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How Rice and Odegaard brought Arteta's half-time tweaks to life

By Alex Keble 23 Apr 2024
Rice, Odegaard

Alex Keble on why Arsenal midfield duo were able to shape a dominant second half against Chelsea

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Alex Keble looks at how Arsenal recorded their biggest-ever win over Chelsea as the Gunners moved three points clear at the top with a 5-0 win.

To think that at half-time there were a few concerned faces around the Emirates after Chelsea had spent a good 20 minutes knocking at the door.

By the final whistle Arsenal had recorded their biggest home win of the season, humiliated their rivals and moved back to the top of the table with an extended goal-difference advantage.

The title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 38 +62 91
2 Arsenal ARS 38 +62 89
3 Liverpool LIV 38 +45 82
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It was a strange game: a 5-0 drubbing that could have been different. Nothing went in for Chelsea in that first half, everything went in for Arsenal in the second.

To put it another way, Arsenal responded to pressure like potential champions. Chelsea crumbled.

The moments that matter came at the start of both halves, and judging by what happened in that Arsenal blitz after the break - judging by the gesturing from Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice - Mikel Arteta had a hand in turning a nervy showing into one of the most emphatic wins of their season.

Here’s the tactical story of Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Chelsea.

Chelsea’s wingers give Arsenal early advantage

In the first 15 minutes Arsenal were all over Chelsea and could have been out of sight.

The problem for Mauricio Pochettino, other than a ponderous start, was the positions taken up by his two wingers when Chelsea did not have the ball.

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Sat in a 4-4-2, the visitors’ wingers Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke repeatedly failed to help their respective full-backs Marc Cucurella and Alfie Gilchrist.

Neither tracking the overlapping full-back nor doubling up on Bukayo Saka or Leandro Trossard, it was too easy for Arsenal to shuttle the ball out wide, drive at the overworked full-back and set a tempo that should have had the hosts two or three goals up.

After happening several times in an opening flurry of activity, it led directly to the opener in the fourth minute.

Kai Havertz dropped off the front line and, with nobody tracking him, he played the pass into Odegaard that opened up space for Rice, where Madueke – again out of position – should have been.

Arsenal first goal v Chelsea

From here, there was nothing Gilchrist could do with the overload on that side and Leandro Trossard showed why, with nine Premier League goals in the equivalent of 14.3 full matches this season, he is the clinical finisher this team needs.

Chelsea get back into the game through Jackson

Despite several good chances developing down those exposed flanks, Chelsea managed to recompose themselves and build back into the contest via some sharp passing that beat the Arsenal press.

Nicolas Jackson was at the epicentre. He was always ready to receive straight passes from Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo under pressure, and Arsenal became rash in their defending.

It isn’t often you see them pulled into an end-to-end match, but once Chelsea’s vertical progression had Arsenal’s midfield spinning and backpedalling, they started to move a little wildly.

It made for an odd half in which Arsenal, holding just 43 per cent possession, were turned so easily they began to drop back too far, letting Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher get on the ball in the half-spaces and drive his team forward.

Rice & Odegaard encourage team-mates to enact half-time changes

Arteta will have known something needed to change, and a couple of inconspicuous moments at the beginning of the second half offer a clue about what he decided to do.

Arsenal had dropped too deep in that first half, so they needed to fly out of the blocks and try to pin Chelsea back in the measured way that is more typical of their season.

Here, just two minutes into the half, Arsenal captain Odegaard (circled in black) screams at his team-mates and gesticulates furiously, throwing both hands above his head several times in an attempt to push his team-mates up the pitch.

Odegaard gesture

That’s very unusual so early in the half; a confident, bullish action that tells us there was a plan to follow.

Sure enough, Rice responded by sprinting out, winning the ball in that first Arsenal line and moving through to win a corner. It set the tone.

A few minutes later, here’s another gesture, this time Rice (circled in black) preaching for calm by frantically gesturing and refusing a pass – something you would never normally expect him to do.

Rice gesture

He wanted slow, steady control and the possession recycling that Arteta’s side have used all season to take the sting out, retain their shape and stop their opponent from swinging things back the other way.

Responding to Rice’s instruction, the ball was slowly recycled to the other wing, a corner was won, and a tried-and-tested routine ended in that crucial second goal.

“More discipline, basically, to do the right things,” Arteta said was his instruction to his players at the break. We saw that in spades, and it was the two on-field leaders, Odegaard and Rice, who ensured those words were followed.

Arsenal run riot as Chelsea’s youth shows in Palmer’s absence

From here, Arsenal simply turned the screw, taking the game away from a naïve Chelsea team who showed their youth in caving early on in both halves.

And once the second goal went in, it was the Odegaard show. He was immense all evening, creating eight chances (all from open play), assisting two goals and pulling the strings in a dominant display across midfield.

Chelsea missed their own playmaking leader.

In the build-up to the game Pochettino urged his players to prove they are not "Cole Palmer Football Club". A 5-0 loss in the derby probably means Chelsea will struggle to shake that label for a while.

Palmer’s killer instinct (he has scored or assisted 29 of their league goals, 48 per cent of their total) could have changed the direction of this game during Chelsea’s stronger moments in the first half.

It leaves Chelsea with just two wins in nine away games in all competitions in 2024 and, in this most erratic of campaigns, another dazing, migraine-inducing evening for Pochettino.

As for Arsenal, there is no sign they will buckle under the pressure. This is a stronger, more experienced team than last season. They will go the distance.

 

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