Chelsea fell to a disappointing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal on Saturday evening, in what was one of the worst performances Antonio Conte’s side are likely to put in all season.
Conte and Chelsea game plan was clear from the very start of the game. They sat deep and allowed Arsenal pressure. With Alexis Sanchez leading the line for the Gunners, there was minimal aerial threat from Arsenal’s strike force. So naturally Chelsea were more than happy for Arsene Wenger’s side to play the ball around and eventually lob a ball into the box, which would be relatively easy for the Chelsea back line to deal with.
On paper, this sounds like a very good plan, when executed correctly. However, a little over ten minutes into the game, a mistake from Gary Cahill let Sanchez in to put Arsenal ahead. This was an absolute disaster for Conte’s men, conceding so early on.
The game plan was not likely to change as Chelsea looked to weather the early Arsenal storm, but they were unable to do this when Theo Walcott doubled the Gunners lead. When setting up as Chelsea did, the wingers must track back and do their defensive work. This is precisely what Eden Hazard didn’t do. He failed to track the run of Hector Bellerin, who made his way in behind the Chelsea defence before slotting the ball square to Walcott, who was left with an easy finish.
Two goals down away from home in under fifteen minutes, Chelsea had to change something. They abandoned their defensive, and slightly negative tactics and started to attack a little more. The third goal for Arsenal was scored with pace and power and on the counter-attack, exactly what Chelsea were defending against in the first place.
There was nothing wrong at all with Antonio Conte’s tactics and how he set up his team at the Emirates, but there were some serious problems with how the Chelsea players executed their manager’s plan.
The fact that Gary Cahill didn’t win a single tackle throughout the ninety minutes was an absolute disgrace, and how he was caught in possession by Alexis Sanchez just ten minutes in was also a disgrace, and was not the first time he has been caught on the ball this season.
Eden Hazard has never been the most hard-working player in the Premier League, but if he had tracked back to cover left-back César Azpilicueta, the second goal could have been easily prevented.
If Conte wants to set up the way he did, he needs everybody on board and needs to have 100% confidence in all eleven players that they will do their jobs, and if he even has the slightest of doubts that one of his players is going to let him down, they must not start.
On the subject of the defensive setup, we have seen Chelsea manager Antonio Conte use a back three in his jobs at both Juventus and Italy. With wing-backs, they can provide a huge threat offensively, but they can drop in to change into a back five when needed, seemingly perfect when Conte wants to setup his team similar to what he did at the Emirates.
So far at Chelsea, Conte has used a back four, and the arrival of David Luiz sparked speculation that Conte may start to field a back three with wing-backs at Chelsea. He started to use this tactic a little at Arsenal in the latter stages of the game, but after the shambolic performance at Arsenal, Conte could have a defensive shake-up over the next few weeks.
To summarise, Chelsea can only have themselves to blame for the defeat at Arsenal and cannot turn to their manager and his tactics for somebody to blame. Also, Conte may need to revert to a back three, or tinker in someway with the defence in response to the shocking display at the weekend if they are to challenge high up in the Premier League table this season.