Seven Reasons Arsenal Beat Chelsea

Gooner Fanzine writer Mike McDonald analyses Arsenal's victory over Chelsea as Gunners return to Premier League top spot

Seven Reasons Arsenal Beat Chelsea

This article first appeared as ‘When you read the book from the beginning’ - An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective' at Gunnerstown and has been published with the blessing of the author.

For more from the brilliant Mike at Gunnerstown click here 

Follow Mike on Twitter here

Read Mike in every print issue of the Gooner Fanzine. Buy our current issue 296 here 

I want to start with an admission. 

I have barely looked at the Premier League table for many many years.

My doctor had asked me what I thought was raising my blood pressure because I am a calm guy. I told him that Arsenal‘s fortunes were the biggest issue and closely followed by paying bills by phone. I’m a people person and so pressing 1, then 3, then 7 then 0 because I should’ve pressed 0 earlier. Then listening to somebody with an accent that I cannot understand who wants to spend 3 minutes asking me the same questions that the person before just asked me. Then another two minutes thanking me for my loyalty to their company. And all this when they have every detail of me and my bank account already on file.

Maybe you can relate?

When the season started and after about two months, I still didn’t want to look at the table. I think it’s the permutations that raise my blood pressure. 

Here comes admission number two….today I was at church and Max is nudging me wanting to check on the Liverpool Tottenham game. I tried to be the good Dad and resist and told him to sing the songs. Then I caved. I will ask for forgiveness later, don’t worry. After he looked at my phone I looked at the table in depth for the first time in the longest time (during my wife singing ‘Shout to the Lord.’). She doesn’t read my blog so she will never know.

Even after declaring that I think Arsenal can win the league last week, it seems even more real this week. It seems more real because I don’t feel alone. I feel that after yesterday the masses are starting to point at Arsenal. Anyone can go to Stamford Bridge and win 1-0 in this league. It’s more likely that we do in this form, but the result isn’t surprising. What will have surprised the neutrals in particular is the total 95 minute domination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before even when Arsenal were Invincible. 

So, how has this happened?

Firstly, modern football is centered around balance. 

Which team can get the balance right between attacking and defending. 

How many players should you have in attacking lines at one time and the flexibility to be talented as a coach and willing enough to switch based on game state and opponent. The coaches have this balance as their obsession. You will hear about it every now and again but it is what is going on behind the scenes. In my opinion, Arsenal are currently the best team in the Premier League in this area. City are more potent going forward but often are caught short going the other way. Arsenal are not so we get the bigger round of applause.


When Arteta came in he did two important things. 

Phase 1 was him being wise enough to realize that he needed to think short term in order to convince the fans, the players and the owners that he could do the second thing. Winning the FA cup did that. Then he embarked on phase 2.

Phase 2 was walking into the classroom, telling the players to throw their old textbooks in the rubbish and giving them an updated version. The Juego de Pocision titled book needs much patience. It’s not necessarily the right way to play football. There is no right way. There are many ways. You just have to pick the right way for the group that you have. Part of me would love to use this same book with my high school team but that would fail because they unfortunately don’t have the foundation that I would like. You need a group who are firstly willing to learn. We didn’t have that. So, he ditched those that were too egotistical to learn and believe that he knew something that they didn’t. 

He then started at the beginning of the book. 

This might sound obvious but it is rarely done in football. Most coaches are fully aware that their stay is likely short. That every training session is simply focused on winning the game in front of you. Most are not given time to teach a new philosophy from the beginning of the book. They might actually be as talented as Arteta, but they know if they go to chapter one then they will have to suffer until they get to chapter 3 or 4. Their owners will lose their faith and they will lose their job. So, they open the book that they teach from on chapter 3 or 4 and continue coaching in a game to game way. 

What might come back to being the single best decision that Arsenal Football club have made in the last 20 years is the decision to actually back the manager and not just say that you were going to and go with the breeze and the negative headlines. Ride the wave and be patient. Let him teach slowly and effectively without skipping chapters. Alongside this decision had to be proper investment and the owners have followed through there, also.

Then you have to look across town. Look at the contrast. Perhaps Chelsea‘s owners if they are smart will see that they also have a talented coach. He is already making noises about his appreciation for our style and I get the feeling watching his former team that he could do a similar work. He might have gone to the wrong team. Chelsea have no patience. Even though their new ownership might, the fans have been brought up with success, failure then fire. Rinse and repeat. 

You look at the contrast in the two teams yesterday. Graham Potter said after the game that Arsenal  are at a different phase of our development as a team. Chelsea played the game with a strategy but also off the cuff. Arsenal played the game with automatisms that are vital for long term success. 

It was like watching one team try to build a house without starting by building the foundation. The other taking their sweet time, having extended lunch breaks and resting in the sweet sun with a cigar in their mouth. Then going back to work knowing that their house wouldn’t collapse because they were taking their time doing it the right way. 

In football terms you see this clearly and how quickly the players make decisions. Chelsea‘s players are an equal to ours and can also make quick decisions but not necessarily the best decision. Because Arteta started at the beginning of the book he has taught our players the importance of the details. How their body position affects their decisions. How their first touch has to set up their second touch and is second in priority to scanning to ensure that where they want to pass the ball is a safe option. So, we see Chelsea pass the ball around but not make intelligent progress. Then we saw Arsenal moving the ball at a quicker speed and away from pressure and making intentional progress that has been practiced for three years.

