Antonio Conte Took the Premier League by Storm – but can Chelsea Stay in Front?

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London – Chelsea’s domestic campaign ended on a sour note, with last Saturday’s 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal denying Antonio Conte the double in his first campaign at Stamford Bridge. But it is Conte who has been Chelsea’s superstar this season and his decision to switch from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 in autumn should be considered among the most decisive tactical moves in the 25-year history of the Premier League. After changing to that system, Chelsea steamrollered their way to the title and eventually recorded 93 points – the second-most in the Premier League era.

Conte, however, is unlikely to rest on his laurels and will strive to improve Chelsea further next season. It is notable that no one has retained the Premier League since Manchester United won it in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and Conte will need to create a stronger squad to cope with the added demands of European football if he is to defend the league title successfully.

Indeed, since that decisive switch to 3-4-3 in the second half of a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal in late September, Conte essentially used only 13 players to any great extent. As with Leicester in 2015‑16, it is easy to identify Conte’s first‑choice starting XI, with only a minor debate about whether Willian or Pedro should start on the right and a late flourish from Cesc Fàbregas testing Conte’s faith in his regulars.

Conte’s main task now will be developing his squad for next season for a Champions League challenge and he may even prioritise European competition as a personal mission, considering his inability to take Juventus past the quarter-final stage. Either way more rotation will be required. Chelsea appear well‑stocked in defence, with Nathan Aké and Kurt Zouma likely to play a more significant role next season, but Chelsea are woefully short of midfield back-ups after the mid-season departure of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG. Up front, Michy Batshuayi provided some decisive contributions from the bench but Conte will need to use him more next season.

In a tactical sense, too, Chelsea may need to evolve. If it would be unfair to suggest that opponents have found out their system, it is clear the 3-4-3 did not work quite so effectively after Christmas, with Tottenham, Manchester United and then Arsenal all genuinely outplaying Conte’s side. It is notable that Chelsea went 11 games between January and the end of April without keeping a single clean sheet, an amazing statistic considering they kept six in a row immediately after the change of system.

Opponents exploited weaknesses in the 3-4-3 more readily: Spurs successfully exposed Gary Cahill’s lack of mobility and César Azpilicueta’s lack of height. Other sides have caused Chelsea problems with energetic pressing and have exposed Fàbregas’s tactical indiscipline when he has started in a central role, and Manchester United man-marked Eden Hazard very effectively, leaving Chelsea without genuine creativity. Arsenal used Danny Welbeck up front to prevent Chelsea’s defence from keeping a high line and then, when Conte asked his players to press, Chelsea lack compactness and Arsenal played through them easily.

The level of opposition scouting and data analysis in modern top‑level football means systems can be considered unbeatable one month and fundamentally flawed the next, and top-class managers are always seeking to evolve their side and keep opponents guessing.

How, then, will Conte change things next season? First, Diego Costa may depart and the nature of his replacement may cause a fundamental restructuring of Chelsea’s attacking play. A pure speedster up front, for example, might mean Conte is more likely to field a defined midfield playmaker. On that note, Fàbregas has proved almost irresistible in recent weeks, having been excluded from the starting XI at the start of the campaign, although in big games the Catalan surely needs two defensive midfielders behind him, which would necessitate a change of formation.

Conte could, therefore, turn to a 3‑5‑1‑1, a system he used in the second half of matches in recent weeks, with Fàbregas as a third central midfielder and Hazard floating behind the main striker – which might allow the Belgian more freedom to evade opposition man‑marking. This was a formation Conte occasionally turned to at Juventus, albeit without significant success.

However, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Conte could ditch his three-man defence entirely. With Marcos Alonso capable of playing left‑back and Azpilicueta a natural right-back, Conte can switch from a back three to a back four seamlessly, and it is slightly surprising he has not done so more regularly this season – that flexibility has clearly benefited Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham. Perhaps, with Conte’s 3-4-3 proving so successful, he simply hasn’t needed to. But Conte had planned to use 4-2-4 and 4-1-4-1 at Chelsea – and if he suspects opponents have sussed out his 3-4-3, we could see something radically different for 2017-18.

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Arsène Wenger Confirms he is still the Best Choice for Arsenal

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London – Regardless of the result, this felt like a fitting end to the campaign – a match between two sides lining up with a three-man defense. It had, of course, been a 3-0 defeat at the Emirates in September which encouraged Antonio Conte to switch to his 3-4-3 system, and then Chelsea’s astonishing run of form seemingly encouraged Arsène Wenger to follow suit.

