Derby Day was upon us at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea entertaining Arsenal in the first Premier League fixture of the day. Chelsea came into this fixture in good form – with 3 consecutive wins in the Premier League under their belts along with the comprehensive drubbing of Qarabag in match day one of the Champions League. Arsenal, however, experienced a mixed start to the season, picking up a much-needed victory at home to Bournemouth after a defeat in Stoke and the capitulation at Anfield.
Chelsea reverted to a familiar looking line-up following the changes made against Qarabag. Gary Cahill returned to the starting eleven following his early dismissal against Burnley, making way was Antonio Rudiger. Willian entered the fray after featuring as a substitute against Leicester, with Tiemoue Bakayoko the unlucky individual to drop down to the substitutes.
Chelsea – (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill (captain); Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Pedro.
Subs: Caballero (GK), Bakayoko, Batshuayi, Christensen, Hazard, Rudiger, Zappacosta.
Arsenal (3-4-3): Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Lacazette, Welbeck.
Subs: Ospina (GK), Elneny, Giroud, Maitland-Niles, Mertesacker, Sanchez, Walcott.
Chelsea initially started well – looking composed and comfortable on the ball as they passed it around the back. Nacho Monreal effectively set Arsenal’s intensity since it was his early challenge which ensured that we wouldn’t see a timid, passive Arsenal – something associated with the North London outfit in top 4 clashes. Pedro had the best chance for Chelsea, coming on the 20-minute mark after he latched onto a Fabregas over-the-top ball. Pedro, arguably took too much time as Cech came out to block.
Arsenal had the better of the first half and Chelsea lost their way following Pedro’s early chance. Kante and Fabregas were looking jaded and Ramsey and Xhaka were dominating the midfield, like they did in the FA Cup Final. Hector Bellerin caused problems for Marcos Alonso throughout the first half as Arsenal from the half-hour mark. Gary Cahill looked rusty and did not look assured as he returned from suspension; he was troubled with Arsenal’s high pressing and disciplined approach. Granit Xhaka hit one from 25 yards which just went past Thibaut Courtois’ post during a period where Arsenal were testing the Premier League Champions. The most notable moment came when Ramsey worked his way through the Chelsea defence and fired a shot which hit the post, and Lacazette blazed over from 2 yards. A let off for the Blues!
Conte made a half-time substitution, replacing Pedro who took a knock with Tiemoue Bakayoko. This allowed Fabregas to push forward in a more attacking role since Xhaka and Ramsey were proving too much for Kante and Cesc. Bakayoko stabilised the midfield, broke up moves and always looked to power through. Willian testing Cech at his near post. David Luiz attempted an overhead kick, but caught Koscielny, resulting in a yellow card for the Brazilian.
Both Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger left their ‘superstars’ on the bench – Eden Hazard for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal. Sanchez was the first to enter the fray – replacing Lacazette after an hour. Hazard emerged after 70 minutes, replacing Willian. Willian worked hard for the team but as per usual, had little end product. Arsenal had a goal disallowed – Mustafi headed past Courtois, but strayed offside. For Gunners, it would have been a pity since Xhaka’s free-kick into the box was precise and accurate. Hazard had a shot, saved comfortably by Petr Cech but the Belgian was looking strong and resilient following his long injury lay-off, after breaking his ankle on international duty in June.
The last 10 was a scrappy affair with the referee giving out yellow-cards as if they were Christmas cards. The encounter slowed, became stop-start and much more tactical. Elneny was booked for a cynical foul on Eden Hazard. 87 minutes and by the by-line, the already-booked David Luiz lunged in on Kolasinac and received a straight red card. It was deserved since the Brazilian’s studs were showing. A foolish moment from Luiz and tarnished his performance as his display was quite mature. Luiz’s dismissal meant that Conte had to settle to the point so Christensen replaced Alvaro Morata, who had a frustrating afternoon. Costa would’ve relished the test against Arsenal today, coming up against Mustafi and Koscielny. Perhaps Alvaro needs to develop a nasty streak during tight and edgy affairs, like this one.
The match ended 0-0 – a game of two halves. Arsenal were the better side in the first half and Chelsea neutralised their threat in the second – thanks to the arrival of Bakayoko. All in all, it’s a poor point for Chelsea who fall 5 points behind the Manchester rivals and a good point for Arsenal since they showed resilience after their humbling at Liverpool.