Then what you get three years into reading, studying and executing this new book you see a game where players of equal quality look galaxies apart. Seeing Mason Mount have no affect on the game and Bukayo Saka having a consistent positive impact. Not sure that Gareth Southgate will pay attention to this but hey-ho. You also find yourself watching a game where the away team looks like they are playing at home. So comfortable. So assured. So much belief.

If anybody from any other fan base is reading this, this is not just a good run. You need to understand that. A good run is what any team can do if they focus on one game at a time, choose the right tactics and execute. This is that but with the foundation. Because it has a foundation, it has a future as well as a present.

If anyone ever finds this book, burn it. Everybody else is starting to point at Arsenal and they want a copy.

Seven Reasons Arsenal Beat Chelsea

Well, where do we start. There are lots…..

1) Bukayo Saka

Saka starts games by beating his man and going to his right first. Small detail but really important. He has a reputation for being very left footed and I have noticed that he has been using his right foot more. In order for his game to be increasingly effective he needs to be unpredictable.

2) Gabriel Jesus

Jesus has to be one of the most ‘impactful’ players I’ve seen . You could write a whole blog every game just on his performance. There is so much to see on both sides of the ball. 

Aubameyang was never this bad at Arsenal as Arteta would not let him have such little impact. It does though show the vast difference in general game impact and it’s honestly a little embarrassing.

Gabriel Jesus is best described as a player who is willing to do more than others in his position. Defending doesn’t just include pressing for him. It includes chasing and tackling players when the team needs help. It means taking more kicks than anybody else but not letting it affect your game.

Perhaps the detail that I am most enamored with is his willingness to back into defenders. Most strikers just will not do this. They will let their defender win the ball because they don’t want to make contact with somebody that will likely hurt them. Because Jesus backs in, the opponent cannot win the header or send it where they want to.

On many occasions he will win it himself where other strikers aren’t even trying. He’s now off on the attack after bravery, an incredible first touch and a delightful twist and turn where the other strikers are taking a nap break whilst their team defends.

One last thing: He has yet to be rewarded for his intricate dribbling inside the box. Yet to score a goal from it or get a penalty kick but that is coming. You can see it. Yet another string to his bow that the others don’t have.

3) Pragmatism

I love that our textbook is being adapted. This is seen in playing out from the back. Most teams who play out from the back do it exclusively unless they are under big pressure.

Arteta has built our midfield and forward line to become physically able to contest longer passes and win the second balls. So, statistically we are actually only playing out from the back 30% of the time (I’m accurately informed). Again, variety and unpredictability makes us harder for our opponents to read and prepare for.

4) William Saliba

There is so much that you could say to compliment William Saliba. Recently, he hasn’t been in poor form but made just a couple of mistakes. Then he goes into a London Derby against a top team and you’d think that he’d be concerned about these mistakes. Instead, he was the Man of the Match. Then put on a clinic in defending. Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay him is that centre backs ordinarily hit prime at about 30. He doesn’t look like a youngster or play like one. He plays like a prime elite centre back who could play for any team in world football.

5) Motivation 

Alongside having a talented coach who is doing the right thing at the right place at the right time, you can see every week the buy-in from his players. I will pick up three examples… firstly, I closely watched the players during the medical emergency.

Chelsea‘s players wandered over towards Potter at their own pace. Every single one of our players jogged over because they wanted to hear from Arteta who they know can help them. There is such humility and respect in that.

Secondly, one team looked like they were 100% focused on winning an important Premier League game. The other teams look like they had the majority of their players trying not to get fatigued and injured for the World Cup. Lastly and maybe most impressive, watch Kieran Tierney. He has been through so many disappointments this season.

He may not look happy at the end of games but what matters is what he does on the field. Most players who are frustrated by not being selected will not put in the focus and effort that he does. This is a credit to him but more so it is a credit to the coach for instilling the importance of professionalism over personal emotion. Most coaches cannot do this no matter how hard they try.

6) Zinchenko

Keeping your eyes off the ball you can see a very interesting role that Zinchenko plays. When we have possession he seems to have the freedom to fill the attacking holes that are available based on the game rather than a pregame decision. Only an intelligent and very technical player can pull this off and I believe that we will be reminded of his qualities in this area after the World Cup.

7) Ben White

f you can’t see that Ben White is worth the 50 million that we spent on him then I feel for you. Coaches want top players but coaches really want top players who are consistent. Ben White is in the latter category.

I wonder if our coaching staff are recruiting players and intentionally choosing players in certain positions that have serenity. I think of Ben White, Saliba, Partey and Odegaard in particular. Why is this important? If you have players who are serene, have a chilled personality then the helter skelter of playing Premier League football will not rattle you, especially when under intense pressure. Think about these four players when they are under intense pressure. Do you ever see panic? Other teams do not have this like we do.

This article first appeared as ‘When you read the book from the beginning’ - An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective' at Gunnerstown and has been published with the blessing of the author.

For more from the brilliant Mike at Gunnerstown click here 

Follow Mike on Twitter here

Read Mike in every print issue of the Gooner Fanzine. Buy our current issue 296 here 

Mike McDonald is a former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with three kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years. Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.

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  1. Alex in Wengerland

    Nov 07, 2022, 15:01 #117293

    Absolutely love MØ8 but ... I have to say Zinchenko is different gravy. Top article IMHO esp the part about winning the FA Cup being the springboard for Arteta to start at chapter 1 again instead of hoping that all the players knew all that was in the first 2 chapters.