Arsene Wenger admitted that Arsenal’s 3-0 victory over rivals Chelsea was one of the best days in his recent memory after he finally ended his six-year wait for a Premier League victory over the Blues.
Chelsea have overtaken Arsenal when it comes to success on the pitch in London, with the Gunners’ two FA Cup successes failing to rival Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, four FA Cup triumphs and three Premier League title since Wenger last lifted the trophy. But after guiding his side to a comprehensive win – which by all accounts should have been closer to 6-0 such was Chelsea’s atrocious defending – Wenger revelled in “a great day”.
“The first half we wanted to play with high pace, put them under pressure, play at a very high collective connection and speed of passing and it worked quite well,” Wenger said after the match.
“It was one of the moments in your life when as a manager you think ‘ok today is a great day’ and in the first half I think [we] were nearly perfect and in the second half it was a bit in and out but overall in the first half we have shown great quality, we played with style, with pace, with movement and matched the kind of [football] that we want to play.”
The link-up between Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott was a particular delight to watch and all three found the back of the net on a rare day when everything that the Arsenal players tried paid off.
Wenger paid special tribute to Walcott, and believes the England international – who looks certain to be recalled to Sam Allardyce’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia – is a different player mentally to the confidence-drained figure he cut last season.
“You cannot question his performance today but I believe the change of Theo Walcott is his attitude this season,” Wenger explained. “He’s ready to fight, commit and he knows straight away he gets the crowd behind him. A Theo Walcott of that stature is a completely different player.”
The “crowd” that Wenger discussed has often been a talking point at the Emirates, with the 66-year-old Frenchman facing plenty of criticism over the second half of his 20-year tenure at Arsenal. But on Saturday they were firmly behind the side from kick-off, and were repaid with one of the most dominant Arsenal performances over a top-four rival in recent memory.
“I’ve always said that it’s down to us to get the fans behind the team and not the reverse, and we did not always manage that last year,” he said. “Especially in the sensitive period it was not so much the case, but today yes, I felt that they [the fans] really agreed with the quality of our performance.”
Antonio Conte was understandably upset and angry with the way his Chelsea side wilted under the early pressure Arsenal applied, but he refused to single out his defence and insisted it was the team’s responsibility to bear the burden of the defeat.
“I think that it’s not good to talk about the defenders because it’s more important to talk about the whole team,” said Conte. “Because we are a team. We win as a team, and we lose in the same way. For this reason, I don’t like to speak about the defenders. We started the game in a bad way and, from the first minute, it was very strange. Arsenal vs Chelsea is a massive game. When we play this type of game, against a team who are very good like Arsenal, you must concentrate from the first minute. Today it’s not happened.”
Chelsea’s defence has proven porous this season despite the defensive expert in Conte adding his touch on the side. They missed out on a number of transfer targets in the summer that left the Blues moving for the suspect David Luiz on deadline day, while captain John Terry has missed the past three matches with an ankle injury, and Conte still doesn’t know when he will return.
But he also doesn’t know how his defence should shape up, or who should be in it. The Blues have conceded nine goals in their last four matches, and Conte was at a loss to explain what the answer will be despite switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3 midway through the second half.
“I have to solve the situation” he said. “The situation is that, every game, we concede minimum three goals. Two at the back, three at the back, four at the back, I don’t care. I just have to solve this. I must find the right solution for this team because, in every game, we are conceding two goals minimum. I work a lot to find the right solution.”