Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Chelsea F.C marked their second victory of the season – this time a big one – over their London rivals, Arsenal. The scoring of as much as three goals is already reflecting their offensive progress. Thanks to Sarriball! However, conceding two goals also tells a story about their defensive shortcomings. Let’s look at the explanation of how Chelsea exploited Arsenal’s lack of defensive coordination to execute and capitalise their attacking play and how their own defensive arrangement cost them to concede two back to back equalisers in the first half of the game.

Arsenal man-marking defence

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Arsenal structured their man-marking defence around Chelsea’s active region which left Chelsea’s fullbacks wide open.

Arsenal played with Emery’s commanded man-marking approach and structured their defensive shape around Chelsea’s active region. This prompted the away team to fore-press Chelsea whenever the ball played by Chelsea’s backline causing the later to pass sideways to counter the press. But Chelsea’s backline amazingly exploited this fore-pressing from the opponents in their build-up by pulling the opponent players closer to them to create space behind these closing-up defenders in the midfield so as to play a forward pass, or a threaded pass, instead of passing back to the goalkeeper.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Arsenal’s forepressing structure leaving space behind them for Chelsea to play in.

However, it’s not just Chelsea’s ability to quickly capitalise these spaces but also lack of coordination by Arsenal’s man-marking approach, due to which the away defence couldn’t stop the unexpected forward runs by Chelsea players. Pedro’s goal is one of the examples before which Willian’s inside cut also pulled Bellerin along-with leaving space for Alonso at the flank to make his run and pass to Pedro already running from his respective flank levelling up with the defence. In the second half though Torreira replaced in for Xhaka to improve the defensive stability of Arsenal at the midfield. Same goes for Morata’s goal following Azpilicueta’s long pass which could be attributed to away defenders’ lack of defensive judgement in a man-marking setting.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
The build-up to Pedro’s goal.
Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
The build-up to Morata’s goal. Morata, who was a real nine, positioned his run right when Azpilicueta was positioning himself for a long pass. The defenders got late in chasing.

In short, Arsenal’s uncoordinated man-marking approach caused their defensive structure to position itself as a whole following the attacking regions dictated by Chelsea. But within their defensive structure, there was a lack of communication among the players which was exploited by Chelsea’s players making runs from behind.

Chelsea played as a coherent unit

Sarri has implemented a cohesive playing structure for his team both on and off the ball. As already exhibited in their first league match at Huddersfield, Chelsea played a highly attacking football with the forward plays started as far as from the backline. Chelsea players are inclined to maintain this possession and passing game by structuring coherently close to each other to ensure multiple passing options around the ball-carrier. On the other hand, when off the ball this close coherent unit enables Chelsea defence to remain compact.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis

The passing structures in the central regions were set up to have three passing options around the ball carrier with Jorginho at the base of it. Barkley and Kante often went up alternatively depending on when the play commenced from their respective plane while Jorginho remained at the base of the passing play.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Barkley went up to find attacking space while Jorginho and Kante behind. Jorginho is positioned at the last midfielder.
Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
When the play switched to the right, Kante moved up with Barkley and Jorginho behind. Jorginho is still the last midfielder – the base.

On the other hand, the passing structures in the wider planes had four passing options with the respective centre back at the base of the passing structure, the respective central midfielder at the front, and Jorginho at the inside to shift the play horizontally if needed. The Blues have already been famous for their diamond passing sometime back; now the same is being implemented in Sarri’s intense, offensive style.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis

Jorginho at the inside of Chelsea’s diamond-shaped passing.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Chelsea passing map shows a lot of horizontal shifting of play in the midfield around Jorginho.

The coherent display compressed the play and so the positions of the players on the pitch to an extent that it opened up the flanks for Chelsea’s fullbacks as the wingers were cutting in. While Willian and Barkley had more of their influence towards the inside, their replacements, Kovacic (first appearance for Chelsea) and Hazard, tactically gained Chelsea by shifting the influence to the width. This also worked well in response to Arsenal’s replacement of Torreira to stabilise the defence.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Pedro’s movement to the inside created space for the fullback Azpilicueta at the flank.
Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
The build-up to Alonso’s goal. Hazard moved wide and dribbled up to put in a cross to Alonso.
Kovacic’s pass map below also shows his attacking influence at the width and has played more forward passes than Barkley. This intense forward play by Kovacic extended Chelsea’s overall attacking shape up to the width giving the home team greater access to Arsenal’s half.
Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Kovacic pass map against Arsenal
Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Barkley pass maps

Chelsea’s defensive arrangement in goal area

Chelsea did defend like a cohesive unit, however, the defensive organisation was still likely to lose compactness once the opponents penetrated to Chelsea’s defensive third via long balls or via any quick pick-and-pass play while in the transitional phase. As a result, Chelsea coped up with this loosening of compactness by going all flat. Following this, the midfielders also dropped back to go flat with the backline. This left a huge space for the opponents in front of the defence line to take long shots. Instead, the midfielders should have remained ahead of the backline to stop such long shots.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis

As the play, on the whole, was compressed enough to leave one of the flanks open, Arsenal also exploited the open wings to penetrate to their final third, like Chelsea did to Arsenal. And once penetrated, they were good in sending crosses from the wider planes into the spaces left by Chelsea outside or between their passing structures.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Mkhitaryan went up from the right and sent a cross to Iwobi who dropped in between the home defenders with a clear sight for the goal.

This vulnerable defensive arrangement of Chelsea also conceded them expected goals (xG) stats which increased dramatically for Arsenal in the second half surpassing that of Chelsea’s.

Sarri Chelsea Arsenal Tactical Analysis
Chelsea vs Arsenal xGplot

Conclusion

Overall, the two sides were almost equal to a large part of the game in terms of attacking attempts. However, Arsenal’s uncoordinated man-marking and Chelsea’s quick responsiveness to the opened up spaces led Sarri men to overtake the away team eventually. It’s the match of speed and timing – an outcome of Sarriball – which empowered Chelsea to beat such kind of man-marking press.