Chelsea show progress vs. Arsenal but disappointing draw spotlights work to be done

Chelsea show progress vs. Arsenal but disappointing draw spotlights work to be done

LONDON — The landmark victory Mauricio Pochettino needs to kickstart his Chelsea career still eludes him. Arsenal showed great resilience in battling back to earn a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but Pochettino was left to rue his team throwing away a golden opportunity to secure the sort of result that could have been an important building block in their evolution.

Arteta spoke glowingly this week about how Pochettino taught him so much during their playing days together at Paris Saint-Germain, and for a long time at Stamford Bridge this appeared to be something approaching a lesson in management from the Argentine.

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Pochettino surprised his opposite number by starting Cole Palmer as a false nine. Out of possession, Palmer and Conor Gallagher tirelessly led Chelsea’s press, forcing the visitors into uncharacteristic errors which had Arteta fuming on the touchline.

Arteta is hardly a shrinking violet in the dugout, but his ire is usually saved for the match officials rather than his own players, and so it was noticeable from the outset how frustrated he had become with a combination of Chelsea’s fast start and his own team’s slovenly behaviour.

“What went wrong was the start of the game,” said Arteta. “We didn’t play with enough purpose and clarity. We were just moving the ball without the intention to threaten them. That’s a really dangerous thing to do against teams like Chelsea. Then we didn’t win enough duels, and in tight areas when we had them they escaped from that and they attacked open spaces and they are really dangerous things to do.”

The Blues were good value for their 2-0 lead even if both goals were fortuitous. William Saliba was adjudged to have handed Mykhailo Mudryk‘s header despite the ball hitting him from point-blank range. Arteta took his protestations to the final whistle — after which he was booked by referee Chris Kavanagh — but Palmer stroked home the resulting penalty with consummate ease before Mudryk impacted the game again three minutes after half-time.

The Ukrainian winger appeared to attempt a cross from the left flank which looped over David Raya and landed into the net. Afterward, Mudryk claimed goalkeeping coach Tony Jimenez had told him to try to exploit Raya’s positioning off his line from such angles, but it nevertheless appeared a moment of fortune.

Whatever the truth, Mudryk now has his first home goal and a moment which can help his individual development, coming against the team who also tried to buy him from Shakhtar Donetsk back in January.

That narrative led to a degree of schadenfreude among home supporters, but it was the Gunners who had the last laugh here. Chelsea had done an excellent job of nullifying Martin Odegaard collectively and Bukayo Saka individually, the latter marshalled superbly by Marc Cucurella in what must surely rank as one of his best games for the club. But all that was undermined by a poor mistake from Blues goalkeeper Robert Sánchez, gifting the ball to Rice, who still had plenty to do but finished smartly into the vacated net to trigger a comeback.

In a measure of how blunted they had been all afternoon, Rice’s goal was Arsenal’s first shot on target, coming in the 77th minute. Saka finally freed himself from Cucurella to cross for substitute Leandro Trossard to equalise, leaving Pochettino to reflect on an incomplete team performance.

“We were very competitive but we are disappointed because in the end we lose two points,” said Pochettino. “Until 77 minutes when we conceded the first goal. We didn’t concede too many chances.

“I think 90% of goals are because an opponent makes a mistake. We can only criticise [the players] a little bit in reading better the tempo, the timing. We can take risks because it’s our philosophy but make better decisions,” added Pochettino.

Arsenal found a way past Manchester City prior to the international break with a reshuffled midfield featuring Jorginho and Rice anchoring a midfield in a system approximating 4-2-3-1, attempting to sacrifice a degree of creativity for stability, but it was not convincing in that aim here. Oleksandr Zinchenko was taken off at half-time after a torrid 45 minutes against Raheem Sterling while Odegaard was unable to influence play and found himself substituted when Arsenal were chasing the game.

Arteta is perhaps still working out how to maximise his options and it was noticeable that Kai Havertz was not only overlooked from the start but also left on the bench for all but the final 12 minutes with Emile Smith Rowe preferred in midfield as Arteta sought a response.

These are teething problems which will be masked by the second-half fight back. “I really liked going into the dressing room [at full-time] and it’s really quiet, after drawing 2-2 with Chelsea and coming back from 2-0 down, because I know that they wanted more,” Arteta said.

For Pochettino, he extended a promising unbeaten run but the statement victory to signal they are on the right track has to wait. After Brentford next weekend and Blackburn in the Carabao Cup, Chelsea face Tottenham, City, Newcastle, Brighton and Manchester United. The good news for Chelsea is they won’t have to wait long for another crack.

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James Olley

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