Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal
- Goals: Emile Smith Rowe (£4.2m)
- Assists: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.3m)
- Bonus: Smith-Rowe x3, Bernd Leno (£5.0m) x2, Rob Holding (£4.3m), Gabriel (£4.9m) x1
Arsenal channelled the spirit of George Graham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, grinding out a hard-earned 1-0 win.
It was a classic backs-to-the-wall display, with Arsenal registering only seven penalty box touches all evening – a total matched by Olivier Giroud (£6.7m) in a 25-minute cameo.
They did ride their luck, with Kai Havertz (£8.3m) missing an early sitter and Chelsea hitting the woodwork twice in quick succession.
But the Gunners have been solid on their travels all season and this was their eighth away clean sheet of 2020/21, a total that only Manchester City have beaten on the road.
And up next is Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, a side that have scored just twice in their last six home matches.
A total of 18 players were used by Thomas Tuchel across his side’s Double Gameweek 35, with only Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.9m), Reece James (£5.1m), Billy Gilmour (£4.3m) and Christian Pulisic (£8.3m) escaping a benching.
Azpilicueta remains Tuchel’s most-used player since his appointment, having started 15 of the Blues’ 17 league matches from Gameweek 20 onwards.
That’s one more than even Edouard Mendy (£5.2m) has managed; the Chelsea custodian was benched again on Wednesday, with Kepa Arrizabalaga (£4.7m) handed his third Premier League start in the Tuchel era.
The Chelsea boss has had great success with his squad management since his appointment but this proved to be one step too far, with the Blues delivering a flat display.
An admirably honest Tuchel said after full-time:
The choices were not so good today from my side.
I’m not happy with my line-up, was too many changes. I should not have done it like this.
RIGHT PAIR OF BLANKERS
Arsenal and Chelsea now take a backseat in Blank Gameweek 36, with the Blues’ involvement in the FA Cup final on Saturday meaning that they and Mikel Arteta’s troops are without a Premier League fixture this coming weekend.
With Chelsea’s Gameweek 37 and 38 fixtures sandwiched by their appearance at Wembley and the UEFA Champions League final, it seems likely that we’ll see a similar division of minutes between their squad – although a top-four place could still be on the line on the final day and Tuchel’s comments above are worth bearing in mind.
As for Arsenal, their elimination from the Europa League means that they can focus on domestic matters, although the odds on them qualifying for Europe next year are still long.
A double-header against Crystal Palace and Brighton is a decent way to round off the season for the Gunners but again, Arteta’s predilection for a spot of rotation – there were five changes tonight – will be offputting for some Fantasy managers.
Wednesday’s result suddenly handed an advantage to Liverpool in the race for a top-four place.
Leicester and Chelsea face each other in Gameweek 37, meaning that the Reds ‘only’ need to win their remaining four Premier League matches to secure a qualification spot for next season’s Champions League.
That should keep Jurgen Klopp’s starting XIs at full strength for the remainder of the campaign, with their FPL assets enjoying some favourable matches against the likes of West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace in Gameweeks 36-38.
One of FPL’s cheapest midfielders is the highest-scoring player of Gameweek 35 so far.
The busy Emile Smith Rowe (£4.2m) found the net for the second successive match to end the Gameweek on 19 points.
While not rotation-proof, he’s been a regular in Arteta’s side: of the last 19 Premier League matchday squads he has been available for, Smith Rowe has started on 16 occasions.
That’s an excellent record for someone so cheap, as is his tally of seven attacking returns in those 16 starts.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.3m) has been less reliable for minutes but when he has featured, he has quietly delivered.
The Gabon international has seven goals and two assists in his last eight league starts and it was he who teed up Smith-Rowe for the game’s only goal in west London.