Arsenal finally lifted the gloom surrounding the club and beat Chelsea 3-1 on Saturday, with a strong performance from younger players, as the Gunners won their first Premier League match in nearly two months.
A calmly taken penalty from Alexandre Lacazette, a sensational free kick from Granit Xhaka and a bizarre goal from Bukayo Saka gave Arsenal all three points at Emirates Stadium.
But it was a nervy finish for the hosts as Chelsea got a consolation goal from Tammy Abraham in the 85th minute after initially being flagged for offside. The visitors were then awarded a penalty a few minutes later, but Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno saved Jorginho’s shot in injury time.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said he could feel the energy on the team bus before the match.
“I said to them we have to take this opportunity now,” he said. “It’s a really important win for us.
“We needed the points for sure and we did it against one of the best teams in the league in a convincing way.”
Arsenal moved to 14th place with 17 points after the team’s worst start to a season in decades.
“Yeah, it’s a start, isn’t it? We needed that today,” left back Kieran Tierney said. “We’ve had a few bad results this season. But we started on the front foot today.”
The victory at Emirates Stadium, which was empty because of coronavirus restrictions, eased pressure on Arteta.
“Relieved and proud of the players for the performance they put it,” Arteta said when asked how he felt. “And to give something back to the fans who I can imagine have been very disappointed.”
It was Arsenal’s first league win since Nov. 1 against Manchester United. And the Gunners did it with a combination of senior players and youth, who showed verve and creativity going forward.
Arteta picked young players to start, including Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Saka, and the team shined throughout the match.
“It was a really good mixture of senior players and young players that we have. I think they were really, really good,” Arteta said.
Part of Arsenal’s team selection was forced upon the manager with central defender Gabriel having to self-isolate for three matches because he was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Two other Brazilians, David Luiz and Willian, were absent because they were feeling unwell. And Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was among the substitutes as he recovers from a right calf injury.
Prior to the victory against Chelsea, Arsenal was winless in its last seven league matches with five defeats and two draws.
Chelsea, on the other hand, didn’t seem to turn up for the majority of the match, even though the club could have temporarily moved up to second in the league with a win. The Blues dropped down to seventh with 25 points.
“The first half was certainly our worst performance of the season,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said. “I’m concerned about what’s at the bottom of it, but I’m not sure if it’s complacency.”
Arsenal started brightly and within 40 seconds, Martinelli was unmarked in the penalty area but scuffed his shot. It was a sign of things to come.
As halftime approached, Tierney ran past Reece James in the penalty area and went over. Television replays showed that James clipped the back of Tierney’s left foot, with the Arsenal defender appearing to go to ground easily.
“I felt contact and I went down but I haven’t seen it back,” Tierney said.
But VAR confirmed that it was a foul, and Lacazette stepped up, ran up to the ball, stopped for a moment and then sent goalkeeper Edouard Mendy the wrong way in the 34th.
Lacazette, who is Arsenal’s top scorer in all competitions this season with six, celebrated by wiping his brow in relief and grinning from ear to ear.
Just before halftime, Saka was chopped down by N’Golo Kante for a free kick. Xhaka, just back from a three-match ban for violent conduct, hovered over the ball before sending a stunning, curling free kick over the Chelsea wall with his left foot and into the top corner in the 44th.
Chelsea tried to gain a foothold at the start of the second half after making a double substitution, but it was short-lived.
Saka found his way down the right and only he will know whether he meant it as a shot or a cross. But the ball confused Mendy and sailed over his head to bang in off the inside of the post in the 56th.
When asked if he meant it as a shot, Saka simply said with a smile: “Of course man.”
Chelsea showed spirit at the end, but it was too little, too late. Lampard said his players weren’t running and sprinting enough for large periods of the match.
“Not a good enough first half, a better second half but it was too late by that point,” he said. “It was certainly a lethargic approach in the first half.”
And the penalty miss from Jorginho energized the Arsenal defenders for the five minutes of injury time to see out the match.
“It would have been a longer five minutes if that penalty went in,” Tierney said.
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