Chelsea’s Champions League run last season is probably what really brought to light Roberto Di Matteo’s reign at the club. It was the defence-first kind of football that just managed to take absolutely everything in the world that annoyed you and make it look like it was nothing. But it was that kind of negative football that won them Europe’s biggest trophy, it’s the same kind of football that England were so enthusiastic about over the European Championships and it did work to a certain extent.
So obviously, you wouldn’t expect Di Matteo to change his style much. Even the signings of Eden Hazard hasn’t added much in that regard. Last season, we saw just how tough they were to break down as the match ended in a goalless draw. Offensively we do have a little less to worry about. The absence of Didier Drogba is probably the most comforting thing going into this match.
Chelsea play a defensive 4-2-3-1. They look to contain the opposition, striking on the counter. The big problem here is that unlike the match against City, where we expected to dominate possession and did for the most part, we’re going to face a team that’s set up to draw the opposition in. Chelsea will definitely make it difficult to get through their backline as a result of that. The saving grace is that, apart from Mata and Hazard, they are generally very poor in possession (only completed 70.7% of their passes in the final third in the previous fixture) so we should be able to dominate the match.
As mentioned earlier, Chelsea will look to draw us in and hit us on the counter. As mentioned several times over the course of the season, Arsenal’s deeper line makes it tougher for us to be caught off guard. Less players are committed forward with the talent up front more than able to compensate. Again, the beauty of the 4-2-3-1 we play is that we’ll see the short triangles coming to good use in breaking Chelsea down.
We saw against City how their relatively deep line was constantly been drawn out by quick passing, leaving them open on multiple occasions for us to counter.
They play a very direct game as you’d expect. It left us really exposed at Stamford Bridge last season but a better defensive approach at the Emirates ensured that we got a point out of it, although we arguably deserved all three. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem this time around with Arteta sitting back to intercept long balls to Torres.
The man has a name that practically wants you to put him in this section. Eden Hazard is about as dangerous a player as you can get. Every team these days seems to have at least one all-round footballer. Hazard can pass, dribble, shoot and has the physicality to hold his own against stronger players. The Belgian almost seems to play in a free role so it won’t be easy to mark him either.
In the opening few games of the season he’s definitely had a few chunks kicked out of him by opposition defenders. It’s led to Chelsea having penalties and freekicks in dangerous positions. Arsenal aren’t exactly a rough team but a few mistimed tackles here or there and we could be in real trouble. At the same time, not aggressively closing down could lead to even more dangerous scoring opportunities.
The Weak Links
It’s not easy to pick any one player out as a weak link. Chelsea have good players who also happen to be prone to quite a few mistakes. Petr Cech has been quite poor over the last year or so. Players like Mikel and Ramires lose possession far to easily. With Torres you never know how many easy chances he’ll miss and how many difficult ones he’ll score. So it’s not a question of pinpointing a single weakness but trying to exploit Chelsea’s shortcomings as a whole.
Chelsea have only just scraped by in their games so far. Arsenal have been in good form and should be able to take this one at home.
A quick note: I’ve decided to broaden my horizons and write about more than just Arsenal. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever write about Arsenal – in fact, this post actually has quite a lot to do with the Gunners – but I may write about other clubs from time to time. This also means you’ll probably get more articles. Lucky readers!
When Andre Villas-Boas joined Chelsea from Porto, the comparisons between Jose Mourinho were predictable (as was this first line) but as many have pointed out, the similarities aren’t as prominent as others would have you believe. He had been vaguely linked with Arsenal, and although nothing came of it, it would probably have suited Villas-Boas more.
Tactically, much was made of Arsenal’s 5-3 victory over Chelsea. For one, it exposed both team’s high lines – with Arsenal managing to cope with the drawbacks of pressing high up the pitch significantly better, after an early wobble. This triumph showed that Arsenal are better equipped in terms of the squad to pull off the high line that is so central to Andre Villas-Boas’ style of play.
Another hot topic in terms of Villas-Boas’ first half-season at Chelsea has been the situation of Frank Lampard. The Portuguese manager has left Lampard out of several games, and persists with this stance despite the midfield veteran performing well when given a chance. This would suggest that Villas-Boas feels that Lampard doesn’t fit into his system, and instead chooses more mobile players in midfield such as Ramires and Meireles.
