As first home games of a season go, yesterdays didn’t disappoint in the edge-of-your-seat stakes, although for a 15-minute spell under-your-seat might have been a preferable place to watch it from. With both Chelsea and Arsenal in the very early stages of adapting to new managers with new ideas, and both with defences akin to a boxer with a glass jaw, it was always going to be an interesting game and you’d have to say it lived up to that expectation.
We were lively from the off and Pedro’s early goal assisted by Marcos Alonso seemed to give our players the nod to the Arsenal frailties to be exploited, as well as the confidence to exploit them. Arsenal didn’t take their early chances, and they had them, highlighting our own defensive frailties just inside 20 minutes with Bellerin finding Aubameyang with space on the spot, only to see the final shot sail well over the bar. And it was a miss that was to prove costly as Morata, with only Mustafi for company latched onto Azpilicueta’s pass to slot past Petr Cech.
2-0 with just 20 minutes gone and we had the Arsenal defence on the ropes, so when Mkhitaryan failed to get them back into the game with an almost carbon copy of Aubameyang’s earlier miss just after the half-hour mark, we breathed a collective sigh and pressed again with Kante, then Pedro trying their luck…..and then Willian got careless. Like a gaping handbag in Camden Market, Willian’s lack of attention invited Monreal to rob him. Monreal accepted and the resulting ball to Iwobi, saw him set up Mkhitaryan, who gave Kepa no chance.
2-1, we go again – but with less accuracy it seemed, and with lessons apparently still to be learned, we concede again, straight down the middle from Iwobi. Who follows that up with another Arsenal offering to the heavens over Kepa’s bar and we go in, punch-drunk at half time.
Sarri had some thinking to do at half-time although possibly opted for a quick filter-tip behind the bike shed instead because we started with the same XI after the break and trade blows with the opposition once again. We tried our luck with a penalty shout as Papastathopoulos fell on a shot from Kante but was speculative in the extreme and as it turned out, not necessary because it was our double substitution on the hour mark that was to be Arsenal’s undoing. Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovacic replaced Willian and Ross Barkley (who had a decent game himself to be fair) and when the only response Emery had to offer was Aaron Ramsey, the look on Ozil’s face when he trudged off said it all.
A winner always looked likely once Hazard and Kovacic were on, joined for the last 15 minutes by Giroud who replaced Morata – and it eventually came in the 81st minute courtesy of an Eden Hazard pass to Marcos Alonso for the knock-out blow.
Overall, its probably the most I’ve enjoyed watching us for some time – albeit a bit mystifying for a 15-minute spell – and long may this attitude reign. For all the summer whingeing, whilst not Kante-esque in defensive play, Jorginho looks a good addition to the midfield, Kovacic really impressed for the short time he was on the pitch and even our not-ready-for-90-minutes Eden Hazard, looks on fire. Kepa, £71 million or not, might have the toughest job of the new players, unless Sarri can get his defenders to pull their weight.
Win, lose or draw though, it could be entertaining this season.