Five Thoughts: Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal

Only five thoughts this time around, as this is days late (my bad) and there were a relative few number of talking points in a match that was open, exciting, but in the end an utter stalemate.

Not that it was a bad thing given the circumstances, mind you.

1. Both sides had their spells of domination and their weak moments, but neither side can honestly complain about 0-0. There's a bit of "what if?" that either club could point to - the Chavs could only bring on the excellent Eden Hazard as a late sub as he works his way back to match fitness, while we could say the same about Alexis Sanchez...and Mesut Ozil didn't even make the 18.

Gun to my head, though, I think we just about shaded it over the 90 minutes were you to score this on points like a boxing match (though it's probably a blessing that we don't, given Adelaide Byrd's reality-challenged 118-110 card in the Canelo-GGG fight...anyway, I digress). Antonio Conte is a brilliant manager and his record speaks for itself, but there may have been a little hubris involved in playing Cesc Fabregas in central midfield instead of in some kind of shadow striker deal, or just behind the target man. Then again, I don't know if anyone could have predicted that Arsenal would be set up properly for a tough away match, and that the guys would do their jobs to perfection. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka look like they may finally be building some chemistry in the center of the park, as they often overwhelmed Chelsea's 1.5-man unit of Cesc and N'Golo Kante.

There's been a bunch of takes out there about this being two dropped points for us, about how we never really went for it, etc and so on. You'll note that, ten times out of ten, these are the same people losing their minds at our "tactical naivety" when we're bombing men forward in matches like this. You take your chances in a game like this if they're presented to you, but most of the time if you come away with a point from a place like Stamford Bridge, you've done exceptionally well.

2. That said, pardon me while I continue to gush like a Justin Bieber fan about Sead Kolasinac. This guy...THIS GUY...I think is my favorite Arsenal player since, hell, Dennis Bergkamp? The Guardian just did a piece the other day about how jarring it is to see this guy play for Arsenal precisely because we've been screaming out for a player of this ilk for so long. Seeing Chelsea guys just bounce off of him is about as much joy as I can have short of a night with Scarlett Johanssen.

Don't think for one second that David Luiz's cowardly challenge was an accident, or that it was a coincidence that the Bosnian Tank was the man targeted. A streetwise club like Chelsea are going to try and nip something like this in the bud before it ever really gets going, but, well, you're going to need heavier ordinance than Sideshow fucking Bob to bring down a tank, now aren't you? Let's all watch the tape of the World Cup 7-1 again and watch him cry some more. Fucking muppet.

Speaking of, it was refreshing to see the straight red card come out with no hesitation by referee Michael Oliver. Again, as I begin my journey in the referee game myself, I'm beginning to appreciate games like this much more. Even when he called fouls on us, I found myself nodding in agreement. He had a *storming* game, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. Alexandre Lacazette missed the one real presentable chance that we had, but, he is a human after all. My dude is a deadly finisher but even the best miss a few here or there. Nothing to really worry about. But, on a day of generally good performances, Alex Iwobi's stinker stuck out more than it might otherwise have done, perhaps.

I don't know if this is a blip or if this is an indicator that he's seriously stalled out, but either way stick a pin in this one. I don't know if he's going to get the consistent number of minutes that he'd get out on loan somewhere, but he also hasn't shown enough (in my estimation) to make a case for keeping others out of the team. Danny Welbeck can be frustrating at times with his end product, but he has other qualities that help his case a lot - his pace and power stretches defenses, which in turn opens up space for other players. We can work with that. But, Iwobi doesn't offer one-tenth of that right now, and it's concerning.

It was also a little unfortunate that Lacazette was the one to come off when Alexis came on, but I get why Arsene did it. Again, away match at Stamford Bridge, the balance of the team has to be right. They'll get their day to play together, and I for one am looking forward to it.

4. While Chelsea didn't exactly overrun us like they've typically done at their gaff, it should be noted that Petr Cech had two excellent saves in there (I believe both were in the second half) to help keep it at 0-0.

I know I can get tedious with this at times, but it's my damn report, so:

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

Petr Cech was never the problem.

