Two games, two defeats, but at least now Unai Emery can cast an eye over the fixture list without wincing. His Arsenal side were much improved from last weekend’s loss to Manchester City, and bravely battled their way back into this contest with Chelsea having trailed 2-0 early on, but the end result is the same. Marcos Alonso snatched a late winner to preserve Maurizio Sarri’s perfect start, and Emery is still waiting for his reign to truly begin.
Both managers commented before early bruising defeats by Manchester City that they could not possibly be judged by their fledgling team’s performances against the Pep Guardiola juggernaut, but here was some proper competition. Two new managers. Two sets of players gradually adjusting to different approaches. Two projects in their formative stages.
And it showed. This was an entertainingly unpredictable game that veered wildly from moments of high-quality to passages of extraordinarily scrappy play, as both sides continue to adjust to the exacting standards set by their notoriously demanding new managers. Chelsea started superbly, racing into an early lead thanks to strikes from Pedro and Alvaro Morata, but at the back they were vulnerable. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi pegged them back, only for that late Alonso finish to maintain Sarri’s momentum.
Already his Chelsea look just that little bit ahead of Emery’s Arsenal, who are still struggling to adjust to a new formation and passing philosophy. That doesn’t mean Chelsea are completely free from teething problems — down the flanks they look especially vulnerable — but they are formidable when flooding forward and already look a side revitalised.
Chelsea’s opening goal, which came in the opening ten minutes, perfectly illustrated the strides forward this side have already made under Sarri. Collecting the ball in the middle of the pitch, the partially unsighted Jorginho swept a sublime, instinctive first-time pass out to Willian on the wing. The Brazilian burst forward into the penalty box with a scrambling Petr Cech at his mercy, only to unselfishly roll the ball across the face of goal, to the waiting Pedro.
From just a few yards out, he could not miss. Rapid, ruthless and exceptionally easy on the eye, it was the kind of goal Chelsea so struggled to score in the dying days of Antonio Conte’s troubled reign.
It also marked the second goal the diminutive Pedro has scored in as many games — and yet the move owed everything to Jorginho. How grateful Sarri must be to his new employers for immediately handing him the £50m necessary to arrive from Naples with Jorginho stowed safely away in his suitcase. Chelsea do not only have a new manager but a new heartbeat; a devoted emissary from the cult of ‘Sarriball’ with the responsibility of carrying aloft his manager’s standard in the middle of the park.
Chelsea had a similarly brilliant piece of foresight to owe for their second, only this time from their captain. Following an Arsenal attack and with their players still gingerly back-pedalling into position, Cesar Azpilicueta perceptively lofted a long pass over the top, into the path of Morata. The striker still had Shkodran Mustafi in front of him and last season most probably would have failed to beat him but, revitalised, he neatly turned inside of his man before rolling his finish past Cech.
Yet for all their strengths in midfield, as well as the signs of encouragement offered by Morata, Chelsea are so very vulnerable out wide, particularly down the left where Alonso retains the wide-eyed look of a wing-back suddenly being asked to reign it all in a bit. The warning signs were there for Sarri — both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan spurned gilt-edged opportunities following cut backs from the byline — before they were finally punished. Monreal robbed a careless Williian and released Iwobi, whose deflected shot was neatly steered in from outside the box by Mkhitaryan.
After conceding four, the Emery era finally had its maiden goal.
Less than four minutes later and they had their second. This time it was Hector Bellerin who brought the danger, intelligently exploiting the space behind Alonso and rolling the ball to Mkhitaryan. The goal scorer turned provider with a neat cutback to the waiting Iwobi, who succeeded where Aubameyang had failed, burying his finish from the middle of the penalty box.
To his credit, Sarri recognised Chelsea’s vulnerability and acted quickly to address it. The system stayed the same - it's hardly likely to change at any point this season – but the second-half introduction of late summer loan signing Mateo Kovacic saw Jorginho slot into an even deeper role, with Alonso suddenly better covered for his frequent raids forward.
It was another Chelsea substitute who made all the difference however. To see that Hazard was not starting this match was a surprise, but his introduction in the second-half was an inevitability and it proved just as destructive as Emery would have feared.
With the clock winding down, Alexandre Lacazette was caught dwindling on the ball, allowing Hazard to spring forward into space out wide. Of course it was a liberated Alonso that marauded into the box, collecting Hazard’s inch-perfect pass and slotting the ball in between the legs of Cech to seal this most morale-boosting of wins.
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