The mistake from Jorginho that gifted Arsenal victory summed up Chelsea’s lack of direction. Thomas Tuchel’s side lost their bearings because they failed to treat the game with enough respect. They started with the wrong attitude and could not complain about a defeat that breathes life back into the race to qualify for the Champions League, even if Arsenal’s winner was bizarre.
This was a reminder that Chelsea, who created little after falling behind to Emile Smith Rowe’s early goal, have achieved nothing yet. They can still end the season outside the top four and Tuchel will hope the complacency has been drummed out of his players by the time they face Leicester in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
It was not just about the moment when Jorginho’s wayward backpass led to Smith Rowe’s farcical goal. The third defeat of Tuchel’s reign would have been avoided if Chelsea had shown more dynamism up front, yet they could not find a way through Arsenal’s dogged back five. Chelsea were short of ideas long before the end and, although they remain in fourth place with two games left, they have given West Ham and Liverpool faint hope of catching them.
The worry for Tuchel is that his side could not match Arsenal’s fight. Rob Holding produced a gigantic display at the back for the visitors and Mikel Arteta was delighted with the way his bruised side held on for a win that lifts them up to eighth, with European qualification still a slight possibility.
Tuchel preferred to look closer to home, blaming himself for picking the wrong lineup. Perhaps Chelsea were already thinking about Wembley. Their passing lacked its usual zip and Chelsea’s lethargy during the early stages was typified by Kai Havertz, who produced far too casual a finish when Arsenal suffered the kind of defensive malfunction they have experienced so often on this ground.
The moment called for ruthlessness when Havertz whipped the ball away from a dithering Pablo Mari in the 10th minute. Yet the forward grew uncertain as he advanced on Bernd Leno and he produced a weird finish in the end, spooning the ball over the bar.
Havertz’s vagueness was replicated at the other end six minutes later. Disrupted by Arsenal’s determined pressing, Chelsea were struggling to play their way out of a tight position when Jorginho made matters worse with a moment of high farce, almost scoring a truly magnificent own-goal with a stray backpass. It was astonishingly slack from a player who is usually so composed and, although Kepa Arrizabalaga scrambled to push the ball away from goal, the Chelsea goalkeeper was powerless to prevent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang collecting possession and giving Smith Rowe an easy finish.
It should be stressed that none of this was on Arrizabalaga, who would have appreciated a quieter evening after being given a rare start in the league before his likely involvement against Leicester. It was on Jorginho, who failed to look properly before hitting his pass.
It was also a lesson for Arsenal, who matched Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 system, about the value of making things happen with straightforward commitment. Wounded after their defeat by Villarreal in the last four of the Europa League, there was a steelier feel to Arteta’s side. Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard flickered behind Aubameyang and there was some resilient defending from Arsenal when Chelsea began to stir, with Mari particularly vocal at the back.
Chelsea, who rested N’Golo Kanté and Antonio Rudiger, increased the tempo as the half wore on. Inevitably Mason Mount led the charge, only to see one goalbound shot saved by Leno and another blocked by Holding. Christian Pulisic also went close, nodding over from close range.
All the same Tuchel needed far more urgency from his players. He exploded with fury when Havertz loped into the area before diffidently losing the ball in the 56th minute. Chelsea were in control after moving Mount into midfield but they struggled to get behind Arsenal, even though the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi for the disappointing Billy Gilmour at half-time gave them another option in attack.
Arsenal worked hard, with Smith Rowe an insistent presence. They restricted Chelsea to few clear openings and were rewarded for their spirit when VAR came to their aid after an hour, ruling Pulisic offside when the winger headed in a corner from close range.
It was that kind of night for Chelsea. Kurt Zouma drew quizzical looks from his teammates after smashing over from 30 yards and there were anguished cries when Olivier Giroud, on for Havertz, slashed wide.
Arsenal were hanging on a little at the end, Pulisic and Giroud going close, but Chelsea did not do enough. The disappointment burned. When it was over Jorginho looked straight to the skies before marching down the tunnel after giving Arsenal their first win at Stamford Bridge in a decade.