Emile Smith Rowe pounced on a Jorginho error to earn Arsenal a 1-0 win over Chelsea on Wednesday, completing a Premier League double over their London rivals for the first time since their Invincible season and keeping alive slim hopes of European qualification next season.
Chelsea should have been ahead moments before Smith Rowe's goal, Kai Havertz capitalizing on a mix-up between Gabriel and Pablo Mari but blazing over Bernd Leno's bar when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. They were made to pay for their profligacy when Jorginho sent something of a hospital pass back to Kepa Arrizabalaga, who palmed the ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to square for Smith Rowe's second goal in as many games.
Arsenal's fortuitous opener set the stage for what often resembled an attack vs. defense training drill with Chelsea probing for weaknesses in a visiting backline that rarely looked settled but did just enough. Rob Holding blocked Mason Mount's effort as it flew toward goal whilst Christian Pulisic headed home a corner flicked on by Kai Havertz but from an offside position. As the game wore on the Blues came close as substitute Olivier Giroud volleyed the rebound from a Kurt Zouma header back against the crossbar it came off.
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Victory for Arsenal moved them up to eighth but they are only one point behind bitter rivals Tottenham in a Europa Conference League qualifying place having played a game more. Chelsea, meanwhile, are six points clear of West Ham in fifth but have played a game more as they look to hold on to their top-four berth.
Here are takeaways from Wedesday's match.
The clown shoe is on the other foot for Arsenal
You can almost imagine Mikel Arteta muttering to himself "so that's how it feels" after he was finally on the winning end of a moment of inexplicable defensive ineptitude. Before his appointment and since Arsenal have turned self-destruction into an art form, consistently finding new and more inventive ways of making life more agonzing for themselves.
This season alone Arsenal have handed eight goals and 15 shooting opportunities to Premier League and Europa League opponents by their own errors, according to Opta. Extend that out to the past four domestic seasons and the Gunners lead the league with 37 mistakes that handed goals to the other team. In many ways it is remarkable that Arteta's side came into tonight's game with the third-best defensive record in the Premier League and it is hard not to wonder what they could have achieved were they not handing goals to the likes of Burnley, Everton and Aston Villa.
These errors do not balance themselves out over the season because teams such as Chelsea simply do not allow themselves to make them. At least, not all that often. A bizarre catalogue of mistakes handed Arsenal the lead. Smart pressing by Martin Odegaard, Mohamed Elneny and Smith Rowe forced Jorginho into a nervy pass toward his own goal, a cardinal sin for any defensive player.
Kepa got criticism as is his wont though one might note that the Spaniard's positioning far from goal did offer Jorginho a simple angle for a safe pass. As he scrambled back instinct evidently took over and Arsenal would have been given an indirect free-kick on the edge of the six yard box had referee Andre Marriner not opted to play on when Chelsea's goalkeeper palmed the ball off the line. Instead play went on and Aubameyang made the right call, cutting back for Smith Rowe to screw a ball into the bottom corner.
So often Arsenal have been the architects of their own misery there is a cruel irony in fortune finally favoring them in the most meaningless of big games.
Chelsea struggle chasing the games
It is not something Chelsea have had to do often under Thomas Tuchel's management and that perhaps explains why the Blues looked so bereft of ideas as they tried to break down an Arsenal side that looked like they were barely holding it together at the back once they took the lead.
Tuchel's side are exceptional at ripping through teams that push too far forward in pursuit of a goal and have been so good at defending that they need only capitalize on one mistake to win the game. They have been a winning machine and it is nitpicking in the extreme to question much of the work done by their new manager when he has taken them to two cup finals and a top four berth in the Premier League. But the next step must surely be to add more creative spark to this side.
Between a Mason Mount shot in the 22nd minute and Pulisic's stretched effort that rolled tamely into Leno's arms 64 minutes later, Chelsea did not register a shot on goal. Tuchel's midfield of Billy Gilmour and Jorginho was more than capable of recycling possession but could not craft a way between the lines. Reece James and Pulisic put in tempting crosses but Arsenal had defenders on hand and the excellent Thomas Partey was invariably first to loose balls.
Chelsea had their chances late on, a brilliant save from Leno tipping Zouma's looping header onto the bar, but only through desperate football that saw a center-back masquerading as a target man up top. For much of the game they struggled to craft their way through a low block, even one that defended fair less effectively than they do.
That is perhaps a lesson for Leicester City, who will be looking to claim the FA Cup and tighten their grip on third in the next two games. It will be easier said than done because Arsenal's gameplan necessitates scoring against Tuchel's resolute defense. But it may be that the Foxes find that defending a lead against Chelsea is not as hard as it seems.
Gabriel: A skittish presence on the left of a back three -- not a role he has played often since joining Arsenal -- the Brazilian misplaced a third of his passes in the first half and was fortunate not to concede a penalty early in the second period. He has not consistently performed to the level he did before his COVID-19 diagnosis in December. Rating: 3
Christian Pulisic: With a battle ahead for places in the FA Cup and Champions League final XIs, Pulisic timed an impressive performance well indeed. His running was fearless and direct whilst he showed an impressive eye for goal even if he was offside when he flicked in Havertz's header from a corner. Rating: 6
Emile Smith Rowe: Fresh from his first Premier League goal against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday yet more confidence was coursing through Smith Rowe, who even on the biggest stage is fearless. He demands the ball and is prepared to run at opponents and force mistakes; aside from his first goal in a London derby he will always have the memory of nutmegging Thiago Silva to cherish. Rating: 8