Good morning, the “let’s enrich the staff at FIFA” break is over and now we get back to the real football, just in time to take on the old nemesis, Chelsea.
I’ve never been shy about my hatred of Chelsea. They were the first modern team that dumped unlimited money into the game, distorting the transfer market, and ultimately were one of the reasons why UEFA and the FA pretended to enact financial fair play rules. They also brought Jose Mourinho into the Premier League, letting his infection in world football grow until it has eventually gone fully septic, threatening to force amputations of entire teams, or at least a good old fashioned lancing of the giant carbuncle that is his entire being. A truly despicable club, with some of the worst fans, who have done more harm to football than a lot of other clubs.
Admittedly, it was kind of funny watching them struggle at the end of last season and start of this one but my laughter was always tinged with the poison knowledge that they would eventually buy their way out of being a joke team and back into being good and thus back to being incredibly annoying. And so here we are. Jokes about them buying up the planet and having 800 players in their team (all on 8 year contracts) have started to fade as they have put together a short string of mediocre wins. And folks are looking at the underlying metrics and realizing that Chelsea might not be a complete basket case.
I guess it was inevitable. Pochettino is a good coach and they have bought 800 players. And a lot of the players they have bought are pretty darn good. It’s the old “blind squirrel broken clock” thing. See. They are just downright annoying. You can’t even count on them to just tank for a few years in a row.
Much of Chelsea’s woes this season have come in front of goal. They are underperforming xG by about 4 goals, a number which was significantly worse until their last premier League match where they put on 4 goals to 2 xG against the Burnley bottom boys. Much of the blame for their poor xG start lands at the feet of summer signing Nicolas Jackson who had just 1 goal on 19 shots before coming off the bench and scoring against Burnley. Jackson had been dropped by Poch prior to the Burnley match and Chelsea managed a 2-0 win over Fulham. We don’t know if Jackson will start in this match or not but he is an active and annoying forward who gets himself into great positions to score, but just hasn’t found the finishing boots this season.
Both Arteta and Pochettino share a common love of defense first and I think it’s telling that when Arteta was asked on Friday before the Chelsea game about being defensively solid at the expense of possibly creating chances up front his first words were “I want to concede nothing”. The full answer was actually quite a bit defensive (pun!) and I don’t understand why. It is obvious that he’s a defense-first coach and has been since he took over at Arsenal. The first 18 months were just him getting the defensive structure right so that players like Xhaka weren’t constantly exposed on counters. I’ve also never seen him happier than when we didn’t concede to Crystal Palace when we were down to 10 men a few weeks ago. He was lit up like Rockefeller Square christmas tree. Anyone who watches Arsenal, sees how we very clearly play with periods where we focus more on defense, and see that the man will sub on three center backs late in the game to ensure the clean sheet knows what Arteta is trying to do! He should lean into who he is, not pretend that he’s something he’s not.
That is not at all saying we don’t have a good attack. We do! But come on. Every single player on the pitch is expected to play defense for 90 minutes, first and foremost. After that, if they attack pretty well, he’s ok with them. Look at Kai Havertz. Look at Auba before he had a falling out. Look at Lacazette. Look at Nketiah. These players got and get selected over and over again for their defensive workrate much more than their offensive contributions.
Pochettino has a very similar approach. Not so much at PSG but absolutely during his time at Spurs where he was a defense first coach. And he still is! Chelsea have the 4th best xGA and 3rd best goals against record in the League this season.
All of which is to say that I’m not expecting a high scoring game (cue high scoring game, that’s just how this works). In fact, if the contest against Man City was any indication (another game which Arteta gleefully described as a sort of masterclass because we didn’t let them have a good chance) I’d bet* on a 1-0 affair.
Arsenal and Arteta are keeping a tight lip on injuries. Bukayo Saka was the big miss 10 days ago against Man City and the club aren’t giving an update on him other than to say that they are managing the situation. Arteta continues to insist that players can and want to play 70 games a season and frankly that is whack. I may expand on this topic in the future but preliminarily I’ll just say that I hope the male players go on strike and demand fewer games. I would support that along with better training and playing conditions for female players. All of this is to say that I don’t mind if Saka gets another few days rest. He’s our best player by far but I feel like we should have the squad depth to compete. After all we literally bought Kai Havertz because he can play in any of the five positions in Arsenal’s front five.
This is not to say I’m taking the game lightly. As Arteta said in his pre-game interview, we want to win the league and to do that you have to be perfect. He’s right about that. And he’s right to say that we need to keep the momentum going from that emotional win over Man City before the FIFA enrichment break. That is the biggest thing in my book: we just need to keep plugging away.
*This is a colloquialism. I do not gamble. I have an addictive personality and – as we are seeing with Tonali, Merson, and Toney – gambling is incredibly addictive and ruins lives. Gambling advertisements should be banned from football and any player caught betting on football should be banned for life.