5. We go from one extreme to the other, as we safely take our haul of a borscht-flavored point from Stamford Bridge and go directly from there to a League Cup match against Doncaster Rovers. To give you an idea of what a black hole club that is, I legitimately thought they were still in the Championship - as it turns out, they were in League Two last season, where they were promoted up to League One for this campaign. 

If a tree falls in Doncaster, etc and so on.

I mean, I am a Football Manager addict, which includes often playing in the lower leagues. Give me any box score from any game in the top four divisions in England and I can generally at least recognize 2-3 players and tell you a little bit about them. With Donny, however, they don't have the entire squad. I swear this has to be the most anonymous football club in the country, even if their club crest of "guy with a sword" is pretty damn badass. 

Also, according to Wikipedia, Doncaster and its environs should technically belong to Scotland because of the Treaty of Durham, circa 1136. That's amazing - they should push for that immediately. I don't care where they are in League One right now, put them in the SPL and there's a pretty good chance they could be runners-up. I'm serious, the SPL is a Chernobyl fire. 

Still, I could give a toss what happens there, though. Maybe we go a few rounds in and get our kids some playing time, but other than that I'm not that bothered. We have bigger fish to fry, yes?

Preview by Numbers: Chelsea v. Arsenal

Stamford Bridge, London
Sunday, September 17
8:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • This Match, Last Year: Chelsea 3 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 75 Arsenal wins, 62 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W // W-L-L-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-W // L-W-W-W
It got there in the end. By full-time, quality (in one half, at least) beat out quantity (of away supporters in the ground), 3-1. With that, we'll set aside the Europa League for two weeks before traveling to Belarus for matchday two.

That brings us to the task at hand ahead of us: Chelsea away. Stamford Bridge has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal, even if the media would like you to forget that Arsenal have handled the Blues well otherwise since the start of last season. Antonio Conté has bested Arsène Wenger just once in four tries, but that was the sole meeting at Stamford Bridge out of the four.

This match is going to tell us a lot about how the rest of the season is likely to unfold. If Arsenal win, then reports of their demise would have been greatly exaggerated. If Arsenal lose a close one, it's probably still going to fit straight into the media's #narrative. If Arsenal perform like they did at Anfield three weeks ago, then the media's drum-pounding about the club will never end, ever again. If it's a draw, well, nobody really wants that. Draws don't sell newspapers.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Coquelin (hamstring,) Cazorla (ankle)
Doubts: Walcott (calf)

It's obviously not ideal to play a Sunday afternoon match after a Thursday night match, especially one that started an hour later than it was supposed to. However, that's just something we're going to have to get used to this season. It's not like the Saturday lunchtime kick-offs after Wednesday European nights that we've had in the past are much different.

Still, Arsenal was able to rotate the squad plenty on Thursday, which means the likes of Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, and Laurent Koscielny (though, he was also suspended in Europe) can come back into the XI. I've heard rumors of Theo Walcott picking up a calf injury (I believe the TV cameras showed him with an ice pack on the bench after his removal.) There are some doubts on the fitness of Özil and Ramsey as well, but Arsène Wenger said earlier that they should be available.

I think the biggest question is how many defenders Wenger chooses to start. Twice this season now, Wenger has switched back to a back four at halftime. The switch worked on Thursday, but seriously did not at Anfield last month. The beauty about the predicted XI I pick below is that I'm hedging my bets and, depending on where Kolašinac slides in, it could work for either formation.

Predicted XI: Čech, Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Lacazette.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Drinkwater (calf)

When the hell did Chelsea buy Danny Drinkwater?


September 1, apparently, for £35 million! Anyway, he's struggling with a calf problem and is likely not yet fit to make his Chelsea debut.

Chelsea, of course, rotated plenty in midweek as well, and the likes of David Luiz, Eden Hazard, and Álvaro Morata are likely to come back into the starting XI. Davide Zappacosta is making a push to start in place of Victor Moses after scoring on his full debut Tuesday night.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Zappacosta, Alonso, Bakayoko, Kanté, Pedro, Hazard, Morata.

