At least it will be fun with Maurizio Sarri. When Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003, he was said to yearn for the excitement he had witnessed in a seven-goal thriller between Manchester United and Real Madrid.
He has spent years searching a manager with that secret of that attacking alchemy. The 59-year-old Tuscan may be his man. It’s just he may also have to do without challenging for serious titles in the meantime.
Sarri and his opposite number Unai Emery served up a sumptuous dish of a game in terms of chances created; defensively, the fare was less refined. This was attacking abandon with scant regard for the risk incurred.
So unhinged, so lacking in order was it at times, that conclusions couldn’t be definitive. Chelsea are top, have scored six and in Jorginho have a vocal leader of this team, even its spiritual head and creative heart was sat on the bench and didn’t get on until the hour and would prove the match-winner.
For Emery, you could make a case for small steps of progress or for an imminent doomsday, depending on which clips you chose to highlight. Joint bottom with no wins, at times Arsenal looked awful. And yet they created a succession of chances and might have won the game.
‘It was a wonderful match for everybody,’ said the nicotine-chewing Sarri afterwards, tough he qualified his praise when teased about his need for cigarettes. ‘I enjoyed the match for 75 minutes, not in the other 15. In the other 15 it was better to smoke I think.’
Sam Allardyce’s head must have been in a bewildered funk if he was watching. He had complained about Emery aping the trend for playing out from the back, the high press and the defensive high line last week. Both managers are followers of that particular fashion and chaos ensued.
Initially, it was Arsenal was who were swept away. As expected, they played out of the back from Petr Cech; as expected, they were awful. Three goals kick in succession in the first five minutes saw Cech try it and three times Chelsea won back possession almost immediately.
Matteo Guendouzi alone looked brave and spirited but needed a proper midfield partner. Granit Xhaka was utterly anonymous, other than the yellow card he gained for hacking down Pedro. He was withdrawn at half time for Lucas Torreira. Mesut Ozil, as a central No.10, offered little after the pre-match demand from Emery for a more-forceful performance. He lasted until 68 minutes when Aaron Ramsey came on and did a much better job.
Sokratis and Shokdran Mustafi split wide, struggled to pass and played a ludicrously high line they couldn’t hope to defend with their lack of pace. It wholly predictable on nine minutes when Jorginho, played a delightful ball that bypassed Hector Bellerin, far up the pitch, and Henkrik Mkhitaryan, in the right back position, and allowed Marcos Alonso to attack the space.
His pull back was clinical as was the finish from Pedro for 1-0. Thereafter, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and David Luiz, simply kept hitting balls into those channels and Arsenal’s defence were permanently on their heels attempting to recover the situation.
Yet there were signs of Chelsea’s vulnerability. On 20 minutes, Guendouzi played a fine, threaded ball through to Bellerin, who pulled back a pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who, incredulously, from eight yards, spurned an open goal, shooting over.
From the goal-kick, Cesar Azpilicueta sent one of those trademark Sarri balls through the channels and over the top of the Arsenal defence for Alvaro Morata. He controlled, shrugged off the ineffectual shepherding of Shokdran Mustafi, turned inside and shot for 2-0, his first Premier League goal since April 1st. The game seemed set. But then came the fifteen minutes that demanded a nictotine fix for Sarri. ‘If we want to defend by looking only at the ball, we need to stay very compact and we need to press in the other half. In that 15 minutes, we were not able to do this. And so we were in trouble.’ When he complained about the collapse of the defensive shape, he made it clear he didn’t mean the back four, but that midfielders and attackers had stopped pressing effectively.
And so Mkhitarayn missed just as easy a chance as Aubameyang’s on 32 minutes; Willian then lost possession on 37 minutes, Iwobi recovered it, wriggled forwards and pulled the ball back for the Armenian to try again and this time score, making it 2-1. Kepa got a hand to it and should have made it a stronger, more decisive one.
Cech then saved from Morata before Bellerin broke down the right on 42 minutes, fed Mkhitaryan, whose pull back was turned in by Alex Iwobi for 2-2. Even then Arsenal had two further excellent chances before half time: Aubameyang steering and wastefully gently wide from close range 44 minutes and Iwobi turning over in added time.
Half time brought some order and Barkley produced a good chance on 57 minutes, driving past Nacho Monreal and producing a sharp save from Cech as he shot across goal. Yet by now, Chelsea fans were anticipating Eden Hazard’s arrival. Sure enough, on the hour, the Belgian arrived, along with Mateo Kovacic, making his debut.
For Arsenal, Alex Lacazette came on for Iwobi and Aubameyang went wide left. Briefly Arsenal looked more of a threat. Yet Lacazette would lose possession in the centre circle on 81 minutes. As Chelsea worked the ball forward, he attempted to trackback to help. When the ball reached Hazard, the Belgian simply drifted past him, found the by-line, pulled the ball back for the fast-approaching Alonso, who shot cleanly home for 3-2.
Hazard simply stood, raised his arms and grinned at The Shed End. The main celebrations were elsewhere with Alonso. But the centre of attention and of everything good Chelsea will do this season was that diminutive No 10.