The Warm Down: Gutsy Arsenal reaffirm top-four ambitions 
(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The Warm Down: Gutsy Arsenal reaffirm top-four ambitions 

First-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny set the Gunners on their way to a comfortable win against London rivals

dave-comerford
David Comerford

With Arsenal as often hailed for their irresistible attacking play as they are mocked for their defensive frailty, supporters may have anticipated an effective basketball game against Eden Hazard & co.

Indeed, a repeat of a frantic five-goal contest in August, settled by a late Marcos Alonso strike, was far from out of question.

But Arsenal refused to let this become a tit-for-tat goalfest. This was a performance characterised by an encouraging maturity and an exemplary exercise in game-management.

Lacazette thrives on big occasion once again

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may be the one competing with Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane at the top of the goalscoring charts, but this time it was his partner Alexandre Lacazette who stole the spotlight.

The Frenchman opened the scoring when he danced his way into space amid a mass of Chelsea bodies in the penalty area and hammered the ball past a helpless Kepa Arrizabalaga.

It seems he truly comes alive on the big occasion at the Emirates. This excellent strike comes following wonderful efforts earlier in the campaign against league-leaders Liverpool and fierce rivals Spurs.

Too often, those in Arsenal red have meekly succumbed to high-quality opposition, but in Lacazette it appears they have a player who really relishes the toughest tests. 

His quality is abundantly clear, but greater consistency will be key if the devastating potential of an Aubameyang-Lacazette pairing is to be realised.

Rare clean sheet after composed defensive display

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this performance for the Arsenal faithful will be the ease with which they ensured a clean sheet.

It was just their fourth shutout of the season - only Fulham's shambolic backline has posted fewer - but it will nonetheless be a source of great encouragement.

Skipper Laurent Koscielny, who has only recently returned from a long-term layoff, looked to be back to his best, and the benefit of his leadership was obvious.

As is the mark of the very best defenders, his mere presence inspired confidence and dispelled the customary jitters.

Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira also deserve credit for shielding the defence expertly and seizing control of the midfield battle. Between them, the pair produced a whopping 14 tackles.

Before this game, Chelsea had scored in all of their Premier League away matches, but they were made to look toothless when they pushed, in vain, for a route back into the game.

Of course, the challenge for Arsenal now is ensuring that this is not a mere flash in the pan.

Bellerin injury a bitter blow

The victory has, though, been somewhat marred by a serious-looking injury to Hector Bellerin in the second-half.

All signs - not least the unsettling replays - point to a long-term absence for the improving Spaniard.

Before being stretchered off, Bellerin had contributed his fifth assist of the season - his attacking contributions are right up there with the best full-backs in the world - but more importantly, he had carried out his defensive duties diligently and effectively.

With funds for reinforcements scarce, his footballing maturation will be a key part of Arsenal's efforts to shore up their leaky backline.

Now, though, there is a possibility that the relatively inexperienced Ainsley Maitland-Niles will be forced to fill in at right-back for the remainder of the campaign.

Having just emerged from a debilitating defensive injury crisis, Arsenal will be dreading another.

Arsenal show they won't go away

Arsenal will, of course, draw immense satisfaction from exacting defeat on their rivals and, in the eyes of their supporters, confirming that London is red.

But in the wider context of this season, this result was also extremely important.

A disappointing draw at Brighton, embarrassment at Anfield and an agonising 1-0 reverse at West Ham had significantly dented their hopes of securing a return to the Champions League, but all of a sudden the picture has changed.

Now, they find themselves just three points behind Chelsea, a team beginning to look increasingly unsure of themselves after falling out of title contention, and four behind Spurs, who will be without their talismanic frontman Kane until March.

The victory also saw them climb back above Manchester United, who have not been able to overhaul them despite putting together a six-game winning streak.

Arsenal have underlined their resilience and their determination to take this intriguing battle down to the wire.

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