Calamitous Chelsea provide Arsenal with new content for their Premier League highlights reel
A match that was less a contest and more a piece of Premier League content. While that does at least serve the idea that the title race is still an open competition, as Arsenal return to the top with two games more played, Chelsea couldn’t really do that for the game itself. It was a 3-1 that could easily have been a 6-0. It was also an occasion that mostly served as a highlight reel for grander themes of the season.
There was some brilliant football from Arsenal, especially in Martin Odegaard’s opening goal, as they recreated some of the thrilling football that got them this far. This may even reignite them now they are released from the pressure of that long build-up to the Manchester City massacre. The worst has happened, so it’s as if the team can just be calm enough to produce their best again. Maybe Mikel Arteta is right, and they can think better can come, that this isn’t over. There is at the very least hope and life.
With Chelsea, there is none of that. You couldn’t even be too definitive on what the worst might actually be. They did rally in a more spirited second half, that at last brought the second goal of this second Frank Lampard era, and the manager can no doubt point to that as some effect.
It’s difficult to really say what the effect of this appointment is, though, beyond more farce. That was what so much of the first half looked like. It could have been very bad. It couldn’t really be called a rivalry.
Stripped down, this was really just a match between a promising side who are tactically well structured and have plenty of focus, against one who have the opposite of all that. The only element that added a bit of uncertainty was Arsenal’s recent form, which betrayed itself in some late edginess, but even that couldn’t stop the reality of the two teams asserting itself. Football can be a funny old game but rarely that funny.
Which, well, brings us to Chelsea. There were periods when what happened here defied the sport’s greater laws, a sort of alchemy.
It is remarkable that a club can spend this much money to be this bad. It makes less sense than some of the decisions around the club, and even for this game. Many in the sport have been questioning the appointment of Lampard beyond any possible emotional lift - questions vindicated by this run - but then there were some of the selections he made for this very match.
The former midfielder certainly seemed to be appealing to some kind of intangible football voodoo by picking Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang for his first start since November, no doubt under the idea that such players sometimes score against their former clubs out of nowhere.
That was pretty much where the striker was for the whole game. Aubameyang had nine touches, four from kick-off, three from goals his team conceded.
Chelsea only scored once they’d taken him off, Noni Madueke hitting his first goal for the club. Their attack needed that life.
There was then the defence. Thiago Silva has been one of the most accomplished centre-halves of the last 15 years but it has long been clear he can not play in a two any more. He played in a two here and Chelsea quickly conceded three, all from the centre. The second was the most damning of all given how easy it was. It was as if the manner of Odegaard’s brilliant first happened with so little challenge that Arsenal realised they didn’t even have to execute it so well the next time.
For the opening goal, Granit Xhaka played a firm ball into the centre so Odegaard could swerve a driven shot in off the crossbar. For the second, the Swiss midfielder just rolled it across for Odegaard to enjoy a much easier finish.
By the third, the Chelsea backline was a complete rabble, bodies flailing on the ground as Gabriel Jesus got a second chance to just fire the ball in.
It’s remarkable to think this could happen in a team that has N’Golo Kante but then he spent most of the game again leading Chelsea’s rare attacks. By then, the home crowd were another revelling in singing “super Frankie Lampard”.
If there has been a lot of relish in that with a few clubs, and the appointment looks increasingly questionable, a lot of it isn’t Lampard’s fault. This is a squad without any tactical design. So many of the more senior or expensive players suit different tactical systems.
It is so far away from the purpose Arsenal have been constructed. Everything looks like it fits.
With Chelsea, everything looks like it’s coming apart.
They need to appoint Mauricio Pochettino, or at least have some clarity and certainty soon. They need everything that Arsenal have right now.
Arteta probably won’t end with the title - but they do have hope, for way beyond this season.