The midfield is where there’s an intriguing difference between the sides. While both Wenger and Villas-Boas play a basic 4-3-3, there are differences. For example, Arsenal play with a 2-1 pivot, while Chelsea use 1-2. Still, the flexibility of the pivot and the midfielders used means that the shape of the midfield three changes often. The normal midfielders employed currently by both managers are also quite different: Arteta, Song and Ramsey are quite multi-functional, being creative and solid simultaneously. Meireles, Ramires and Romeu, usually Villas-Boas’ midfield of choice, are rather lacking in the creative side of things.
This is one of the reasons that Juan Mata usually starts on the wing – he can come inside and create things for Chelsea, especially when the midfielders are struggling to carve out chances themselves. Another reason for Mata playing out wide is probably that he isn’t quite as defensively solid as the current midfielders, and would usually be more advanced, meaning the pivot didn’t function as well. If Villas-Boas was to use a 2-1 pivot like at Arsenal, Mata could play in front of the two, being allowed more freedom.
Villas-Boas has had to experiment at Chelsea and find the right balance between his own style and what has worked with this set of players previously, and deserves credit for finding the middle ground between the two – although he draws the line at incorporating Lampard it seems. He tried John Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles in what he calls the “number 6 role” – the holder in front of the defence – but has eventually found someone suited to the role; ironically, their number 6, Oriol Romeu.
At Arsenal, Alex Song is the established holding midfielder. While he isn’t completely defence-orientated, this can be easily seen as a positive thing – he gets forward to good effect and is quite adept at threading through balls. Two high-profile examples would be Robin van Persie’s goal vs Everton and Thierry Henry’s recent matchwinner against Leeds, which were both assisted by Song. If Villas-Boas had such a player at his disposal, Mata would have less of a creative burden.
Ball-playing, mobile centre halves are key when playing with a high line, and although David Luiz is usually excellent on the ball, he’s still lacking defensively, and while John Terry is a superb defender, his lack of pace sees him occasionally exploited, and unlike Per Mertesacker at Arsenal, he’s unable to compensate.
David Luiz has been criticised for his mistakes, but people would be foolish to write him off. Laurent Koscielny was similarly dismissed, only to prove all of his critics wrong (those that were willing to give him another chance, anyway) with a spotless start to the season. Not that he was as bad as they said in the first place. Luiz needs time to adapt, but once he does he should find his feet – and Villas-Boas’ system suits him down to the ground. He can come out of defence with the ball as he likes to, which contributes to the pressure he feels is so vital.
With such a high-pressuring system, it’s natural that teams will camp in their own half, and at extreme times even in their own box. Some teams struggle to break walls like these down, and seeing as Villas-Boas prefers to press high up the pitch, his sides need ways of breaking down stubborn defences. Arsenal have Gervinho – Wenger has repeatedly spoken of his ability to accelerate over small distances, meaning he’s able to beat defenders inside the box to cut the ball back. A player with such an ability would be very valuable to Villas-Boas, although Daniel Sturridge has similar qualities, if not as effective.
After giving Fernando Torres chances to establish himself as the lone striker, Villas-Boas has given Didier Drogba the chance to nail down a starting place as the spearhead of the Blues’ attack. He has fared quite a bit better than his Spanish counterpart, who has only shown brief flares of something resembling form. However, at Arsenal there is the ideal player to play in that position – Robin van Persie. He links up play, drops into midfield and gets into the ideal positions to help his team – whether that’s to assist or score. While Didier Drogba is doing a decent job at the moment, van Persie is playing the same role to perfection.
A key difference to the formations of Villas-Boas and his mentor Mourinho are the wide players – at Chelsea, Mourinho basically played a 4-5-1 with wingers who dropped back when possession was with the other team. Villas-Boas’ system also uses a single striker, as mentioned above, but the wide players act more like inside forwards than wide midfielders – Sturridge especially.