For all the pre-match speculation about Arsenal’s defensive problems and the controversial decision to play David Ospina rather than Petr Cech, Wenger’s key decision here was up front. For the 4-0 FA Cup final victory over Aston Villa two years ago, Wenger elected for the speed of Theo Walcott and omitted Olivier Giroud, and the extra pace forced Aston Villa’s defense to play deeper, creating space between the lines when their midfield tried to press, allowing Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil to run riot. Here, an almost identical thing happened – albeit with Danny Welbeck, rather than Walcott.

Welbeck was excellent throughout the first half, making dangerous runs into the channels and terrifying Chelsea’s backline with his speed. He played up against David Luiz, but made runs into wider positions, winning a foul from the usually unflappable César Azpilicueta when running in behind and later dragging Gary Cahill out of position for Özil’s good chance in the inside-right position.

But more than anything, it was the threat of Welbeck’s speed in behind that proved crucial. Chelsea started the game incredibly deep, surely much deeper than had they been playing against Giroud, which allowed Arsenal time on the ball in midfield. Sánchez’s opener was controversial, but it’s not often you feel a fourth-minute goal had been on the cards; Arsenal had started superbly.

Perhaps Chelsea wanted to play on the counterattack, seeking to expose Per Mertesacker’s lack of speed. But such a reactive strategy was less viable when 1-0 down so early. Conte came running out of his dugout to gesture for his players to push up the pitch, and center-forward Diego Costa made similar motions. But Chelsea looked extremely reluctant to press, and the positioning of their defensive line barely changed. When N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic pushed forward, they were generally too slow to close down Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, who could prod the ball through the lines to Sánchez and Özil in space. Arsenal were dominant, storming forward on the counterattack and forcing a couple of set pieces, with Welbeck and then Ramsey hitting the post in quick succession, then Welbeck having a good chance on the left.

The onus was on Chelsea to get back into the game, and their first-half performance was so poor that you suspected Conte might change things even before half-time. Instead, he waited until the hour mark before inevitably summoning Cesc Fàbregas, whose absence from the Chelsea midfield in the first half exposed a lack of creativity in that zone. But Fàbregas barely had a chance to play his way into the game before Victor Moses received his marching orders with a second bookable offense for his dive in the Arsenal penalty area.

This was a new problem for Conte – the only previous red card shown to a Chelsea player this season was John Terry’s with Chelsea 3-0 ahead against Peterborough in the third round. Reshaping from a 3-4-3 isn’t simple, and so Chelsea ended up moving to a 4-3-1-1, with Azpilicueta sliding across to right-back. No one was out of position, but having played with a back three all season, Chelsea’s shape simply did not feel right.

Yet they got themselves back into the game through a very simple route – substitute Willian’s deep cross into Costa, who fired home via a Mertesacker deflection. But Arsenal’s unfamiliar backline had largely stood firm: Nacho Monreal made some excellent interceptions, Mertesacker was absolutely outstanding considering this was his first start for over a year, and young Rob Holding was confident enough to dish out some verbals to Costa in the opening stages, a moment that suggested Arsenal, for once, were not going to be bullied by Chelsea.

Chelsea were level for only two minutes, however. Welbeck had tired and was replaced by Giroud immediately after the equalizer. And while the Frenchman is less inclined to run in behind the opposition defense, that’s precisely what he did here, spinning into the left-hand channel before playing a blind – but perfectly-weighted – chip into the box, met by Ramsey’s typically well-timed run and simple header. Wenger is rarely praised for his tactical acumen, but he got his decision-making up front absolutely spot on, both with his initial selection and timing of the substitution.

In a wider context, too, Wenger has rarely demonstrated his strategic ability so impressively. His switch to a three-man defense prompted a run of nine wins from 10 matches, ending with this confident victory over the best side in the country. Wenger declared it one of the proudest victories of his Arsenal career, and in a tactical sense, considering his injury crisis in defense, it was perhaps the most impressive.

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Premier League 2016-17 Review: What We Learned Tactically From The Season

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London – Three-man Defences

Unquestionably the Premier League’s dominant tactical trend was the three-man defence. A remarkable 17 of the 20 sides started with a back three at some point in the season, with only Southampton, West Bromwich and Burnley doggedly sticking to a back four.

