Analysis

The Debrief: Why Blues couldn’t turn possession into points against Arsenal

In our statistical look at last night’s defeat to Arsenal, we highlight some of the key numbers that explain why we found it so difficult to break down the Gunners’ massed ranks of defenders after going a goal down.

Once we found ourselves behind to Emile Smith Rowe’s goal in the 16th minute, Arsenal were content to sit back in numbers and hold on to their lead, making it a frustrating evening for the Blues as we tried to find a way through the wall of red shirts in front of us.

The manner in which we conceded was unfortunate to say the least, as a wayward pass back from Jorginho to goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga provided Arsenal with the opportunity, and despite Kepa doing well to prevent an own goal, the visitors punished us ruthlessly before we could recover.

It will have been a disappointing moment for Thomas Tuchel, as while such individual errors have been few and far between under his leadership, it was the return of an issue which had plagued us at the back before his arrival. It was the eighth time this season a Chelsea mistake has led to an opposition goal in the Premier League, our highest in a single campaign since 2015/16, and only Liverpool (nine) have conceded more from errors this season.

The source of last night’s error was also a bit of a shock. If there’s one man you trust to put a pass on target it is usually Jorginho, who has made short, quick and accurate passes his hallmark at Stamford Bridge, as shown again against Arsenal. He made a total of 97 passes – only Cesar Azpilicueta (103) and Kurt Zouma (110) made more – with an accuracy of 87 per cent, but unfortunately it was one of the 13 per cent off target which made the difference this time around.

Frustration in front of goal

Our inability to breach Arsenal’s determined rear guard wasn’t for a lack of effort and we did manage to craft out chances, but when we did the pressure and frustration of the one-goal deficit seemed to get the better of us.

Mason Mount alone was credited by Opta with creating four chances against Arsenal, more than any other player, and the whole Gunners team combined, taking his total in the Premier League this season to 82, second only to Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes (92).

However, a combination of wasteful finishing, goalkeeper Bernd Leno and the woodwork prevented us from finding the equaliser. We managed a healthy 19 shots at goal, but nine of them missed the target and five were blocked by defenders, leaving Leno to keep out the remaining five.

In contrast, although Arsenal only had five shots in total, only one was off target and of the two which were on target and not blocked, they scored the decisive goal, giving them a conversion rate of shots to goals of 20 per cent.

Lacking efficiency

Despite the defeat, our domination of the ball was once again clear, playing 808 passes to Arsenal’s 386 and having 939 touches of the ball compared to just 534. In addition, every outfield Chelsea player barring Zouma and Thiago Silva had an average position inside the Arsenal half, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the only Arsenal player consistently in our half, and only just.

A massive 43 per cent of the game was played in Arsenal’s third of the pitch, with just 19 per cent in ours, but we didn’t take advantage of that territorial superiority as well as Tuchel would have liked.

The German explained that his half-time change was partly an effort to get more quality shots in from outside the penalty area, but it was a wish we never really managed to fulfil. While four of our five shots from range came after the break, we were unable to get any of them on target.

It was perhaps telling that two of those five came from centre-back Zouma, making up half of his four efforts. The other two were more conventional headers, which were both on target, one being tipped onto the crossbar by Leno. For possibly the first time, that means the French defender had more shots than any other player on the pitch, as he was thrown upfield as a centre-forward in the closing stages.

Tuchel had also bemoaned a lack of urgency as one of the reasons behind our inability to find an equaliser, and the fact that substitute Olivier Giroud was only one shot behind Zouma with three attempts – joint with Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz – and also hit the woodwork, seems to bear that out, given the striker was only on the pitch for the final 25 minutes.

With seven of our total 19 shots coming inside the last 10 minutes, combined with Giroud and Zouma’s figures, it shows the difference that the increasing urgency and resulting willingness to move the ball into the box earlier had in the closing stages. Unfortunately it was too little too late for the Blues on this occasion.

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