Smith Rowe shines again
The goal from which Emile Smith Rowe scored his winning goal at Stamford Bridge may well have been a scruffy finish but his performance individually was anything but.
After impressing on Sunday against West Brom the 20-year-old was called upon by Mikel Arteta to start delivering game changing moments on a more regular basis and with his second Premier League strike in as many games the youngster more than obliged.
On a night when Arsenal spent most of the game soaking up Chelsea’s near-constant pressure, Smith Rowe ‘s jinking runs and dribbling ability quite literally dragged the Gunners off the pitch and offered some much needed respite.
For someone who comes across as so shy in his interviews the England under-21 international has a quiet determination to his game that means he is not afraid to take risks on the pitch which makes him enthralling to watch.
A nutmeg on the veteran Thiago Silva midway through the second half was probably the peak of his confident display, but so unassuming was the Hale Ender after the game that he didn’t even remember doing it.
“If it was I’ll take it,” he joked in his post match interview with Sky when asked about the piece of skill.
The Gunners are desperately trying to tie Smith Rowe – who current deal expires in 2023 – down to a new agreement as soon as possible.
Getting that done is a sign of proactivity when it comes to player contracts that has been sorely lacking in the past but as Arsenal look to the future it is undoubtedly a positive sign.
The 20-year-old is someone they have to build their side around next season and watching him grow and develop is one of the main things fans will be able to look forward to when they return.
Partey comes to the party
It has been a difficult period for Thomas Partey who was unable to find anything close to his best form for Arsenal during the crucial Europa League semi finals against Villarreal.
In fairness to him though the Ghanaian was tasked with covering more or less the entirety of the midfield on his own which is a tall order even for someone of his quality.
Injuries have hampered his ability to get a consistent run going for most of the season and a narrative has begun to emerge that his debut season in England has been one to forget.
In a different role on Wednesday night though the 28-year-old was able to remind those watching of how good he can truly be.
Instead of having to anchor the midfield, start attacks and build up play all by himself, Partey had the far more simple task of trying to stop Chelsea’s attacking players such as the in form Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic from causing the Gunners too much damage and he excelled.
It’s a role he has played on many an occasion during his time under the more defensive-minded tactics of Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and one that he is very good at.
His stats on the night more than backed up the sight test as well as he ended the game with the most tackles (5), most interceptions (3), most duels (12) and most ball recoveries (9).
The Ghanaian was probably helped by the fact that his midfield partner was Mohamed Elneny instead of Dani Ceballos on the night.
The Egyptian’s defensive presence in the middle of the park allowed Partey to focus more on his own game and he was the better player for it.
This should not be mistaken for a suggestion that Elneny is the long-term solution to partner Arsenal’s biggest signing from last summer, but in both victories at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford the pair have helped bring the best out of each other.
For Partey though the focus now will be on ensuring these types of displays become the norm going into next season. He certainly has the talent but just needs to show it on a more regular basis once he is finally up to full fitness.
Arsenal step backwards
If you look at the form table since Christmas it might shock you to see that Arsenal are actually in third position behind only Manchester United and Manchester City.
When you consider that it’s hard to argue too much against the progress the club has made since their last game against Chelsea where they found themselves on the brink of a genuine relegation battle before the Boxing Day victory proved a catalyst to turn their season around to an extent.
And yet as they defended their way to a win described by Thomas Tuchel as undoubtedly “lucky” it was difficult to see too much change from the side who had played the same opponents in last season’s FA Cup final in August.
Back then the negative style of football was deemed as something of a means to an end. Winning the cup meant that the Gunners would be able to qualify for Europe the following season and from there Arteta would be able to implement the attacking principles he had espoused when he first took over at the club.
From Boxing Day onwards it had felt like that was the case.
While the results had not been perfect, the 4-2-3-1 formation consistently adopted by Arteta had given the club an identity that it had lacked under the constant tactical chopping and changing of Unai Emery.
