Chelsea 0 Arsenal 1
Thomas Tuchel suffered a surprise rare setback in his charmed Chelsea career as his side spurned the opportunity to go third and above Saturday’s FA Cup final opponents Leicester City.
Arsenal had not won here for almost a decade and were expected to be cannon fodder for their London rivals. But Mikel Arteta’s men finally showed some of the desire and passion that has been too often lacking during their mediocre mid-table season.
Arteta’s August FA Cup final and St Stephen’s Day wins over then Chelsea boss Frank Lampard were key in the Stamford Bridge legend’s unseemly departure from the club. Arteta has found one top club he can outwit at will.
There is no danger of Tuchel going the same way, however, with the Wembley and the Champions League finals to follow.
Liverpool and West Ham will take heart from a chance to close the gap in the top-four race, but Chelsea remain favourites to clinch that spot too.
Arsenal’s victory was an old fashioned ‘smash and grab’ as they grimly clung on to an early Emile Smith Rowe goal following a huge error from Jorginho.
A bit of local pride is all they can claim in terms of honour and if there was any doubt Chelsea had bigger games in mind, Tuchel betrayed his priorities in his team selection.
He made seven changes to his side that won at Manchester City at the weekend. Kepa started between the sticks while Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Ben Chilwell, Jorginho, Mason Mount, and Kai Havertz also started.
Havertz did not do his cause any favours, however, when he was guilty of a shocking miss with only 11 minutes gone. The German forward easily dispossessed Pablo Mari and ran at goal with only Bernd Leno to beat. However, shot well clear of the crossbar.
It had been a relatively even game up until then but the relief of an escape seemed to lift the tension for Arteta’s side and they dominated the next five minutes before taking the lead.
It was a bizarre goal to concede for a team that had let in fewer than any other side in England since Tuchel succeeded Lampard in January.
Zouma and Jorginho got themselves penned in by Arsenal’s pressing midfield and panicked. Jorginho tried to pass back to Kepa and the Spanish keeper scrambled to prevent an own goal only for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to pounce on the loose ball and feed Smith Rowe, who shot in off a post from around the penalty spot. Even the shot was scrappy from Arsenal’s best player on the night, a youngster rejected by Chelsea in his formative years.
Chelsea responded well enough and had sufficient opportunities to both equalise and take the lead before half-time. Rob Holding made a bold block from a Mason Mount volley and Leno also saved well from the young England international.
Christian Pulisic headed over the bar from close range and recalled midfielder Mo Elneny put his body on the line to deny Ben Chilwell.
We reached the break with Arsenal’s goal their only shot on target while Chelsea had created eight goalscoring attempts. The stats at the end showed Chelsea had 19 shots to Arsenal’s five. Defence against attack is the name of the familiar training ground exercise but with 11 v 11 there was little room for manoeuvre.
Tuchel wanted more and sent on Callum Hudson-Odoi for Billy Gilmour to start the second half with a three-man attack. The German coach took a more active role too; dictating events from the touchline having spent most of the first half sat back in his dugout.
Relentless Chelsea thought they had levelled with half an hour to go but Pulisic’s close-range effort was eventually ruled out for offside.
Arteta sent on right-back Hector Bellerin in a further defensive move while Tuchel introduced former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud for the luckless Havertz. Bellerin did not last the match as ceaseless defending took a toll on his fragile frame and Arsenal somehow survived a series of goalmouth scrambles and the ball pinging around their area.
Make no mistake, Chelsea will need to show more attacking edge and invention to finish the season victorious and avoid another comedy of errors, or they will be the only team not left laughing.
CHELSEA: Kepa 6, Azpilicueta 6 (Ziyech 78), Thiago Silva 6, Zouma 5, James 6, Jorginho 5, Gilmour 6 (Hudson-Odoi), Chilwell 6, Pulisic 6, Mount, Havertz 5 (Giroud 65).
ARSENAL: Leno 6, Holding 6, Mari 6, Gabriel 6, Tierney 7, Elneny 6, Partey 5, Saka 6 (Bellerin 66, Chambers 87)), Odegaard, Smith Rowe 8, Aubameyang 5 (Lacazette 80).
Referee: Andre Marriner 7.