Chelsea beat Arsenal in game that shows Arteta revolution a long way off

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Perhaps it was a way to make a 25,000-strong crowd feel at home. The goal that afforded Chelsea half-hearted bragging rights on an afternoon of rollicking entertainment felt like a tribute act to Arsenal failings past. In the present it rather demonstrated that, with a dozen days remaining until the new season, the unresolved issues around this part of north London persist in significant volume.

 Related: Arsenal sign £50m Ben White and want Bellerín and Xhaka to extend contracts 

Anatomising the winner in a friendly, in this case the first match in a three-team series that also involves Tottenham, would generally be folly. This one, though, told a few stories simultaneously. Héctor Bellerín, who would like to leave Arsenal but has been offered a new contract in the absence of a bid that would make them sell, attempted a pass deep inside his own half towards Granit Xhaka, whose employment situation is identical. It was wayward and Tammy Abraham, who might leave Chelsea and has been linked with a move to Arsenal, was played through to make the score 2-1 with a coolness the hosts may have found seductive.

What will become of those three players over the next month? Nobody can say with much certainty, and those messy narratives around Abraham’s winner were of a piece with the entire occasion. At times this encounter did muster the outrage a derby customarily delivers: boisterous exhortations from the stands saw to that, as did an assortment of spiky challenges and a dose of controversy when, in the absence of goalline technology, Joe Willock’s late shot was wrongly adjudged not to have bounced off the crossbar and in. But these teams meet again when it really matters, three weeks from now, and neither will hope to be in this state of repair by then.

Joe Willock is back in an Arsenal shirt.
Joe Willock is back in an Arsenal shirt. Photograph: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Chelsea’s team will look very different, although Thomas Tuchel has a juggling act to effect. He fielded a scratch side that smelled of post-summer tournament make-do, kicking off with only four of the starting XI that won the Champions League, although Kai Havertz and Timo Werner were among a handful of internationals welcomed back. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic were pressed into action as wing-backs; Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were given starts and, by the second half, stocks were sufficiently low that Danny Drinkwater, Baba Rahman and Jake Clarke-Salter were among those deployed.

“Tomorrow we will have four different groups on the training pitch because they are all in different physical condition,” Tuchel said, a fact that underlines the near impossibility of Chelsea being fully cooked by the time they open against Crystal Palace. He felt that plunging Werner and Havertz straight into action against Arsenal, whose buildup had been more stable, might have been a bit much. In the event they combined for the opener, Havertz finishing emphatically after being teed up by his colleague, and Werner should have doubled the lead but jabbed limply wide.

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Arsenal’s loose building from the back may not be the only theme that has persisted into pre-season. While Arsenal arrived without Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, this felt close to the side that will begin at Brentford on 13 August. That has its benefits, and on the face of things Tuchel would prefer Mikel Arteta’s level of familiarity. Arteta has publicly admitted Arsenal require an overhaul, though, and the faces on show were a reminder that is yet to take place. The changes will have to be swingeing over the coming four weeks if a revolution is to be achieved.

That will be hammered home if he has to start the season with a midfield of Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. The possibility now looms large after Thomas Partey, a Rolls-Royce of a performer during the first half-hour, hobbled away with an ankle injury before the interval. “He’ll have a scan tomorrow; at the moment it’s not looking good,” Arteta said. Any long-term injury to Partey, of whose best Arsenal have only seen a fraction so far, would be a devastating blow to his plans. Xhaka arrived in his stead and briefly restored parity with a header. “Granit is going to stay with us,” his manager promised, and it may become a case of needs must.

Arteta was cheered by the debut of Ben White, whose need to provide an all-action performance after coming on for the second half may tell of what he has walked into. White made an astonishing last-gasp block on Hakim Ziyech and hacked away from the line after Bernd Leno half-saved from Abraham. His athleticism and recovery speed will enhance Arsenal, but further evolutions need to make themselves known in short order.

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