Focus: How Arsenal can exploit Chelsea's weaknesses at Stamford Bridge
As Chelsea’s implosion worsens and Mourinho’s petulant scowls deepen, their chances of repairing the flaws that have led to crisis seem less and less likely. The visit of Arsenal, who have made a quiet start to the campaign and look particularly threatening through the centre of the pitch, presents yet another ominous challenge for west London’s flailing dictator.
The reasons behind Chelsea’s crisis are easily traceable. Mourinho’s alleged third season syndrome is a consequence of a lack of squad rotation; consistent team selection has left numerous players psychologically jaded, created a tactical consistency that opposition managers can prepare for, and has left the Portuguese incapable of replacing the members of his clique who are struggling for confidence.
The largest problem is in central midfield, where Cesc Fabregas’s positional indiscipline and lightweight defending have allowed opponents to burst through the centre of the pitch untroubled. His most frequent replacement against stronger teams has been John Obi Mikel or Ramires, but with so little game time made available to fringe players at Chelsea neither player has looked particularly comfortable.
Through the middle
Arsenal often frustrate with their obsessive emphasis on central overloading attacks (33%, highest in league), but Arsene Wenger’s use of inverted wingers and neat interplay through the middle is the perfect strategy to dismantle Chelsea’s weak spine. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey cut inside at every opportunity, and Santi Cazorla loves to burst into similar space from a deeper starting position. Chelsea may find themselves overwhelmed by the directness of Arsenal’s dribbling (12 per match, highest in league) in the pockets of space that are frequently left open by Nemanja Matic and his partner.
What’s more, Chelsea are being beaten by fearless opponents pressing from the front (the Blues are fouled 13.8 times per game, more than any other team); with confidence low, an aggressive press is unsettling them. Arsenal have been the league’s most ruthless exponents of this model over the past decade.
When you add Mesut Ozil (5 key passes per game) into the mix, things begin to look ominous for Mourinho. Unless Branislav Ivanovic shows greater discipline and tactical awareness than in recent weeks (Ozil has drifted to the left to support Sanchez this season), and Fabregas works harder to close out the space between defence and midfield, it is difficult to imagine Chelsea breaking out of their rut on Saturday.
Everton's attackers weren't afraid to take on the right side Ivanovic manned