Draw feels like a win for 10-man Arsenal as Arteta's men show their mettle
Chelsea 2 Arsenal 2
Arsenal have had way too many draws this season, but this is one they will gladly take.
Adversity brought the best out of Mikel Arteta’s men as they twice fought back from seemingly hopeless positions to rescue a point – showing the sort of fight and grit that nobody associates with them these days.
They found themselves a goal down and reduced to 10 men with the match less than half an hour old, and then, after somehow getting back on level terms just past the hour with their first shot on goal, had to find a way back a second time after conceding six minutes from time.
Gabriel Martinelli – the 18-year-old Brazilian with a golden future, judging by his early months in an Arsenal shirt, scored an opportunist first equaliser with a dash from half way and cool finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
And in the dying minutes, new skipper Hector Bellerin, playing his first match since early December, squeezed a low left foot shot into the bottom corner when all looked lost following a close-range strike from Cesar Azpilicueta for the Blues.
Under the circumstances, it was understandable that the team grouped to salute the away end at the final whistle.
Games against their west London rivals have been no fun of late. As well as the chastening 4-1 defeat in the Europa League final in far-away Baku, there was last month’s disheartening 2-1 home loss to the Blues, when the Gunners threw away a game they had largely controlled.
This felt like a win and worthy of those punches in the air. They lost the shot count 19-2 but arguably deserved to get something out of it.
It should have been a big night for David Luiz on his return to the club he helped guide to Champions League glory, but it turned out horribly wrong for the Brazilian.
He was booed by home fans, who cannot forgive the defection to north London. But then it got worse when he was red carded after hauling down Tammy Abraham in the box.
He might have avoided the sending off if his challenge had been deemed a genuine attempt to get to the ball, but not even VAR could spare the defender, who Stuart Atwell decided had to go.
Luiz paid the price for a woefully mishit backpass from Shkodran Mustafi, who continues to look like a catastrophe waiting to happen, but at least the German atoned with some gritty last ditch tackles and it was his clearing header which paved the way for Martinelli’s run on goal from half way which brought the first equaliser – a slip from N’Golo Kante also crucial to allow the run on goal.
Arteta warmed up Rob Holding on the sidelines, soon after Luiz’s dismissal but held back from bringing him into the action, having dropped Granit Xhaka back into defence. It turned out to be a wise move.
The former Arsenal captain was superb in the heart of that back four and played a key part in stabilising the visitors as they sought to find a way back into the game.
Martinelli or maybe Nicolas Pepe might have been sacrificed for Holding and we might not have had the impressive 10-man comeback that we did.
The other key decision made by Arteta was to replace the ineffectual Mesut Ozil with Matteo Guendouzi at the start of the second half. If you need 10 men to feel like 11, Ozil is the obvious choice, especially as here again the German playmaker was a ghost of a presence.
At least the youthful Guendouzi’s snapping energy leant more ballast to the Gunners and helped get them on the front foot. Thy managed to piece together a fine performance with 10 men and defended resolutely – Bernd Leno making several vital saves.
Arsenal remain very much a mid-table entity for now, with only six Premier League wins to their name. But Arteta will hope this win points the way to better things – and a sturdier team spirit than we have seen for a while.
Line-up: Leno – Bellerin, Mustafi, David Luiz, Saka – Torreira, Xhaka – Pepe (Holding 81), Ozil (Guendounzi 55), Martinelli (Willock 90) – Lacazette. Subs not used: Martinez, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles, Nketiah