New coach Maurizio Sarri masterminded a deserved end to Chelsea’s seven-game stretch without victory against their arch London rivals, but the really good news for him and the club’s supporters came after as key players, led by Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, committed their future to the latest leadership regime.
Sarri’s relatively late summer appointment, after Antonio Conte’s exit, was expected to trigger the sale of many key players too, but it now looks like the Blues are going to keep the best of the brothers in the family for at least one more season.
Real Madrid target Hazard came off the bench for the second successive game to add the class needed to secure victory as he played a part in Marco Alonso’s 81st minute winner after Arsenal had threatened to steal a win having hit back through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi to equalise Pedro and Alvaro Morata’s strikes in a whirlwind first half.
An improving and settled Morata could be devastating in front of goal, but keeping Hazard is key, with Madrid ready to spend over £200 million to get the Belgium international, who sounded like he had had enough of Chelsea this summer.
But now he is happy to play for Sarri and Madrid can wait. Hazard said in an interview afterwards: “Everybody knows what I have said after the World Cup. But I’m happy here.
“A lot has been said. A lot of stupidity too. But at the moment I’m happy. I have two years left on my contract and we’ll see what happens. Leaving this year? I won’t go.
“The transfer market in England is closed. Clubs can still sell players, but not sign new ones. It would be a bit strange that they would sell me now while they can’t sign a replacement.”
And the same would seem to apply to Spanish striker Morata, a £60million signing from Real Madrid last summer.
He would also concur that playing under Sarri’s more expansive style of football is only good news for the current crop of Chelsea players.
And, at only 25, he wants to make his mark in the Premier League. He explained: “I can go back to Spain or Italy. The people believe in me there but I want to change all the things here. I want to do it not against for the haters, but me and for Chelsea to do well.
“Chelsea gave me everything in one moment that I needed. Now I think I have a lot of time to give back to the club.
“I can’t wait for the trophies and to play.
“I want to score more than 30 goals. But I said before I prefer to score 15 or 20 and get the Premier League title, or one big trophy.
“I’m looking to buy a house here and I can’t wait for the babies to grow up to put into school. I’m very happy and it’s just the beginning of the new season, I can’t think about being not happy.
“I want to change all the thinking about the people, it’s the only reason that I stay here. Chelsea gave me the chance to stay here.
“If Chelsea say ‘You are not in our plans,’ I move but if Chelsea want you I think every player wants to stay at Chelsea.”
Sarri said afterwards he wants to see more from Morata, but the club will not sell now without a readymade replacement.
And the depth of strength at Chelsea means they are more likely to challenge under Sarri this season than Unai Emery’s Arsenal, who looked a defensive shambles early on as their Spanish coach manically tried to keep his players from straying too far from his high risk, high pressing tactics.
As much as they could have been five down at half-time, misses by the normally reliable Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan left them feeling possibly aggrieved not to be leading at the break.
But they were still so vulnerable at the back and summer central defensive signing Sokratis admitted as much.
He said: “We didn’t defend very well in the first half, all the team. It was too easy for them to come into our half and score.
“After that, we started to play better, we pressed better, won a lot of balls in midfield and had chances. We had to score more because in the end we lost the game. We have to improve in the next game.
“Of course. It’s difficult because we’ve changed a lot of things. We need to improve our work, how we defend, how we attack. We have to score from the chances we create and we have to look at taking those points into our next game.”
That next game is now, according to Emery a ‘must win’ match at home to West Ham this weekend.
And the new Arsenal boss is at least showing he is not one to pander to reputations as he dropped Aaron Ramsey for this match, hooked Granit Xhaka at half-time and withdrew a fading Mesut Ozil at a time when previous manager Arsene Wenger would probably have stuck with him.
He defended his players in public, but it seems he will be ruthless in his approach and put his faith in young players such as promising midfield duo Mateo Guendouzi, 19, and Lucas Torreira, 22.
He said: “I am happy with the players that started and am happy with the players who came on but we need to keep pressing and I am continuing this process.”
Arrizabalaga 5; Azpilicueta 7, Rudiger 6, Luiz 7, Alonso 7; Kante 7, Jorginho 8; Barkley 6 (Kovacic 60, 7); Willian 6 (Hazard 61, 7), Morata 7 (Giroud 75, 6), Pedro 6.
Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Moses.
Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Mustafi 5, Sokratis 5, Monreal 6; Guendouzi 7, Xhaka 5 (Torreira 45, 7); Iwobi 6 (Ramsey 68, 5), Ozil 6 (Lacazette 75, 5), Mkhitaryan 6; Aubameyang 5.
Leno, Lichtsteiner, Elneny, Welbeck.