Arsenal return to top of Premier League with narrow derby win over Chelsea

Gabriel poked home from close range to give the Gunners victory at Stamford Bridge

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Arsenal stay up there, and show Chelsea the level required. This commanding 1-0 win was undeniably Mikel Arteta’s most significant victory of the season so far, as well as another step forward, while a notable step back for Graham Potter.

Among a few key elements was the fact this was the first time there has been an away win in a meeting of the old “big six” this season, something that not even Manchester City have managed. It means Arsenal stay ahead of the champions ahead of the last week before the World Cup, and have given themselves the best possible chance of staying there for the month-long break.

While there remains this expectation that City will eventually streak and bring all their quality to bear, such a position also gives Arsenal the best possible chance of doing something special this season.

At the very least, and to their immense credit, a squad that had been considered thin have continued to show their substance by keeping going. They aren’t just passing tests, but enjoying improving achievements.

They looked like a properly convincing side at Stamford Bridge, much more than a team that has supposedly benefitted from a forgiving schedule. It’s all the more impressive given they haven’t benefited from the level of investment Chelsea have.

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Arsenal instead showed the benefit of investing in a bright manager with progressive ideas, as this was another game where it all looked like it was coming together for Arteta.

One of a few deciding factors here was that they had so much more bite than Chelsea. That came from better shape and intensity. Chelsea, once again, just looked a little soft. And there’s more to it than the lack of a finisher that drew similar criticisms of Potter at Brighton, especially given the nothing performance that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang delivered.

The new manager still has so much work to do.

Arsenal celebrated a narrow win over their London rivals

Potter has admittedly been much more constrained by injuries than Arteta, and even if that is offset by a deeper squad, it has required more changes to his team. That has affected rhythm and intensity, and often means Chelsea look like a team still figuring themselves out. They spent much of the first half trying to figure out where teammates were, as their opening period was defined by misplaced balls.

It wasn’t the only reason that Aubameyang had just four touches in the first half, although that was part of it. Arsenal made sure to have him well covered. One of the least surprising events in the game was when Aubameyang was hauled off just after Arsenal scored.

The changes didn’t make too much difference in terms of attacking impact.

Chelsea were still lacking in that bite, except – Arteta’s staff might say – in some of the challenges on the Arsenal front three. There were constant stoppages, which meant the game was both frenzied but also lacking in cohesion, not to mention actual incidents.

The best for a long time was a curling Gabriel Martinelli long shot, before the Brazilian sent in a tantalising cross for Gabriel Jesus. It just evaded the forward. Martinelli himself should have done better with a similar but superior chance shortly after half-time. Despite being unmarked and just yards out, though, the forward barely got contact on a Martin Odegaard cross that just begged to be finished.

Arsenal did seem to be hurting Chelsea more any time they attacked, with much more assertiveness, but just lacking the finish.

That made the manner of the goal a touch ironic. Saka wasn’t actually trying to score but his corner just swung through Kai Havertz, Jorginho and Thiago Silva to fly right straight into the net. It was then that an Arsenal player applied a finish, though, as Gabriel made sure by absolutely slamming the ball into the roof of the net.

Gabriel slammed home Saka’s corner from close range

That was the kind of force Chelsea so badly needed in actually defending.

The goal, at last, ignited the event as a game, and made it properly end to end, rather than a lot of shapeless running.

A moment that defined that came in the 73rd minute, and should have been decisive. Armando Broja broke to set up a chance at one end, only for Arsenal to just deflect the ball away, with the ball going straight up to the livewire Jesus. He did brilliantly to so elegantly evade Silva’s sliding challenge on the turn, with his pass putting Odegaard straight through on goal. The playmaker made the mistake of checking back rather than continuing forward, though, ultimately blazing his shot over. The danger of that was illustrated when Ben White had to rush back to clear what seemed a certain Chelsea chance.

It was the sort of deeper drive that Potter’s team were missing, that only really evolves from a project coming together; from commitment paying off.

That’s what Arsenal are enjoying now. They may not be champions. They may not even end up top going into the World Cup break.

All that matters for now, however, is they have given themselves the best possible chance.

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They also looked a better side than they have done for many years. They looked like what Chelsea have for so long been to them, the more convincing side, the team better at doing their jobs.

Arteta has made them real contenders.

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