Current Form

Arsenal maintained their 100% record at home with their 3-1 win over Köln yesterday, but they have nothing to show for their travels so far this year. The Gunners are winless away from the Emirates, though the sample size remains small: just the losses at Stoke and Liverpool to consider. Arsenal played well at Stoke and had an equalizer ruled offside, but they didn't show up at all in the other road game.

Chelsea have won 11 of their last 14 competitive fixtures, across both seasons and all competitions. Two of those non-wins came against Arsenal at Wembley, in the FA Cup Final and Community Shield; the latter, of course, was a draw decided on penalties. Chelsea then lost their opening match of the league season to Burnley, but have won every match since. They've beaten Spurs, Everton, and Leicester in the league and Qarabağ, the top club of Azerbaijan, in the Champions League. (Today, I learned that the Azeri language has that G with the hat on it from Turkish, but they're not pronounced the same.)

Match Facts

Arsenal have picked up three wins in four tries against Chelsea since the start of last season, including two wins at Wembley, mentioned above. Though, again, if you want to get really technical, it's two wins and a draw.

In last year's FA Cup Final, Alexis Sánchez opened the scoring early with a controversial goal in the fourth minute. Chelsea were reduced to 10-men on 68 minutes when a Victor Moses dive in the box was rewarded with a second yellow card. Even shorthanded, Chelsea had an equalizer through Diego Costa on 76 minutes, but Aaron Ramsey gave Arsenal his second FA Cup winning goal in four years just three minutes later.

In the Community Shield to open this season, not-sent-off Victor Moses opened the score just after halftime, but it was Pedro who saw red in the 80th minute. Sead Kolašinac opened his Arsenal scoring account on the ensuing free kick to send the match to penalties, where Thibault Courtois idiotically went second and skied his spot kick. Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties.

Both sides split their league meetings last season. Arsenal ran riot over Chelsea at the Emirates last September, jumping out to a huge lead, with Alexis Sánchez pouncing on a Gary Cahill error in the 11th minute before Theo Walcott doubled the lead three minutes later. Mesut Özil added a third before halftime and Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win.

At Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea bludgeoned their way to an early lead, quite literally, as Marcos Alonso used his elbow to beat Hector Bellerín to a header on 13 minutes, forcing the Arsenal right back out of the game with a concussion to boot. Arsenal did well to keep the match close, but Francis Coquelin did not do well to keep Eden Hazard close on 53 minutes and the Belgian scored a wonderful individual goal to double the lead. Cesc Fàbregas made it three from a Petr Čech error on 85 minutes and Olivier Giroud scored a consolation goal in injury time.

Arsenal have not won at Stamford Bridge since that time John Terry fell down, which was October 29, 2011, a 5-3 Arsenal win. Chelsea have scored at least twice in eight consecutive games against Arsenal at the Bridge. Arsenal have only scored in three in those eight matches; one of them was the aforementioned 2011 win, another was in January of 2013, in which Theo Walcott scored a second half consolation goal as Chelsea won 2-1. The other was last year's match, where Arsenal scored a meaningless goal at the death.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's record with Oliver, overall, is quite poor. In fact, he was in the middle for many of Arsenal's worst moments this calendar year: 3-3 at Bournemouth, 0-3 at Crystal Palace, 0-2 at Tottenham. In the league, all-time, Arsenal have a record of four wins, seven draws, and eight losses with Oliver in the middle. Arsenal did win their most recent match with Oliver, 3-1 over Everton on the final day of the regular season, though they did not escape a red card to Laurent Koscielny in the process. To be fair, that call was correct, so you can't blame Oliver for it.

Michael Oliver was in charge of Arsenal's league win over Chelsea last season, however, though that came at the Emirates. It's on the road where Arsenal tend to struggle with Oliver, even as their road record in big away games has, by and large, improved in recent years.

Chelsea saw Oliver five times last season, winning four and losing only once, at the Emirates as mentioned. They defeated Tottenham 2-1 in November, Bradford City 4-0 in the FA Cup in January, Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup in March, and West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in May.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Bournemouth v. Brighton & Hove Albion; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday (early): Crystal Palace v. Southampton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Leicester City; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Burnley; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Stoke City; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Watford v. Manchester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. West Ham United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Swansea City; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Everton; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a retired midfielder. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to debate whether or not that just means he played in high school.