These observations (although admittedly the above paragraph has little relevance to the point) all lead me to this conclusion: Andre Villas-Boas would be better suited to Arsenal. It’s not just differences on the pitch though – Villas-Boas had admitted he’ll need time to mould Chelsea into what he wants them to be, and at Arsenal he would undoubtedly be given more time to do so. Even though he wouldn’t really need to mould Arsenal much - as I’ve outlined, it was pretty much set up for him here.
Callum Maclean is the latest to feature on these not-so-hallowed halls, what with my busy schedule of late. But fear not – I’ll be back soon. But for now, enjoy Callum’s excellent piece about players who have played for both Arsenal & Chelsea. You can find his blog here.
Since Roman Abramovich came to Chelsea, rivalries have changed, and the main rival now, according to a football fan survey online is Arsenal. Not only to be the best team in London, but now for domestic and European success. Some great games have come up, and as a Chelsea fan, I’ll never forget Wayne Bridge’s goal at Highbury in the closing stages of that Champions League quarter final, seeing John Terry getting lumped in the face by Abou Diaby in the Carling Cup Final, or Emmanuel Adebayor having a fit after being sent off in that very same game.
Though what I thought I’d take a look at was those players have moved from Highbury Park/Drayton Park to Fulham Road, or vice versa. The first player to make that move was Sandy MacFarlane. Doubt it made too much of a fuss though, as he only made a handful of appearances at Arsenal between 1896-’97 and played for other clubs before moving to Chelsea to make a few appearances between 1913-’14.
Ted Drake made his name at Arsenal, and spent 11 of his 14 year career with the Gunners, winning three trophies, two first division championships and one FA Cup. He then became a Chelsea legend when he moved into management, seven years after finishing his playing career with Arsenal, in 1952. Less than three years later, the team had transformed from being First Division strugglers to First Division Champions in the 1954/’55 season. He also won the Charity Shield, beating Newcastle United 3-0. After that however, success couldn’t be matched, and Drake was sacked in 1961.
From 1945-’47 Tommy Lawton made 42 club appearances and scored 30 goals for Chelsea. After spells at Notts County and Brentford, Lawton moved to Arsenal during the 1953-’54 season and scored 13 goals in 27 games before leaving during the 1956/’57 season.
After Ted Drake, the man who took over from him, Tommy Docherty, who is more well-known for his managerial exploits, spent a season at Chelsea. He came directly from Highbury, scoring one goal in 83 First Division games between 1958-’61. All the appearances he made for Arsenal came from the start.
Another Chelsea manager, John Hollins, played at Arsenal too. Bit of a running theme here. Before becoming manager, Hollins spent 12 seasons at Chelsea, as an integral part of the team winning the Cup Winner’s Cup, the League Cup and the FA Cup in his first spell. After four seasons with West London rivals QPR, he made a move north to Arsenal for another four seasons, before playing his only league season in the Second Division after returning to Chelsea before announcing his retirement. Two seasons after retiring, Chelsea made him manager of the club, finishing sixth, 14th and 15th before moving on to QPR.
The next player who crops up in the list of players who have moved between Chelsea and Arsenal is George Graham. The man who’s manager game I accidentally brought for the Playstation as a kid (Don’t waste your time with it, it’s rubbish), started his career at Aston Villa before moving to Chelsea in 1964, costing £5000 before moving onto Arsenal in the 1966/’67, where he played in 196 games, scoring 60 goals. This obviously left him in good stead with the squad, as 14 years later, Graham was appointed Arsenal manager, winning the First Division twice, FA Cup once, the League Cup twice and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup before getting sacked after a run of poor results. He also received a tidy sum of £425,000 from Rune Hague after the transfers of Pal Lydersen and John Jensen to Arsenal, which lead to him being banned from football management for a year.
A man maybe known more for his off the field doings, Graham Rix started his career with Arsenal, spending 14 years there, making 447 starts and scoring 51 goals. He then finished his career against Arsenal, for Chelsea, on the 14th May 1995, taking part in a 2-1 win, his first and last game for Chelsea. After an off the pitch scandal that resulted in a jail spell, he came back to Chelsea, won the FA Cup in 2000 and then left the club when Gianluca Vialli was sacked.
