The 49 Steps
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The 49 Steps

Notes on Chelsea 2–4 Arsenal: Fortune Favours Arteta

The Football Gods must be awfully fond of Mikel Arteta. How else do you explain Wednesday’s crucial 4–2 win away at Chelsea?

It was a terrific and timely result to help lift Arsenal’s previously punch-drunk bid for the Top 4 off the mat. The result was a welcome one, but it owed more to good fortune than anything Arsenal did to shift fate. Not that Arteta didn’t try.

To his credit, the Process King didn’t stand by passively and watch another season slip into the doldrums. He tried to go down swinging.

Arteta’s adjustments included welcoming Emile Smith Rowe back into the starting XI. ESR didn’t play the false nine role I’d hoped he might, but he took up a wide position in place of Gabriel Martinelli.

Moving Smith Rowe to the flank created a space in the middle. Arteta filled it with Mohamed Elneny. It was a gamble worth taking considering Elneny had performed well against Chelsea in the past, but there were more changes from Arteta.

Those more than slight alterations included putting Rob Holding alongside Gabriel Magalhaes and Benjamin White in a back three. Nuno Tavares played left wing-back, while Bukayo Saka slotted in on the right, a role he’d played before under this manager.

Any gaffer deserves credit for at least trying to arrest his team’s slide. The funny thing is Arteta’s myriad of changes did little to reverse fortunes compared to what good luck placed in his lap.

Believe me, this isn’t bitterness talking. Not even if winning at Chelsea for the second season running is probably enough for Arteta to get a new 10-year contract. Hell, given the way he’s revered in some quarters at Arsenal, he’ll probably get a statue and the keys to N1.

The fact is, though, Arsenal were lucky at the Bridge. Lucky when Andreas Christensen made a meal of a simple back-pass and Eddie Nketiah pounced, raced clear and slotted brilliantly into the bottom corner.

Fast Eddie kept his place leading the line while Alexandre Lacazette warmed the bench. I was pleased Nketiah got more minutes, having always been a fan of his hustle off the ball and coolness as a finisher.

Nketiah’s contract is running down because he doesn’t feel he’s getting enough playing time. Chalk it up as oversight №1403 by Arteta and Edu.

The buzz from Eddie’s first goal didn’t last long. Not when Timo Werner put a deflected shot past Aaron Ramsdale after a balls up in midfield gifted Chelsea possession.

Ramsdale’s had a solid season, above the expectations of many, including myself. There have been signs though, he could become a liability, and the lumbering way he tried to get down to this shot, like a tree felled in the forest, was hardly inspiring.

Fortunately, Chelsea were just as shambolic defensively, and Arsenal went back in front when Smith Rowe swept a shot beyond Edouard Mendy after a swift and slick counter. The move began when Granit Xhaka mopped up for some more keystone cops defending in front of Ramsdale.

First, Xhaka made a last-ditch tackle to deny a bloated Romelu Lukaku, then the midfielder nutmegged (meggnuts!) Mason Mount before releasing Martin Odegaard.

On another night Xhaka’s great escape wouldn’t have worked. On another night, the mistakes by White and Holding would have been punished. When your luck’s in…

Regardless of how it was made, the goal meant Smith Rowe was the first player to reach double-digits in the league for Arsenal this season. And in late-April, no less…

Saka would soon join Smith Rowe on the same figure, but not before Cesar Azpilicueta equalised with a stylish finish. Chelsea stitched together a nice move to tee up the defender, but Arsenal’s own defending made me queasy.

It’s considered bad manners to suggest White has been a spectacular disappointment since arriving last summer for a cost of £50 million. Heck, I still belch in public, so here goes: White has been a spectacular disappointment since arriving last summer for a cost of £50 million.

Fortunately (there’s that word again), Chelsea’s generosity had no limits. Nketiah was the next to profit when he ran into trouble after a smart turn in the box.

The ball ricocheted off three Chelsea defenders before Nketiah poked into the net. It was like watching Danny Welbeck’s whole career in a matter of seconds.

Nketiah merited his luck, even if Arteta barely did the same. At least Fast Eddie was able to do something at the Bridge no Arsenal striker had managed for far too long:

At this point, Arsenal had mustered just three shots on target, but scored from all of them. When it’s your night…

Chelsea huffed and puffed in response, at least every player in blue did except Lukaku, who didn’t have two fucks to give. It was also true Arsenal did a nice job of closing gaps and standing firm.

Gabriel outplayed White at the back, while Holding, who has always been a good meat and potatoes defender, did a solid job:

Credit where it’s due, Arteta’s tactics also started to take hold. Xhaka had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt, while Elneny routinely dropped deep to make the back three a four while the wing-backs pushed high up the pitch and denied Chelsea width.

Elneny played that role against the same opposition in the Carabao Cup semi-final under Arsene Wenger in 2018. He’s the greyest player in history, but Elneny is disciplined enough to perform a thankless task if asked.

Unable to break Arsenal down, Chelsea’s frustration simmered on a slow heat until things finally boiled over late doors. That’s when Azpilicueta hauled Saka down in the box, then, for some unknown reason, proceeded to bitch about the obvious and necessary awarding of a penalty.

Saka stepped up and put shitting the bed at Euro 2020(1) at least partly behind him. It was Saka’s 10th league goal and the clincher for a win that’s come at a perfect time.

Spurs losing to Brighton and Shited getting spanked by Liverpool offered Arteta an almighty reprieve. He’s made the first step toward taking what fate has handed him.

It means finishing fourth is still a possibility for the Lucky General. Qualifying for the Champions League would flip the script about this manager.

Returning to the Champions League was the first requirement for any post-Wenger Arsenal manager. Achieving that after putting the FA Cup on the table would suddenly make Arteta’s report card look pretty decent.

Such are the fickle winds of fate.

Originally published at on April 21, 2022.



Arsenal, NFL History and Film Analysis from James Dudko

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James Dudko

James Dudko

Films, Footie and Gridiron, with the emphasis on Arsenal, NFL history and analysis of cinema from years past.