The major transfer question Arsenal and its manager faced during the transfer window was if the club would be able to hold onto its stars who were on the last years of their contract; Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil and to a lesser extent, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. As tempting as the offers bandied around, the Arsene stuck to his guns and decided to keep the duo of Özil and Sanchez and deciding the Ox wasnt worth the hassle and selling him off to Liverpool.
So with Özil missing from the team through injury and Sanchez on the bench at the start, the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was perhaps the first chance to see how the team would have fared this season without its two best players. Or perhaps a foretelling of how the team could hope to cope next season without the two players who don’t seem to be any closer to extending their contracts with the club.
The shape of both teams mirrored each other, both electing to go with the 3-4-3 they have deployed mostly throughout this season. For Arsenal, up front was Danny Welbeck, Alexander Lacazette and Alex Iwobi. Playing this formation, particularly the way Arsenal deploys it, means there is no space for a Number 10, necessitating the need for a creative player to be delayed on the wing. So where Mesut used to be deployed, Iwobi was.
From the start, it looked like it would be one of those Stamford Bridge games for the Arsenal. The home team pressed and harassed the backline at will and almost took the lead when Pedro was sent through with a over the top pass from Cesc Fabregas. Not like we have never fallen victim of such a pass against Chelsea before.
But gradually, Arsenal took hold of the game; the midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey were the pick of the lot, completely dominating the home team’s midfield and occasionally foraging forward with pace and trickery. The Welshman had the chance to put the Gunners ahead when he weaved and bobbed through the Chelsea backline and toe-poked the ball past Courtois. Unfortunately, the ball hit the post and Lacazette could not turn the ball into the net.
It looked like a different Arsenal to that which has visited west London for the past few seasons. The players were brave in the tackle, confident on the ball and determined in defence. Even Mustafi who was initially harassed by Morata, gradually found a way to handle him. At the end of the half, it was the home team that was praying for the referee’s whistle.
The second half was more of the same; Chelsea initially getting the upper hand and Arsenal gradually growing into the game as the half wore on. Even when the managers rang the changes and brought in their star men; Sanchez for Arsenal and Hazard for Chelsea, both teams were still equally matched.
There was a goal disallowed for Mustafi when he strayed offside from a Xhaka free kick and also a late red card for David Luis for a reckless challenge on Saed Kolasinac but it always seemed like a match that was destined for a draw. Unless the Arsenal backline decided to have a brain fart.
It might be only a draw but for the first time in many seasons, this Arsenal team will not be leaving Stamford Bridge with the tails between their feet. But as shown in previous matches, while playing three at the back serves to contain the opponents, it can also shackle the team’s creative outlets.
Following from this are a couple of pretty much winnable fixtures for the Arsenal. If they carry this performance into the coming matches and put together a winning run, the start of the season might not be as bad as feared.