Though he never played a competitive fixture for Arsenal, Clive Allen, now probably famous for his work on ITV, also was in Arsenal’s squad, for all of two months, after paying £1,250,000 to QPR for his services in June, and then selling him to Crystal Palace for the same sum two months later. After journeying through London with a brief stop in Bordeaux, Allen was sold from Man City to Chelsea for £1,000,000 less than what both Arsenal and Crystal Palace paid for him, making 21 competitive appearances and scoring nine goals between December 1991 and March 1992.
The late David Rocastle started his career at Arsenal, as a gifted midfielder, pulling the strings for nearly eight years, before being sold by George Graham to Leeds for £2,000,000. His career stopped and stalled due to injury, and one of England’s most promising players moved to Chelsea, making only 40 appearances in four years, though during that time he made 11 appearances at both Norwich City and Hull City. After Chelsea, he scored eight goals in 13 games for Sabah, a Malaysian team before being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in February 2001. He passed away on the 30th March 2001.
The first time I saw the Chelsea first-team play was away to QPR in a pre-season friendly in 2001. Sitting in the School End, we lost 3-1, after taking an early lead, and I remember, as a nine year old, crying at half time because of the language being used around us. I also remember after the game, as we were walking out, a fair few police officers coming in to sort out fan trouble. I also remember being given polystyrene cups to put our 25p cans of Coca-Cola in, which had the QPR badge on one side, and a Wasps badge on the other side. I remember seeing heroes such as Gianfranco Zola, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Ed De Goey, alongside one Emmanuel Petit, who had just made a transfer after a season at Barcelona. After this shocker of a pre-season fixture Petit then went on the spend three seasons at the club scoring two league goals in 55 appearances. At Arsenal, he played in 85 league games and managed nine goals, and scored the third goal in the World Cup Final against Brazil in 1998. After Chelsea, he finished his career, yet he is still known worldwide for his trademark blonde ponytail.
The Incredible Sulk comes up next. For those who don’t know, this is Nicolas Anelka, who, as a youngster, after being signed for a mere £500,000, made his name with Arsenal in the 1997-’98 season, helping Arsenal win the double. After a lacklustre season, Wenger shipped him off on the 2nd August 1999 for £22,500,000 more than he bought him, to Real Madrid. Five clubs later, and Anelka is still worth, according to Avram Grant, £15,000,000. After a poor half season with Chelsea, missing in THAT penalty shoot out. The following season though, Le Sulk had turned into a different player, banging in 25 goals in 54 appearances, which may have spurred Didier Drogba to become top scorer the season after (I hope so). A regular fixture in the team up until the arrival of Fernando Torres, Anelka seems content to now sit on the bench and come on on the 70th minute, probably until a nice big pay-cheque comes in at a Middle-Eastern or American club.
I think this pairing should be done together, as they did swap clubs at the same time. William Gallas, until he threatened to score own goals, was one of my favourite Chelsea players. When he left for Arsenal with Ashley Cole (Who for the rest of this piece will be known as ‘Cashley’) coming the other direction, that the Gunners had got the better side of the deal, getting rid of an upset player in return for a world-class defender and £5million. However, since then, Gallas made mischief again, as he became Arsenal captain, criticised team mates and then was stripped of it, and hasn’t won any trophies since leaving Chelsea for Arsenal, and then onto North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Cashley, however, has won the Premier League, Community Shield and Carling Cup once, and the FA Cup three times, as well as being England’s player of the year for 2010.
The final player to make this list is Lassana Diarra, the man who has possibly had the best luck as a footballer ever, that after being at Portsmouth for a season in 2008/09, the season before it went went Pete Tong for them, getting a 20 million Euro move to the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid. Before all of this though, Diarra, who was dubbed the new Claude Makélélé when he came to Chelsea, spent two seasons at the club between 2005-07, before moving onto Arsenal, where he made 11 appearances in his only season there before moving to Pompey and then Madrid.
I’m sure there will be, in the future, more to add to this list. Maybe under the edition of 17YearOldGooner? Or maybe this season, if those Torres and Diaby rumours ever come to fruition… Ha.