Arsenal picked up their first point at Stamford Bridge in six years. In a combative, tense Sunday afternoon encounter in west London, the Gunners produced a performance far better than any expected.
A season riddled with negativity and crises has had few moments of positivity. Wenger witnessed his side get decimated against Liverpool a few weeks ago, and had to battle back from behind against FC Koln in midweek.
The absences of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez fed the pessimism in the build-up to the match. Wenger’s side have a dire record at their rivals’ ground in the last few seasons, and everything looked bleak.
Another harrowing afternoon would have likely brought protests, and the criticism from media would have been even sharper than before. Ozil spoke out against this during the last international break, but that will do little to limit the negative comments if the Gunners underperform as severely as they did against Liverpool again.
Arsenal got it right?
Chelsea were far from their best on Sunday, but that was in part because of how much Arsenal got right. Wenger had his team set up correctly, and each individual performed to an acceptable standard, vastly in contrast to their humiliation at Anfield.
Wenger spoke after the Chelsea result about how important the performance was at Chelsea. He said, “It was vital for us even above the result to come out with a solid performance on that front.”
Hector Bellerin joined Wenger in praising their performance. The right-back said: “Sometimes there’s games that are not going your way and that doesn’t mean the team is not good enough. We’ve had a few good results in the past week, we’ve got the confidence back and were ready to beat Chelsea. It wasn’t to be, but I think we have to take a lot of positives from the game.”
We cannot deem this a season-altering change at this juncture, but it was a pleasant surprise for all those associated with Arsenal, as Ian Wright mentioned on Match of the Day 2.
Wright has been outspoken in his criticism of Arsenal recently, and rightly so. They are just one point behind Tottenham, and three behind Chelsea after a supposedly disastrous opening few weeks of the season. Before Arsenal face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in November, their fixture list looks kind. West Bromwich Albion visit the Emirates next weekend, Brighton make the trip to north London after that, then it’s away days at Watford and Everton before Paul Clement’s Swansea go to the capital.
This is Arsenal’s chance to make up the little ground they have lost on their rivals.
The display at Stamford Bridge was excellent, particularly in the first half. Their pressing of Chelsea’s back three pinned the Blues in, and the performances from Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka were as good as we have seen when they have been paired together.
Can Arsenal replicate a team performance of this level?
Danny Murphy and the aforementioned Wright led the praise for the midfield duo, but rightly raised the question of whether Arsenal can replicate a team performance of this level.
Wenger labelled Sunday a ‘great performance’, but Arsenal could easily undermine that if they fail to win their next four. With tough fixtures for many of their top six foes, the Gunners should be in a position of comfort when they face Pep Guardiola’s side on November 5th.
It all feels awkwardly familiar for the Gunners. Autumn is often a time of hope and optimism at the Emirates, before it all comes tumbling down. We can already see that pattern developing.
The Guardian’s Barney Ronay sums up how we should look at Arsenal after the match with Chelsea, “it is far too early to interpret the spirit shown in the past two games as some kind of turning point.”
And yes, it is. Wenger’s side will still be underdogs against Manchester City, and the chances of a heavy defeat are still high. Much greater things are required for any assumption that Arsenal can right the wrongs that have hounded their top six meetings for years. Recent success against Chelsea do, however, are a small step in the right direction.
Arsenal should be a top four side by the time they face Guardiola’s free-flowing City. That fixture – and the following clash with Spurs – are when we find out if Arsenal have turned a corner. Until then this season looks primed to follow a familiar storyline.