One of the most well-worn football cliches says that “all fans want is for their team to give 100%”.
Giving 100% is the bare gruel that football supporters will accept. What football fans really want is for their team to give 100%, rise to a physical challenge, dominate a game from start to finish, play beautiful football, and be able to do all of that over a long-hated rival, away from home, in the midst of a title challenge. And most importantly, win.
Today, Arsenal did all of that.
From the start, Chelsea looked like they had read a certain script on Arsenal. It’s a story that says the Gunners don’t like it when teams press them, that getting touch-tight will cause Arsenal problems, and that the Arsenal players are soft and will wilt when challenged. Every time Bukayo Saka touched the ball Marc Cucurella shouldered him. When Cucurella wasn’t kicking Saka, they were double teaming him. Jesus was also give the same treatment, as was Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard. Chelsea players swarmed Arsenal’s front line and midfield, trying to get under their skin.
It’s a script that even some of us Arsenal supporters believe. I will admit that many times it looks like Arsenal struggle with pressure. And just last week, PSV pressed Arsenal and then hit us with a few vertical passes to give us grief.
Early on, Chelsea wanted to do the same but Arsenal were just on their game. Little flicks over the heads of the pressing players, nutmegs that fell perfectly to a teammate, spins, dribbles, close control, and wonderful splitting long passes out of trouble. It was a masterful performance by Arsenal in every position on the pitch.
The referee also had a part to play: calling fouls when they were (largely) deserved. The Chelsea players were so frustrated that they resorted to calling arsenal divers but in reality, it was the Chelsea players who were just guilty of fouling, time and again.
Bukayo Saka once again was the focal point for the defense. And once again showed his true value, beating Cucurella time and again off the dribble. They had managed to largely keep him quiet through double and triple teaming him. And yet Saka, combined with Jesus’ tireless workrate off the ball, was the difference that turned the game.
Jesus had a half chance in the first half (Martinelli’s cross) but was unable to throw himself at the ball fast enough to get the diving header on target. But he never stopped taking on opponents, torturing defenders with his dribbles, dropping deep to collect, and harassing the Chelsea midfield. An in the 62nd minute, it was Jesus who won the ball back off the vastly experienced Silva. He pulsed forward, had a shot, and won a corner off the deflection. Little chili put in the corner and probably would have scored but Gabriel was at the far stick to put it away.
Cue the celebrations in front of the Arsenal supporters, both club and fans erupting in an orgy of joy. The fans deserved it as well. Throughout the match they were boisterous, exuberant, and sang the full 90 minutes. It was an atmosphere that Xhaka would later call “fucking unbelievable”.
Chelsea immediately subbed off Aubameyang, who’d been pocketed completely by Man of the Match, William Saliba. Saliba has been imperious for 24 months now but this was easily his best performance of the lot. Chelsea tried to get at him with what is left of Auba’s pace, he easily caught up each time. They brought on Broja for his height, Saliba battled him for every header. They ran small players at him and the one time a guy actually got past, he just caught up. And when they tried to get Saliba from the other side – with a cross in behind – he was there to clear the ball away. Saliba also beat them when they tried to trap him, was cool and calm in possession, and picked out numerous long passes to teammates to start the attack.
One game left until the World Cup and it’s against Wolves away. I expect Arsenal to stay top of the League until Boxing Day and we have to be considered title contenders if that’s the case.