It’s not like they needed another dimension. They may have wanted one, but they didn’t need one. And the teams yet to play Chelsea this season certainly didn’t need this. But in Andre Schurrle’s constant attempts to get in behind the Arsenal defence, it may just be that Chelsea have another option to their attack. An ominous sign indeed.
This is not the type of play that we’ve seen very often at Stamford Bridge this campaign. For the first half of the season, Chelsea attempted to play a lot of their football in front of the opposition. Jose Mourinho having accepted the job description, was attempting to play exciting football through a possession-based game. The only problem was, it wasn’t very exciting.
Having experienced the embarrassment of conceding two goals to Sunderland, Mourinho called an end to this experiment. His side would now defend first, and attack second. And in making this change Chelsea become better at both. Since their League Cup elimination to the Geordies, Chelsea have conceded four goals and scored 31 in the Premier League.
While this form is certainly admirable, Chelsea having been guilty at times of lacking a ‘plan B’. You can only counter-attack teams that attack you. And a lot of teams don’t really want to attack Chelsea.
However, against Arsenal, Andre Schurrle offered an alternative option from his right-hand-side berth. He consistently attempted to use his pace to run behind the Arsenal defenders and the Chelsea players were willing to reciprocate his endeavour with service. Chelsea now had the option of playing it direct from the back.
There was one notable occasion in which Azpilicueta’s cross-field ball put Schurrle through on goal only for the German to be wrongly flagged offside. While it may not have come off, it gave the already overloaded Arsenal defence another thing to worry about, and perhaps hinted at future things to come at Stamford Bridge.
What was perhaps most conspicuous about Chelsea’s 6-0 defeat of Arsenal was the relatively diminished role of Eden Hazard. While the Belgian scored a penalty, he wasn’t directly involved in any of Chelsea’s other five goals. Such has been the level of Hazard’s performances recently that this must be seen as a surprise.
The Belgian has been central to everything good that Chelsea do going forward this season. And the forward is probably the best barometer of how Chelsea’s attacking game is going. When Hazard is on form, Chelsea look formidable; but when he’s subdued, the Blues tend to struggle.
Many of his quieter games have come when the greatest attention has been paid to him by the opposition. By doubling up on Chelsea’s creator-in-chief, teams have had some success in shutting down the machine.
This is why Schurrle’s improved form is so significant. By increasing the anxiety of the opposition defence with his eagerness to run in behind on the right-hand-side, the German can stretch the play and create gaps in central areas for his teammates to run into.
Of course, it must be noted that few teams are going to allow Chelsea to play the game they want as much as Arsenal did. The visiting team spread out across the pitch more than most have dared at Stamford Bridge, and encouraged their full-backs to get ahead of the ball, even when they had possession in deep positions.
This meant that the team was easily split open when Chelsea were successful in winning the ball back high up the pitch, and the Arsenal defence was constantly having to scramble while running back towards their own goal. This is the last position you want to be in when facing this Chelsea side, and it’s baffling that Arsenal didn’t alter their game plan in order to limit this.
Caveat aside, it remains very difficult to defend against any team that attacks at the kind of speed that Chelsea do. With Andre Schurrle’s pace in behind alloyed with Chelsea’s already uber efficient counter-attacking game, it appears that it may have just got harder to defend against the team from West London.
And that has to be frightening.