Its overwhelming popularity was largely down to the influence of Antonio Conte at Chelsea. His decision to switch to a three-man defence in the second half of the 3-0 defeat by Arsenal in September proved a turning point and is arguably the most significant tactical decision in the Premier League’s history. Chelsea’s subsequent run of 13 successive victories, the first six without conceding a single goal, was the main reason for their title success.

Chelsea’s system was flexible – at times it looked as if the wing-backs were part of the defence, at other points in the midfield line, but it was most effective when Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso pushed forward aggressively and effectively formed a front five with Pedro Rodríguez, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. Teams found it impossible to cope with their back four being overloaded, with Chelsea’s wing-backs regularly popping up unmarked at the far post to convert when the opposition had been dragged to the opposite flank.

Ronald Koeman’s Everton were thrashed 5-0 at Stamford Bridge when attempting to match Chelsea’s shape but opponents often found themselves faring better when deploying wing-backs. Pep Guardiola’s unusual 3-2-4-1 system should have beaten Chelsea at the Etihad but Chelsea fought back and recorded a 3-1 victory, their most important win of the campaign. Chelsea’s winning run was ended in January by Spurs, who also played 3-4-3.

By spring even Arsène Wenger was playing a three-man defence for the first time in 20 years. Arsenal took inspiration from Chelsea, who had changed system in the first place because of a defeat to Arsenal. Saturday’s FA Cup final will be 3-4-3 against 3-4-3, a fitting summary of this domestic campaign.
Pressing

While many of the bottom-half clubs remained focused on dropping deep and staying solid in two banks of four, the general trend for the bigger sides was to press aggressively in more advanced positions. Although it was relatively rare to see a full-pitch press in the Premier League, midfield zones have become based around regaining the ball as much as retaining it.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham remained the Premier League’s most cohesive, efficient pressing side. With Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld happy playing in an advanced defensive line, and Victor Wanyama recruited for his ball-winning ability in front of the back four, Tottenham were even more defensively solid than last season, conceding only 26 goals.

Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool press in a different manner, counter-pressing to regain possession immediately after the ball is lost. They are also excellent at boxing teams in towards the flanks, shifting almost their entire side over to one touchline. On regaining possession they look to spread play and knock quick-passing combinations into attack, which occasionally worked excellently.

A few years ago, when Barcelona and Spain’s possession football was at its most revered, Premier League midfielders played calm roles, keeping their shape and using possession with care. Now everything has become considerably more frantic, based around constant sprinting, closing down and blocking off passing angles. The physical demands are extraordinary and it is notable Chelsea – like Leicester the previous season – had the benefit of no European football.

Quality in possession has taken something of a backseat and it is significant N’Golo Kante was voted the PFA player of the year. Ball-winning has rarely been so vaunted.
High goals-per-game rate

At one stage it seemed the Premier League was on course to beat the division’s record for the highest number of goals per game. In the end it fell narrowly short, finishing on 2.80 goals per game, 0.01 short of the record set in 2011-12.

But whether or not the record was broken is largely irrelevant – the main story is the average has returned to its level of a few years ago. Between 2009-10 and 2013-14 the goals-per-game average was at its highest rate, a steady spell of 2.77, 2.80, 2.81, 2.80 and 2.77. It then dropped to 2.57 and 2.70 for the last two seasons.

This season’s rise underlines that the majority of Premier League teams have generally played positive football. Perhaps only Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Watford were unduly negative – others may have defended deep but usually offered a sufficient counterattacking threat too.

The high goals-per-game ratio was also a reflection of the inequality in the division. The 15-point gap between seventh-placed Everton and eighth-placed Southampton was notable but more significant is the fact the top seven recorded goal-difference figures of +18 or more, and everyone else managed -7 or less.

The final day of the season, when the top four sides defeated the bottom four sides by an aggregate scoreline of 20-2, rather underlined the disparity and, while a high goals-per-game rate is usually celebrated as a good thing, it is worth considering the numbers in more detail. Often it is simply a sign of inequality, whereas the Premier League has marketed itself as a league where anyone can beat anyone.

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Can other Teams Copy José Mourinho’s Template for Nullifying Chelsea?

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London – José Mourinho’s Manchester United are not the first side to defeat Antonio Conte’s Chelsea or even the first side to defeat Conte’s Chelsea since their season-changing switch to 3-4-3 back in October but no other side has nullified Chelsea’s attacking threats so effectively. This was the first time for a decade that Chelsea did not have a shot on target in a Premier League match. Suddenly, with Tottenham only four points behind, the title race is back on and Chelsea’s remaining opponents have a tactical template to follow.

