Arsenal edge Chelsea to throw a cat amongst top four pigeons

Blues’ Champions League hopes take a hit after Emile Smith Rowe’s early winner

Arsenal celebrate Emile Smith Rowe’s early winner against Chelsea. Photograph:  Shaun Botterill/Getty

Arsenal celebrate Emile Smith Rowe’s early winner against Chelsea. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty

 

Chelsea 0 Arsenal 1

Although this result is unlikely to apply more than a temporary balm to Arsenal’s wounds, it could have major implications for Chelsea. The chasing pack will scent blood after this insipid performance from Thomas Tuchel’s side. They started with the wrong attitude and could not complain about their punishment, even if Arsenal’s goal was bizarre.

Tuchel will hope that the complacency has been drummed out of his players by the time they face Leicester in the FA Cup final on Saturday. Yet that is far from his only concern. Although Chelsea remain in fourth place with two games left, they are still not certain of holding off West Ham and Liverpool.

Chelsea caused their own problems. Nothing summed it up more than the mistake from Jorginho that led to Emile Smith Rowe scoring the winner for Arsenal, who held on for a win that lifts them to eighth and keeps their hopes of European football alive.

Perhaps Chelsea were already thinking about Wembley. A slow start had Tuchel struggling to contain his emotions. The passing lacked its usual zip and Chelsea’s complacency during the early stages was typified by Kai Havertz, who produced far too casual a finish when Arsenal suffered the kind of defensive malfunction they have experienced so often on this ground.

The moment called for a cold-blooded finish when Havertz whipped the ball away from a dithering Pablo Marí in the 10th minute. The closer Havertz got to goal, though, the less sure he looked. The forward grew uncertain as he advanced on Bernd Leno and he produced a weird finish in the end, letting Marí off the hook by spooning the ball over the bar, leaving Tuchel infuriated on the touchline.

It was such a poor finish from Havertz and the vagueness was replicated at the other end six minutes later. Disrupted by Arsenal’s determined pressing, Chelsea were struggling to play their way out of a tight position when Jorginho made matters worse with a moment of high farce, almost scoring a truly magnificent own-goal with a stray backpass.

It was astonishingly slack from a player who is usually so composed and although Kepa Arrizabalaga scrambled across to push the ball away from goal, the Chelsea goalkeeper was powerless to prevent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang collecting possession before giving Smith Rowe an easy finish.

At this point it should be stressed that none of this was on Arrizabalaga, who would have appreciated a quieter evening after being given a rare start in the league before his likely involvement against Leicester. It was on Jorginho, who failed to look properly before hitting his pass.

Arsenal’s Thomas Partey holds off Mason Mount during his side’s win over Chelsea. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/PA
Arsenal’s Thomas Partey holds off Mason Mount during his side’s win over Chelsea. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/PA

It was also a lesson for Arsenal about the value of making things happen with straightforward commitment. Wounded after their defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League, there was a steelier feel to the visitors. Smith Rowe and Martin Ødegaard flickered behind Aubameyang and there was some resilient defending from Arsenal when Chelsea began to stir, with Marí particularly vocal at the back.

Chelsea, who rested N’Golo Kanté and Antonio Rüdiger, increased the tempo as the half wore on. Inevitably Mason Mount led the fightback, only to see one goalbound shot saved by Leno and another blocked by Rob Holding. It began to feel ominous for Arsenal, who matched Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 system, and they had another escape when Christian Pulisic nodded over from close range.

All the same Tuchel needed far more urgency from his players. He exploded again when Havertz loped into the area before diffidently losing the ball in the 56th minute. Chelsea were in control of the ball after moving Mount into midfield and they were pushing Arsenal back, but they were struggling to create clear openings.

The hosts kept running into traffic on the edge of the area, even though the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi for the disappointing Billy Gilmour at half-time gave them another option in attack, and there were times when it was too easy for Arsenal to maintain a solid defensive shape.

Arsenal were working hard, with Smith Rowe an insistent presence and Bukayo Saka diligent at right wing-back before being replaced by Héctor Bellerín.

They restricted Chelsea to few clear openings and were rewarded for their spirit when VAR came to their aid after an hour, ruling Pulisic offside after the winger headed in a corner from close range.

It was turning into that kind of night for Chelsea. Bad decisions weighed them down. After 67 minutes, with Olivier Giroud introduced to give Arsenal a physical presence to worry about in the box, Kurt Zouma drew some quizzical looks from his teammates after stepping out of defence and smashing a long-range shot well over.

There were more anguished cries when Giroud slashed a chance wide. The pressure grew and Arsenal were hanging on a little at the end, Pulisic and Giroud going close. Ultimately, though, Chelsea did not do enough. Arsenal were deserved winners. - Guardian

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