For more than an hour on Sunday, it looked as though Arsenal would beat London rival Chelsea and give new manager Mikel Arteta his first win in his first home match.
An early goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave the Gunners the lead an a vital boost of confidence that carried the hosts deep into the second half.
Then the same horrendous defending that has plagued Arsenal all season reared its ugly head yet again, an error by goalkeeper Bernd Leno allowing the visitors to pull level before Tammy Abraham found a late winner as Chelsea spoiled Arteta’s Emirates Stadium debut with a 2-1 victory.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
Leno’s gift was the killer for Arsenal
Some might argue that the equalizer had been coming long before it arrived. Although Chelsea trailed for 70 of the 90 minutes, they produced no shortage of chances, peppering Leno’s goal with shots as they chased the game and forcing the German backstop into a pair of good saves to preserve the advantage.
But for the most part Arsenal held firm. Just two games into Arteta’s tenure at the helm, the former midfield maestro has vastly improved the Gunners’ organization, their compact shape able to withstand most of Chelsea’s pressure.
Then came what should’ve been an innocuous free kick for Chelsea’s Mason Mount, which Leno badly misjudged and waved at as it flew over his head. Chelsea midfielder Jorginho could hardly believe his luck as he guided it into an open net from the doorstep:
There was nothing lucky about Abraham’s strike. With Arsenal desperately trying to restore their lead, the young striker led the Blues on a lightning-quick counterattack the other way, with the ball ending up back at his feet at the 6-yard box.
Abraham spun and fired past Leno to give the visitors their first comeback victory under Frank Lampard, and seal a miserable afternoon for their opponents:
Christian Pulisic-less Chelsea deserves plenty of credit
American talisman Pulisic seemed certain to start after coming off the bench — too late, as it turned out — in Thursday’s 2-0 home loss to Southampton. But the 21-year-old attacker wasn’t available to Lampard for this one after picking up an injury at the end of that match.
No matter. Lampard’s young team still responded well from their midweek humiliation, and there was a sense that they were going to salvage at least a point from the trip to North London long before Leno’s gaffe. That they didn’t simply close up shop and settle for a tie after pulling level late on says a lot about the character of this squad, one that was missing one of its most dangerous attacking players.
Arteta left with lots of work to do
What could (and probably should) have been a triumphant day for the new boss instead turned into a nightmare. That it happened against Chelsea adds insult to injury. It’s clear that this Arsenal team is seriously deficient in a number of areas, and their fragile confidence surely took a severe hit in this one.
The Gunners need defensive help, and soon. Arteta will be looking to add reinforcements in the back as soon as the January transfer window opens, but how long will it take him to get everyone on the same page? In the meantime, the fixtures keep coming at a relentless pace, with Manchester United visiting on New Year’s day. United, like Arsenal, have been a shadow of their former selves over the last few years. Yet it’s nearly impossible to believe that on current from the Gunners are the favorite to win that match.
Based on Sunday’s collapse, it’s more likely that Arteta will still be looking for his first victory well into 2020.
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