Arsenal grabbed a dramatic late equaliser via Alexandre Lacazette after Chelsea had taken an early lead, as both teams fought for a draw in an intensive game that didn’t resemble a friendly in any shape.
Unai Emery perhaps revealed what his preference for a starting lineup in our first Premier League game of the season in this friendly fixture versus Chelsea, as he named the same defence for a second straight game, with Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis and Kolasinac lining up in the back four, with Petr Cech lining up against his former side.
In a late twist, Emile Smith-Rowe was given another chance to impress, after a late switch for Aaron Ramsey, who was due to start the game but injured himself in the warm up. Mohamed Elneny and the impressive Matteo Guendouzi formed the midfield bedrock, and Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lining up in attack.
Chelsea boss Mauricio Sarri named a strong side too, with Caballero in goal, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz and Alonso in defence, with Fabregas, Jorginho and Barkley in midfield, and Pedro, youngster Hudson-Odoi and Morata up top.
Chelsea drew first blood from a corner. with Rudiger finding space to plant an effort into the bottom corner. Not exactly pleasing for Emery to see, especially after they have been trialling man to man defending on set-plays rather than the zonal defending we had been used to over the years.
We started to get our foot on the ball, but then Hudson-Odoi raced into the box, followed closely by Bellerin, who was adjudged to have brought down the Blues boy, with Morata stepping up to take the spot kick. On the 15th minute, Chelsea had the perfect opportunity to double their lead, but Petr Cech had other ideas, getting down low to superbly stop the penalty, and keep Arsenal in it.
It woke Arsenal up, and we nearly grabbed an equaliser, after Ozil broke forward and slipped in Mkhitaryan, who in turn passed to Auba who just couldn’t quite apply the finish. It was better though, and a sign we were cranking up the gears.
Chelsea had bossed the first half though, aside from some brief moments - and this was without N’Golo Kante. We were missing the experience of Ramsey, the passing of Xhaka, and Torreira’s tackling was perhaps needed most. Elneny was giving his all as he normally does, and Guendouzi was hungry for the ball, but Chelsea were looking composed for the most part.
Hudson-Odoi was stealing the show too, making a mockery of Hector Bellerin with his electric runs that the Spaniard was struggling to quell.
Just before half-time, it was Hudson-Odoi who had probably the best chance to double the lead, his pace leaving him one-on-one with only Cech to beat. It seems the competition for the number one spot isn’t doing Cech any harm at all, as he pulled off a great save to deny the youngster and preserve the scoreline at 1-0, and perhaps his side’s chances as they went in at the break.
Chelsea came out for the second half with two changes - David Luiz was swapped for Andreas Christiansen and Danny Drinkwater came on for Cesc Fabregas.
We were pressing the issue a little more in the second half, and Smith-Rowe looked for the ball at every opportunity, never shying away from the spotlight nor the pressure. We just couldn’t find a way past Chelsea’s defence however. Chelsea weren’t done on the front foot either though.
Hudson-Odoi kept up his campaign to give our defenders a stern workout and his low ball across the box demanded a smart intervention from Cech before Morata could nip in. It gave Chelsea a corner, and Rudiger again found space but this time his effort went just wide - another warning shot for us though.
Sarri made some more changes around the 60 minute mark, with Tiemoue Bakayoko, Victor Moses and Tammy Abraham on for the Blues, as well as Kwame Ampadu, Emerson, and Davide Zappacosta. Emery made his first change at the same time, bringing on Alex Iwobi for Emile Smith-Rowe.
Just minutes later, Sead Kolasinac looked to have injured himself in tackling Victor Moses, and was immediately pulled, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles his successor.
With 20 minutes to go, Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette came on, and in minutes, we had crafted a great chance, with Laca easing past Christiansen, but firing just wide. We had bossed the second half, but had little to show for it.
With mere minutes left, we should have equalised. The ball found its way to Alex Iwobi, who hit a great first time effort, but substitute keeper Marcin Bulka tipped the shot away, when it looked like it would have grabbed us a draw.
The minutes were ticking down and we were absolutely dominating, but every Chelsea man was behind the ball and we couldn’t eke out the chance that we needed to grab a share of the spoils.
But then, right on the death, we got what we deserved. Alexandre Lacazette was the man who came up with the goods, again, as he was in the perfect spot to apply the finishing touch to a drilled ball across goal from Reiss Nelson.
Just what our play warranted. We had some shaky moments, particularly in defence, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. There were far more positives to take from this, and we should remain optimistic for the season.