Mourinho’s primary strategy was simple: man-marking Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s dangerman and the player he fell out with so spectacularly last season. This should not have come as a surprise, considering Mourinho used this approach in the recent 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Stamford Bridge, when Phil Jones was deployed in that role but Ander Herrera was dismissed for fouling Hazard when the Belgian drifted into his zone. Herrera was given that responsibility on Sunday and played the role to perfection. Only one player in the Premier League, Middlesbrough’s speedy winger Adama Traoré, has dribbled past opponents more frequently than Hazard this season, yet at Old Trafford he did not attempt a single dribble. He was starved of possession, starved of space and Herrera deserves great credit for his diligence.

It was peculiar, however, that Hazard and Chelsea did not have an obvious plan for combating this man-marking approach, considering Mourinho had showcased these tactics in that FA Cup meeting. Indeed, while Mourinho complained that Herrera’s dismissal was the turning point in that match, with some justification, Chelsea had grown into the contest before his red card, precisely because Hazard and Willian drifted around, swapped positions, and confused United’s man-marking.

At Old Trafford Hazard did not show enough tactical intelligence to drag Herrera into uncomfortable positions and Chelsea’s attacking play suffered badly. Conte’s decision to switch wing-backs César Azpilicueta and Victor Moses after half an hour, putting the latter to the left, was seemingly to provide more attacking intent down that flank and to let Hazard drift around.

Herrera’s man-marking role meant he played little part in Manchester United’s attacking play, so it was unfitting that he played the crucial pass for their opener. He intercepted a pass intended for Hazard – with an outstretched arm – before curling a wonderful ball in behind the Chelsea defence for Marcus Rashford to sprint on to and beat the advancing Asmir Begovic.

This justified Mourinho’s decision to start Rashford ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – in the FA Cup game, with the Swede suspended, Rashford worked the channels effectively and outwitted David Luiz but missed his one key chance. This time he played similarly, had more support with Jesse Lingard pushed forward into a second striker role and underlined his potential to become an exceptional all-round striker. At the start of the second half Herrera’s deflected shot extended United’s lead.

After the second goal Conte changed things, introducing Cesc Fàbregas for Moses and asking the Spaniard to play at the top of midfield. This briefly caused United confusion, as Fàbregas was playing in Herrera’s natural zone, and he suddenly looked worried about the threat of stopping both Hazard and Fàbregas. Five minutes later, however, Mourinho introduced Michael Carrick for Lingard, moving from 4-4-1-1 to 4-1-4-1, and Carrick focused on nullifying Fàbregas.

At times this was a total man-marking exhibition, with Mourinho seen frantically shouting at the left-back, Matteo Darmian, to stick tightly to Willian, another substitute, in the closing stages. Such strict man-marking is relatively rare in the modern game but Sir Alex Ferguson used Jones in that role against key dangermen – Gareth Bale, Marouane Fellaini, Cristiano Ronaldo – in his final season and Louis van Gaal’s midfield pressing strategy often involved nothing more than three man-marking jobs. United, more than most sides, are accustomed to that approach, although it is doubtful whether it is a viable long-term strategy.

The more pressing question is how Chelsea respond to the defeat. The game underlined their reliance on Hazard for attacking inspiration, with Diego Costa seemingly focusing on his squabble with Marcos Rojo, Pedro also subject to tight marking and little creativity from midfield before the introduction of Fàbregas. Conte can point to the absence of Thibaut Courtois in goal and the left wing-back Marcos Alonso to explain his side’s sluggishness but title winners should be capable of coping without two first-choice players. Their run-in looks relatively simple but Hazard can expect more problems with man-marking after the success of Mourinho’s approach here. Conte, so revered for his tactical intelligence this season, must find a solution.

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Champions League Last 16: Tie-by-Tie Analysis

Real Madrid

1) Manchester City v Monaco

First leg 21 Feb Second leg 15 Mar

Pep Guardiola will be content with this draw, but Monaco are among the most exciting sides in Europe and perhaps the most underrated team in the competition.

