How not to defend 101 – Lessons from Chelsea’s loss to Arsenal

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Updated: October 1, 2016

Chelsea lost 3-0 to Arsenal last week, but it was just not the scoreline that felt bad. A team can often have games going against them when the opponent converts all their half-chances and the scoreline, even rising up to 3-0, might feel inflated. But this was different altogether.

The final whistle, and the half-time whistle for that matter, came as a relief to Chelsea fans and players alike, as there wasn’t a semblance of a fight from the Blues throughout the game. As Chelsea go into their game against Hull City on Saturday, there is a whole lot of work Antonio Conte would have to do in order to make sure the defense isn’t shambles once again.

Many people would easily chalk off the first goal as an individual mistake or the third one as a lucky mishit from Mesut Özil that took the ball away from Thibaut Courtois, but we at Chelsea Index believe that Branislav Ivanovic wasn’t just throwing around soundbites when he said that the team failed Conte and his tactics from the word go, as each goal was the result of mistakes that Chelsea have been committing throughout the season and it was not luck but sheer preparation from Arsène Wenger’s side that they were able to target the same.

Eden Hazard’s positioning, ARS 0-0 CHE:

Hazard was instructed to make up the numbers on the left when without possession, but in the early stages of the match, he broke formation, leaving an opening for Arsenal but they couldn’t capitalize on it.

Ivanovic’s indecision, ARS 1*-0 CHE:

While Arsenal’s first goal will always be remembered as Gary Cahill’s blunder, and rightly so, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Ivanovic had four options other than passing the ball to Cahill, all of them infinitely more productive than passing back to your center-back.

In increasing order of risk, Ivanovic could have passed to Willian, Kanté, Azpilicueta or Fàbregas, before he was pressed by Alex Iwobi. However Ivanovic pondered for a few seconds, and Iwobi was rushing towards him, ruling out the option of playing the ball to Fàbregas. However, all the other three options were still open (Azpilicueta is out of the screen, but unmarked).

Ivanovic chose to play it backwards to Cahill, and the rest is history. Don’t get me started on Cahill’s ineptness once again.

Matic lumbering around the park, ARS 2*-0 CHE:

At the start of the move, Chelsea’s players have their task cut out. It is clear as day that Walcott will pass the ball to Santi Cazorla, run towards the box waiting for a return. So how should Chelsea respond? N’golo Kanté should run to press Cazorla after the pass has been played, Matic should stick around with Walcott, cut off that passing lane, and Hazard, who has been strolling on the left (AGAIN) should move towards the edge of the box to free Azpilicueta to move a little infield and make the defense compact.

But what happens is, Kanté presses Cazorla, forces him to look to his left, Matic lets Walcott run, and Hazard is still ambling about. Sensing the danger being posed by Walcott’s run into free space, Azpilicueta, the only Chelsea player who has spotted his run, rushes infield towards him, knowingly leaving Hector Bellerin free. In Azpilicueta’s defense, Walcott represented more danger at the moment because no one else had spotted him, and Hazard could help him with Bellerin.

But Hazard doesn’t. A nifty exchange of passes later, Iwobi sees the free Bellerin and plays the through pass, and Bellerin squares it up for Walcott to slot in.

As a knee-jerk reaction, so many fingers were pointed at Azpilicueta’s positioning, but the real blame in this goal goes to Matic, Hazard and Chelsea’s centerbacks who failed to spot Walcott.

Cahill’s rush of blood, lack of defensive leadership, ARS 3*-0 CHE:

For Arsenal’s third goal, it all started when Cesc Fàbregas turned over possession near the Arsenal box and the ball was played to Özil. With a really good turn, he managed to shrug off Kante, and had acres to run into with Alexis Sanchez ahead of him and the only two Chelsea players capable of stopping them were the center-backs Cahill and Luiz.

Fortunately for the Chelsea center-backs, this was a classic 2v2 situation that defenders are used to since their youth days.

In a pairing like Luiz-Cahill, the more proactive one (Luiz) makes the call of stepping up to the attacker coming with the ball, and either wins possession or forces him to play the ball and stick to him as he makes his run into the box. The reactive one (Cahill, who is also the father of the art of backing off), backs off and sticks to the free attacker. Just follow his run, keep an eye on the ball and cut it out when the pass is played.

Simple, right?

Now to what actually happened. The glaring lack of leadership in the defense as well as Courtois was so evident as neither center-back made a call to step up or back off, and received none as well from their keeper who could see it unfold, and when Özil was about to play the pass, Cahill, the defender better positioned (and suited) to backing off and sticking to Sanchez, decided to step up. This forced Luiz to turn and accelerate towards Sanchez who now had a head start over him.

With both defenders in no-man’s land, Sanchez played a cross to Özil, whose volley went in, with a lucky bounce meaning Courtois had no chance.

BONUS! Matic sluggishness, ARS 3-0 CHE:

Though this bit of action didn’t lead to a goal, it serves as a reminder of why Matic shouldn’t be seeing time on the pitch anymore unless he drastically picks his performances up.

Arsenal have the ball, and are advancing towards Chelsea’s half, but Chelsea still can outnumber them. Granit Xhaka (not the fastest of players) is slowly picking up steam, from behind Matic, as he bids to aid in attack.

Matic had the single task of tracking his run and make sure the man advantage in the situation is not diluted, but seconds later, there’s an acre of space between them with Xhaka now giving Özil another option.

Özil found Xhaka with a neat sideways pass, and Xhaka only needed to execute a simple pass now to unleash Walcott on the right with no one in position to stop him. Unfortunately for Walcott, he couldn’t help Arsenal add a fourth there, but on another day this would have been 4-0.

Let’s get one thing clear – Chelsea did not lose to Arsenal, Arsenal beat Chelsea. Wenger spent time analyzing how Chelsea’s defense and midfield commit mistakes and capitalized on it. On another day, the scoreline could have been a lot worse. But what is also true is that Chelsea went in headfirst into the guillotine and made it all the more easy for the impressive Gunners to steamroll past them.

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