A day on which the new ABBA penalty shootout structure had the chance to be employed in England, Arsenal took on Chelsea in the FA Community Shield game of the 2017/18 campaign. With many considering the game to be the final match-up of the pre-season with many even giving it limelight as an opener of the new season, the ABBA penalty shootout proved to be very decisive much to everyone’s surprise. Arsenal came into the game on the back of a meagre controversial Emirates Cup win in their home while Chelsea were on the back of a poor pre-season showing.
The game was expected to be a close one and didn’t fail the expectations of the fans as well as the neutrals. With many key players missing out the game due to various reasons, this could not be stated as the perfect example of how the teams would play in the upcoming season but gave a slight insight on how the teams could be employed in terms of tactics and gameplay.
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Arsenal (3-4-3/3-4-2-1) | Manager: Arsene Wenger
33.Cech – 16.Holding, 4.Mertasacker, 18.Monreal – 24.Bellerin, 35.Elneny, 29.Xhaka, 15.Oxlade-Chamberlain – 17.Iwobi, 9.Lacazette, 23.Welbeck
Chelsea (3-4-3/3-4-2-1) | Manager: Antonio Conte
13.Courtois – 28.Azpilicueta, 30.David Luiz, 24.Gary Cahill – 15.Moses, 4.Fabregas, 7.Kante, 3.Marcos Alonso – 22.Willian, 23.Batshuayi, 11.Pedro
With both the teams leaving out star players for the game, much wasn’t expected of the two sides but they produced a tight game with Arsenal edging out Chelsea. Chelsea however coming into the game, needed a win as a breather for their poor performance in the pre-season. Arsene Wenger chose to field a system which was triumphant against Chelsea in the FA Cup last year. Seven out of eleven players, in this game, started in the previous clash between the two sides which happened to be the FA Cup Final.
The three at the back system was once again favoured as Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal started the game in the heart of the defense with Cech starting in between the sticks. The midfield four comprised of Bellerin and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the wide areas as the double pivot in the centre was formed by Elneny and Xhaka. The attacking trio was formed by Iwobi and Welbeck along with the new talisman, Lacazette.
Chelsea had missed several players themselves and hence Wenger’s Italian counter-part Conte had to ring in changes. Courtois guarded the goal as Azpilicueta, Luiz and Cahill constituted the back three. Fabregas and Kante formed partnership in the centre as Moses and Alonso started in the flanks. Going forward, the Chelsea gaffer had deployed Pedro and Willian to support the centre forward Batshuayi. Morata and Rudiger were notable participants who started from the bench for Chelsea. Both the teams started the game with more or less a similar formation and structure and it was Arsenal who picked up the game right from where they left it in the FA Cup finals.
Arsenal counter Chelsea’s initial build-up
Right from the beginning of the game, it was evident that Chelsea looked to build their attack from the back. It was quite intriguing to watch as Chelsea didn’t spend more time at the back and maintain possession last season to develop their initial build up. However this game proved to be an example of what Conte may tinker with the side in terms of tactics for the forthcoming season. Kante and Fabregas played as the double pivot ahead of the back three which saw more amount of ball possession in the opening 10-15 minutes. They tried to use their 3-2 shape to develop possession however Arsenal were able to counter that. The Chelsea structure at the back can be seen below.
Arsenal on the other hand opened up the game by being defensively strict and astute. The two wings were of different stature as the right flank was occupied by Bellerin and Chamberlain played in the left. The left flank was more offensive when compared to the right as Chamberlain, Welbeck and Monreal formed a great deal. Whenever Arsenal regained the ball, the attack would start from the wings and then played to the centre. In the right, Chamberlain would carry the ball into the centre from the wings or move into the centre leaving space in the left flank to be occupied by Monreal. This is noticeable from the below image.
Also in most cases, Lacazette was seen dropping back to collect balls. This is however not what the Frenchman is known for. 1v1 with the keeper and quick counter attacking gameplay is his niche. This reduced Arsenal’s chances of finding the back of the net through Lacazette. But to his credit and linkup play with the winger, Lacazette was able to get the ball past Courtois only to be denied by the post.
