Published on January 22, 2013 | by Nathan Evans

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Punditry Corner: Ramires energy typifies Chelsea’s winning tactic

Rafa Benitez

Under-pressure Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez scores a vital tactical victory over Arsenal.
(Picture: The Sport Review on Flickr)

Sunday’s London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge was the epitome of a game of two halves.

The way in which Rafael Benitez set his side out from the first whistle was the way many fans had been waiting for; they were aggressive, attacking and ruthless in what they did.

Chelsea were hungrier in their pressing of the ball, regularly winning the ball back quickly, whereas Arsenal allowed the hosts time and space when they were in possession.

Indeed, the first goal represented the way Chelsea started the game compared to Arsenal, as Ramires pressed and won the ball (albeit unfairly) from Francis Coquelin in midfield, laid the ball to Cesar Azpilicueta, who had time and space to deliver a pin-point cross-field ball directly to Juan Mata’s feet, who was in acres of space due to the lackadaisical nature of the Arsenal defence.

From the start Chelsea were quicker to the ball and livelier in possession than the Gunners, not letting Arsenal settle into the match, with Ramires in particular key to setting the tempo, harassing Arsenal’s midfield. The proof was in the pudding when Chelsea counter-attacked for the first goal as Bacary Sagna reacted too slowly, while the rest of the defence failed to recognise the Frenchman was out of position.

Their second goal came from a similar route, as this time Abou Diaby was dispossessed in midfield by Ramires, who then followed the move unmarked, before being fouled by Wojciech Szczesny for the penalty. Again, Chelsea’s superior tempo and pressing forced the chance, as Arsenal’s midfield continued to struggle to gain a hold of the match.

However, the roles were reversed in the second half, as the visitors fought for a foothold in the match. Arsenal were brighter and fresher, as the Chelsea defence sat back and were put under immense pressure. The key difference in this half was Santi Cazorla, who in the first half was used in wider areas, but switched his focus in the second period, staying more central, while crucially Jack Wilshere and Diaby began to force their way into the match and feed the Spaniard.

Cazorla now stood as a link between midfield and attack, and the goal that brought them back into the game seemed an evident tactic. Theo Walcott had tried, and failed, to spring Chelsea’s offside trap numerous times previously, before Cazorla’s defence-splitting ball eventually put Walcott in on goal.

The goal in part was down the hosts’ high defensive line, which Walcott continually looked to exploit. Chelsea have persistently played a high defensive line recently, but we saw its flaws in last week’s match against Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg. Branislav Ivanovic didn’t pay attention to the fact he had no support around him when picking up the ball, before Michu stole it from him because of lack of options and no one was around to cover.

However, what essentially decided the game was that in the first half Chelsea took the chances they had given to them by a very slow and lacklustre Arsenal defence, whereas the Gunners in the second half failed to make the most of their dominance, and possibly some tiredness on Chelsea’s part after their high-tempo pressing game in the opening 45 minutes.

 

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