Arsenal’s statement night proves one thing about revitalised Premier League title challenge

Arsenal 5-0 Chelsea: As Kai Havertz scored twice and the Gunners humbled their London rivals, Mikel Arteta’s side have responded from their Champions League exit to attack the title race

Miguel Delaney
at the Emirates
Wednesday 24 April 2024 07:14 BST
Related video: Arteta discusses the influence Pochettino has had on his professional career

So much for this being one of Arsenal’s awkward remaining fixtures, not to mention the idea the title race was over. Chelsea had other plans for all that, precisely because they couldn’t implement any kind of gameplan of their own. They couldn’t do much at all.

It means that, on a night when Arsenal went three points clear at the top with a 5-0 victory that is maybe Mikel Arteta’s best performance yet, it is hard not to talk about Chelsea. Focus will be back on Mauricio Pochettino’s future. Focus should be on the wider running of this club. This was the humiliation that Chelsea had looked in danger of suffering for some time. So much, too, for the players stepping up in the absence of an ill Cole Palmer.

They were instead just trodden on by an Arsenal side that were completely in the mood. It was one of those where it could have been much worse for Chelsea, given the amount of chances that were missed in the first half alone. Kai Havertz, a player that Chelsea sold to make way for more untried youth in this almost inexplicable recruitment model, enjoyed a signature performance of his own. The German scored twice, as did Ben White, the victory becoming so routine for Arsenal that a defender not usually known for his finishing could amble forward. Leandro Trossard opened it all after just five minutes, to ensure the match was barely ever a proper contest in any meaningful sense.

Kai Havertz scored twice as Arsenal hammered Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium
Kai Havertz scored twice as Arsenal hammered Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium (Action Images via Reuters)

Arsenal’s biggest-ever win over Chelsea was quite an inversion of history, too. This used to be the fixture that Arsenal detested most, precisely because battle-hardened Chelsea teams knew exactly how to beat them and almost always did. It seemed to happen regardless of circumstances, even in 2015-16 when Chelsea were in an even worse league position than they are now.

Instead, Pochettino’s side were the perfect possible opponents. Arsenal are revitalised. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Arteta’s own team came into this game having just dragged themselves back on track with a 2-0 win at Wolves. This could have been a dangerous fixture, and potentially spoiled their run-in again. It has done the opposite. Arsenal are now looking at that trophy with much more vigour again. This is on.

Aiding that, it is possible that last week’s deflating Champions League elimination might have been the best thing to happen to Arsenal’s run-in. They have time and space to breathe between games now. They also, most importantly, have a lead.

There is an element of illusion about that, although not as much as with this Chelsea team. Arsenal have played one more game than Liverpool and two more than Manchester City.

There is the likelihood this will be reset. For the moment, however, Arsenal have done what they can. And it may change things.

Martin Odegaard was the crucial playmaker for arguably Arsenal’s best performance of the season
Martin Odegaard was the crucial playmaker for arguably Arsenal’s best performance of the season (AP)

As with the Bayern Munich defeat itself, this could be one of those situations where the calendar and context combine to have more meaningful effect on the actual table and run-in. Had City not been in the FA Cup semi-final – and instead just gone out and won a routine league game at the weekend – they would still be in tangible touching distance of the top and these results would feel more like Arsenal hanging on.

Instead, two successive wins before the champions next play serves to shift the psychology of the run-in. There is now pressure on City to respond. Liverpool at least play their next game on Wednesday night, against Everton. All eyes will be on those to see what happens, to note their conviction as the final day gets that bit closer.

There can’t be much doubt about Arsenal any more, even allowing for the ease of this victory.

“The margins are so small and sometimes you cannot be better than your opponent on the day, or you don’t have the luck you need in certain moments, but what do you have to do? You have to react and face the moment, and the moment is beautiful,” Arteta said.

“We’ve been working for it for nine months. So you certainly have to face it in the right way, value what we have and especially believe. If you are able to do it for nine months, you are able to win it, but you have to believe it first and you have to consistently do what you’ve been doing, nothing else.”

Ben White scored a brace as the Gunners ran away with the game
Ben White scored a brace as the Gunners ran away with the game (PA)

They could have made things a lot more difficult for themselves. They did the opposite, and enjoyed one of the most expressive games of this season. And this against a supposed rival. Arsenal next face their biggest rivals, in a much sterner test, on Sunday. Tottenham Hotspur won’t have the same anticipation about potentially ruining Arteta’s title challenge. Arsenal look in the mood. They at least look like they can take this to the last day.

As for Chelsea, it’s all so aimless. Every time they seem to enjoy any sense of improvement, the team’s sheer callowness sets them back. There is no real direction.

It ensured this game was one-way. Havertz illustrated that with the first meaningful moment of the match by just running straight through Chelsea, before Declan Rice did the same to set up Trossard for an easy finish. It wasn’t quite as simple as White had it, as he enjoyed so much space from a corner for his first, before then wrapping everything up with a guided volley. It might not have been intentional, not that he will care. Havertz’s two finishes to make it 3-0 and 4-0 were certainly intentional. Arsenal looked to inflict maximum damage.

While Pochettino’s future will now be debated around the game, the likelihood is that Chelsea just persist. The hierarchy know they have bigger problems.

The club has rarely had bigger defeats in the modern era. Things have changed, not least in the title race.

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