Leonardo Jardim has created an exciting side who have scored an incredible 53 goals in 17 Ligue 1 matches. Although Monaco share the goals around impressively, it is notable that Radamel Falcao has found his shooting boots again, scoring five goals in Monaco’s past two games. They are also tactically flexible, able to play both 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 effectively, as they demonstrated with 2-1 victories home and away against Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage.

City will start as strong favourites, although Monaco is a tough place to go – despite, or maybe because of, the famous lack of atmosphere.

2) Real Madrid v Napoli

First leg 15 Feb Second leg 7 Mar

These sides have not met since the days of Diego Maradona. The European champions Real Madrid are likely to keep up their impressive recent record in the competition: after six years of being eliminated at this stage between 2005 and 2010, they have reached at least the semi-finals for the past six seasons, triumphing twice.

Napoli’s main goalscoring threat will come from the former Real winger José Callejón, their top goalscorer – he cuts in dangerously from wide positions and is a clinical finisher. Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne also offer unpredictable movement, while the centre-forward Arkadiusz Milik should return from injury in time for this tie.

Real are a strong side, however – better than last season in terms of organisation, and still brilliant on the counter-attack.

3) Benfica v Borussia Dortmund

First leg 14 Feb Second leg 8 Mar

Two European champions meet for the first time in more than half a century. Benfica are a decent side, and while the coach Rui Vitoria is yet to fully demonstrate his tactical acumen in continental competition, Benfica caused Bayern Munich a fright in the competition last season, narrowly defeated 3-2 on aggregate at this stage. The Argentinian attacking midfielder Eduardo Salvio has been their stand‑out performer in the competition this season, managing three goals and two assists, and rounded off a brilliant passing move to open the scoring in the 2-1 derby victory against Sporting Sunday.

Dortmund are a thrilling side, though – Thomas Tuchel has created a flexible, fast-paced team, and the talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Osumane Dembélé and the returning Marco Reus could overwhelm Benfica.

4) Bayern v Arsenal

First leg 15 Feb Second leg 7 Mar

These two clubs will face one another for the seventh and eighth times in the past five seasons. Bayern eliminated Arsenal at this stage in both 2012-13 and 2013-14.

However, the German club are probably weaker now. Although they top the Bundesliga, they are still a work in progress under their new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, and lost against both Atlético Madrid and FC Rostov in the group stage, also falling to a 1-0 defeat at Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

Arsenal appear more organised and tactically intelligent this season, while the use of Alexis Sánchez up front provides more dynamism. Their task for the first leg in Munich is ensuring they remain in the tie, and the second leg is not simply a familiar exercise in saving face.

5) Porto v Juventus

First leg 22 Feb Second leg 14 Mar

Juventus are probably being underrated – they are only seventh favourite for the competition – and this is a favourable draw for Max Allegri’s side. Capable of playing with a three-man defence, a four-man defence and a hybrid system that can catch out opponents, they have more goal threat after the summer arrival of Gonzalo Higuaín, who is still seeking to prove he can deliver in big games.

Porto are, as ever, a slick passing team offering plenty of width, and they have added another dimension to their play with André Silva, a rare prolific Portuguese centre-forward, managing nine goals in 13 league games this season, and another two in Europe. It remains to be seen whether Porto can frustrate superior opponents, though.

6) Bayer Leverkusen v Atlético

First leg 21 Feb Second leg 15 Mar

These sides met at this stage two years ago, both winning 1-0 at home before Atlético triumphed on penalties. Tactically, this might be one of the most fascinating ties, with both sides extremely well organised and particularly clever in their pressing. Atlético’s style is suited to European competition and Diego Simeone might prioritise the Champions League with his side seemingly out of the Liga title race. The goalkeeper Jan Oblak and the centre‑back Diego Godín are among the best in Europe, while Yannick Carrasco, Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann provide tremendous pace up front.

Leverkusen are based around the goal‑poaching of Javier Hernández, but with Hakan Calhanoglu’s creativity and dead‑ball expertise, and a combative, mobile midfield, this could be a great contest.

7) PSG v Barcelona

First leg 14 Feb Second leg 8 Mar

Another repeat – these sides played twice in 2012-13 and four times in 2014‑15, with Barcelona rampant in the quarter-final two years ago, winning 5-1 on aggregate.

Barcelona have not been at their best this season, and their midfield passing has been uncharacteristically poor. They are more dependent than ever upon Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez for moments of magic – but they rarely have quiet games.