Chelsea on the other hand, tried for an alternative approach in the earlier stages as their plan to build out from the back failed due to Arsenal’s pressing especially from the pivots. David Luiz was allowed more time on the ball and he was asked to find players from the deep through long balls. This was done since Arsenal had maintained a high line. However the significant presence of tall players such as Xhaka, Holding and Mertesacker proved to be the difference for Arsenal. These situations can be identified from the above video.
In their defensive phase, Arsenal were set up in a 5-2-3 structure. Both the wingbacks fell back to support the defensive three. If Chelsea carried the ball to wings, then the ball near winger and the wing back would create a numerical overload against the ball carrier. This can be noted in the below image.
After the introduction of Kolasinac for Mertesacker, Arsenal had a change in defensive shape as Monreal moved into the centre with the full back becoming the makeshift centre back in the left. The presence of Kolasinac proved vital for Arsenal while moving forwards as he was able to run forward with pace and break into space. From the image below, it can be seen as to how Arsenal’s defensive set-up changed after the substitution of Kolasinic for Mertesacker.
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However as the game progressed towards the end of first 45 minutes, Chelsea also started to find their feet and position themselves better. Even at a certain point of time, Cech became the busier goalkeeper of the two as the Blues were looking to improve themselves in the offensive stages. Both Willian and Pedro occupied the half spaces behind the striker. In some occasions Batshuayi would fall behind to form the three men line to counter Arsenal threats.
As Arsenal looked to build out from the back, Chelsea positioned themselves a bit higher than the opening stages. Arsenal however tweaked on their method of building out from the back as Kolasinac was asked to bombard the left flank once he gets the ball. Given the idea, both other centre backs had spaced out allowing Xhaka to drop deep to act as the split back. This proved to be a good idea given Xhaka is known for his passing range. The image below shows how Arsenal were adopting themselves positionally to circulate the ball and distribute it better.
Game opens up in the second half
The first minute of the second half saw Chelsea break the deadlock through Victor Moses. However the goal was scored as a result of a corner. Chelsea started to increase the tempo in attack while Arsenal were on the defensive stage. As Arsenal recovered the ball, they often relied on the wing backs to counter Chelsea and the Gunners were quite threatening from the flanks. When compared to the first half, Bellerin started positioning himself more advanced so as to occupying the side back. This helped Arsenal to create 2v1s in both the ends when Chelsea were caught right after losing the ball.
Also Arsenal were involved in switching flanks to provide crosses into the box. The attack from the back usually started with the defenders and then passed onto Xhaka. The wingers would collect the ball and Elneny became the key in connecting the flanks. On the sides, Iwobi and Welbeck would tuck inside as this allows Bellerin and Chamberlain to overlap. The below image depicts an instance in which the ball is being played from one flank to other and the ball collected by Chamberlain in the left flank would be crossed into the box.
With crosses being played from both the flanks, Arsenal were particularly missing the presence of a target man in the centre as Lacazette was particularly not adept in this role. Hence the change was made as Giroud replaced his French teammate. Also, Walcott was introduced in the place of Iwobi.
The game became very open as the game progressed and it needed another set piece to decide the fate of the game as Kolasinac scored from a Xhaka free kick who was immense for Arsenal during the whole game. The game was decided on penalties after the end of 90 minutes and it was Arsenal who once again emerged victorious over their rivals at Wembley.
Though one cannot state that this is how both the teams’ performance for the season will pan out, it gave an idea on how both the teams may set themselves up. The ABBA penalty system may have taken its toll on Courtois and his Chelsea teammates as they failed to score three continuous penalties. A win would have given Chelsea the much needed boost however the result definitely should act as a wakeup call for the champions. The Kante Fabregas pivot does not seem the ideal pairing in the middle of the park with this 3-4-3 formation. With Bakayako in the side, Chelsea may achieve the stability and it is possible that Conte might tinker with the 3-5-2, including Fabregas in the side too. What will pan out over the course of the season, only time will tell.