and 90% of fans predicted it.
What’s probably more interesting is how it happened and the one key battle that kept the scoreline in Chelsea’s favour.
Jose’s Tactical Mind
One of the things I love about football are the patterns it throws up if you look closely enough. Yesterday, a surprise to most people, not least myself, was the lack of a recognised striker in the Chelsea starting line up. But it would be foolish to think that Jose was experimenting. A quick scan of the memory banks or flick through Jose’s time at other clubs and you’ll usually find a pattern. In this case, dig into the Premier League archives from the not too distant past and one game stands out amongst the rest. The frankly dire 0-0 draw against Man Utd at Old Trafford on 26th August 2013.
That day, Jose ‘surprised’ everyone by playing Andre Schurrle as a false 9 for the first hour. Here’s how that game played out:
Man Utd – 57.6%
Chelsea – 42.4%
Man Utd – 12
Chelsea – 8
Now let’s compare those numbers against yesterday’s game at The Emirates:
Arsenal – 58.3%
Chelsea – 41.7%
Arsenal – 12
Chelsea – 7
Call it a coincidence if you like. To me that’s a pattern. Just like the Man Utd game last week, Jose mapped out his team’s performance by using a tactical blueprint he first tested at Chelsea almost two years ago. He kept the card in his pocket waiting for the right time to play it again. He waited almost two years. That’s genius.
Besides, you can only draw 0-0 against what’s put in front of you.
To emphasise a point Jose made post-match, Arsenal were as boring in attack as Chelsea were in their team performance.
The Key Battle: Azpilicueta v Ramsey
I can begrudgingly admit that Giroud’s performances of the last few weeks have been pretty special but a key reason that Arsenal are where they are in the table at this stage of the season is due to their midfield chipping in with a hefty percentage of goals. Giroud isn’t the striker to carry all that weight on his own shoulders – in a dry patch he couldn’t hit a barn door and in the big games he seems conspicuous by his absence.
And besides the headline grabbing Sanchez, for me Aaron Ramsey is Arsenal’s consistently star performer having finally put numerous injury setbacks behind him. Yesterday he too was strangely quiet. Not one to usually go missing in the big games, there must be a reason he didn’t shine.
The number one reason: My man of the match against Arsenal, Cesar Azpilicueta.
A fascinating player, whose performances when the pressure is on, have been mindblowing. Yesterday was arguably his best. Let’s have a quick look at his numbers:
To put that into perspective, the other 3 defenders in the back four made 2 tackles between them. Azpilicueta made 5 times more tackles than the rest of the defensive back line put together.
Of course, the other defenders had invaluable performances and statistics in other areas (in fact JT made more clearances in yesterday’s game than he had in any Premier League match in the last 3 seasons), but his tackling isn’t actually where I believe his game was most important. Let’s go back to Aaron Ramsey.
Prior to yesterday’s game, he has played Arsenal’s last 3 games in an advanced right wing role. Which is where he lined up yesterday making him Azpilicueta’s natural 1v1 battle.
In those 3 games (one of which he only played 60 mins), he managed to get away 8 shots (50% of which were on target), put in 2 key passes and went on 5 dribbles.
Now Ramsey’s numbers yesterday when up against Azpilicueta:
Shots on Target: 0
Key Passes: 0
I think you know where I’m going with this. Ramsey’s threat was cancelled out by a stunning defensive performance by Chelsea’s full back for the whole 90 minutes. As simple as that.
Now whether what we saw was Ramsey having a poor game, Azpilicueta nullifying his threat or a combination of both, I’ll let you make your own minds up and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
The irony of all this is that, with the PFA Team of the Year announced just before kick-off, of our regular back four only Azpilicueta missed out. It’s probably something to do with needing to balance the team with players from other clubs, but on this performance he’d walk into my team of the year.