PSG are struggling in Ligue 1, four points off the pace – which might not sound disastrous, but it is a significant decline considering they won the title last season by a ludicrous 31 points. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure means the inconsistent Edinson Cavani leads the line. Marco Verratti, meanwhile, is the type of midfielder Barcelona should be looking to sign.

8) Sevilla v Leicester City

First leg 22 Feb Second leg 14 Mar

This could be brilliant – heavy pressing against counter-attack. The Sevilla manager, Jorge Sampaoli has taken his side to third in La Liga with a young, dynamic and cohesive side capable of truly wonderful football. The Italian midfielder Franco Vazquez has been particularly exciting, while Samir Nasri has also thrived and the former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder Steven N’Zonzi plays a solid midfield role for the club who have won three consecutive Europa League titles.

Leicester’s league form has been patchy, but their Champions League performances have largely been excellent, while the weekend thrashing of Manchester City showed Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have not lost their touch. Sevilla will have most of the ball, but Leicester can cause an upset.

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Dangerous Alexis Sánchez the riving force of Arsenal’s attack

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Arsenal’s 3-1 victory against Bournemouth perfectly summarised their recent performances: three shots on target and three goals. It means their total for November, traditionally the month where Arsène Wenger’s side endure a slump in form, is 10 goals from just 11 shots on target – an entirely unsustainable rate.

In a flat performance, Arsenal’s standout performer was Alexis Sánchez. Reverting to his centre-forward role having played wide in the 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, the Chilean demonstrated his all-round ability here, scoring two goals, hitting the bar with a powerful shot from a tight angle, and also creating five chances for his team-mates, the most of any player on the pitch. He was Arsenal’s chief provider, and most dangerous goal threat.

In last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United, Sánchez was guilty of dropping too deep, but here he varied his position intelligently without abandoning his centre-forward role entirely. When he did move towards play, Theo Walcott drifted inside to become a temporary centre-forward, and Mesut Özil made sporadic runs in behind too. There were signs that Sánchez and Özil are becoming a proper partnership, combining regularly in counterattacking situations.

From the moment Steve Cook was cautioned for a clumsy late foul on Sánchez in the right-back zone, inside five minutes, it seemed the Bournemouth defender was set for a tricky afternoon. Sure enough, Sánchez’s opener came when he exploited a woefully underhit Cook backpass before converting easily. It felt somewhat similar to his opener in the 3-0 victory over Chelsea in September – his only previous goal at the Emirates this season – when he exploited Gary Cahill’s sloppiness in possession. Cook’s mistake was entirely unforced, but Arsenal are nevertheless more likely to win the ball in advanced positions with Sánchez up front, always prowling dangerously in the hope of an error. He also tracks back when required – at one stage, with Bournemouth building play in central midfield and Özil seemingly not interested in regaining possession, Sánchez sprinted back 30 yards, won the ball, and Arsenal were on the attack again.

This was not a flawless individual performance: it was Sánchez who conceded possession shortly before Bournemouth were awarded a penalty, when Nacho Monreal was adjudged to have fouled Callum Wilson. A more natural centre-forward might have held up the ball, and while Sánchez is surprisingly strong for a man of his size, playing with his back to goal remains his major weakness as a centre-forward.

Nevertheless, he repeatedly drove Arsenal forward, lifting the tempo when the Emirates was quiet at 1-1, and later gestured for Arsenal to calm the game and retain possession reliably after they’d taken the lead. For such a frantic, high-tempo player, Sánchez is also intelligent in a tactical sense and capable of altering his style to suit the nature of the game. He was also seen commanding his team-mates against PSG, and is arguably Arsenal’s most natural leader.

His best contributions came when Arsenal were 2-1 ahead, after Walcott headed home from Monreal’s cross. That meant Bournemouth pushed men forward and Arsenal had space to break into. When attacking into the inside-left channel Sánchez nearly found Özil with a delicate pass after the German had shown fantastic movement to drift towards the far post before suddenly producing a lightning near-post run, and the Chilean played the game’s best pass with a truly outrageous outside-of-the-boot ball in behind, which Özil should probably have made more of.

It was only fitting that Sánchez wrapped up the scoring, a tap-in after good work from Olivier Giroud, who was introduced as a substitute, down the right. Giroud will feel his constant contributions from the bench merit a permanent place in the side, but realistically Wenger will consider this evidence Giroud is a fantastic plan B. Sánchez is now his main man up front, and, in this mood, as dangerous as any footballer in the Premier League.

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