But in reverting to a back three it felt like a step backwards.
From Rob Holding ‘s comments after the game it was clear that Arsenal had been set up to focus on one-vs-one duels with the aim of nullifying the strengths of their opponents instead of focusing on their own ability as a team.
As the Gunners sat back from early in the game it became clear that all they were interested in was the win.
This was added to by the fact that as early as the 64th minute when Bukayo Saka was taken off in place of Hector Bellerin, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be seen yelling across the pitch “hey, hey B, time” encouraging his teammate to slow the pace at which he was exiting the field.
In fairness to Arsenal the plan did work. Chelsea were kept at an arms length for much of the evening and they returned to North London with a much-needed three points.
But if Arteta wants to build his side up into a top four team who can one day maybe even challenge for titles then a raft of one-off game plans simply isn’t sustainable.
When he took over most Gunners fans would have been hoping that timewasting tactics with a third of the game still to play would not be something they would have to stoop to, but that is the reality they face at the moment.
The best teams are not set up with the intention of stopping their opponents but instead with the intention of going out and winning matches on their own terms. However, at Stamford Bridge Arsenal did the exact opposite.
If Arteta wants to be a manager who is purely judged on results that’s no problem, but the Gunners current position in the Premier League would suggest he is thoroughly underperforming on that front.
A year and a half into his time at the Emirates it’s no longer clear what he is trying to do from a tactical point of view and while wins like the one on Wednesday night will do plenty to paper over the cracks in the short term, they’ll prove to be nothing but a sticking plaster if they’re not backed up by a more defined long-term plan.
Arteta vs the press
It was a night where the headlines coming out the game really should have been overwhelmingly positive for Arsenal.
The Gunners had ended a nearly decade-long winless run at Stamford Bridge and beaten arguably the most in-form side in world football right now in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Instead though the breaking news coming straight after the post-match interviews were around Mikel Arteta and his anger at members of the press.
“Nothing is broken, inside nothing is broken,” he told Sky Sports immediately after the game.
“I don’t know how hard you are going to try from the outside, but from the inside – no. They will try to put things on me that I never said.
“You can see the spirit of the team from the first minute. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing to be seventh, eighth or ninth you can see that and you can never doubt about their efforts and how much they try.”
When asked to elaborate on exactly what he was referring to the Spaniard went on to add: “Something that I didn’t say.
“I said that if I don’t get 120% from each player, then it’s my fault and my responsibility and it wasn’t like this in the press and I am so annoyed with that.
“My players, I will defend them in front of anybody for the rest of the time that I’m here because they deserve it, because they earn it every single day.”
“They’re not going to break that,” he said. “They can try, but they’re not going to break that.
“I know the chemistry we have, not only with the players, but with our staff, with all the coaching staff, with our board.
“They cannot touch that and if they try to touch it, it can be opinions but not saying something that I never said. I’m not taking that. This is the first time I’ve had to make my point.”
The Spaniard seems to be trying to create a narrative that the press are intent on trying to sew division within his camp, and in fairness he has every right to do that.
An ‘us vs them’ mentality can help strengthen unity within a squad and has worked for managerial greats of the past like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.
Also if he feels his quotes from his pre-match press conference were reported in a misleading manner then he is entitled to criticise those who he deems responsible.
But at the same time he must be aware of how it looks to have addressed the issue so publicly.
Arteta is an inexperienced coach and perhaps that has shown with the way he has chosen to handle this matter. But then again if strengthens bonds within the Arsenal camp it could be a master stroke of man-management.
However, from a narrative that surely would have been positive about the result the Gunners had been able to muster at Stamford Bridge if not the performance, instead the focus is now on the manager’s ongoing battle with the press.
In what is already a turbulent enough time at the Emirates, Arteta was given something an open goal both literally and in a metaphorical PR sense by Jorginho ‘s lapse in concentration on Wednesday night. It was one that he ultimately didn’t capitalise on.
Source by Football London