Chelsea win psychological war with Arsenal

Posted by Phil Lythell

With talk of the potential psychological impact of the result and the comparison of the two team's title-winning potential pervading the build up to this Capital One Cup fourth round tie, Chelsea laid down a marker with their 2-0 victory at Arsenal.

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The Blues were comfortable for each and every one of the 90 minutes of the contest, one in which both teams made changes but that illustrated the strength and power of the visitors squad in comparison with their hosts. Chelsea named what was essentially a second string outfit but which on another day could have taken the field in a Premier League game and been deemed favourites to win against the majority of opponents.

There were ten alterations from the team that vanquished Manchester City on Sunday but with the quality on show the performance was almost seamless from the one enacted just two days prior. Seeking to maintain the high standard of play, it helped that there was a Champions League winning central defence of David Luiz and Gary Cahill alongside player of the year Juan Mata in the line-up. In addition, £30 million summer signing Willian supported two-time European Cup winner Samuel Eto'o with the experience of Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel sitting behind them. The riches at Jose Mourinho's disposal were almost embarrassing in comparison to Arsenal's and it told in the final result.

As well as the abundance of talent, what was even more encouraging was the hunger demonstrated but those players that have sat out recent triumphs. Kevin De Bruyne was on the receiving end of some home truths after Chelsea's last appearance in this competition against Swindon but having been starved of game time as a result of his previous lacklustre appearance the Belgian took the field with an obvious point to prove. His work rate and diligence in both defence and attack illustrated that he has taken his manager's comments on board.

The same could be said for Juan Mata who showed yet again what a class operator he is. Having been cast in Oscar's shadow due to Mourinho's broom sweeping the changes through Stamford Bridge, the little Spaniard showed just how important he is to the Chelsea cause with an exceptional performance. His searing strike that doubled the lead and put his team beyond Arsenal's reach will grab the headlines though what will have pleased his manager most was his desire to employ himself in the less glamorous aspects of the game. It was particularly noticeable after the system was shifted to a 4-3-3 once the two-goal lead had been established where, rather than rest on his laurels, he fulfilled his defensive duties with relish. Mata was always available on the counter attack yet was fully aware of his responsibilities and was more visible as an auxiliary full back than a floating playmaker.

Compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta can also be extremely pleased with his night's work. After proving to be a revelation last season, he has found himself on the periphery this time round though he has been singled out for praise by his manager for his professionalism and his selfless contribution to the team. His display was not perfect but it was solid and he was rewarded for his efforts with his first ever goal for the club, Chelsea the recipients of a second defensive mix-up within two days.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had hoped that a positive result for his team might galvanise his team’s confidence ahead of a potential title push but instead the psychological benefits look to be heading towards Stamford Bridge instead. The Gunners might have looked impressive in the last couple of months though they have lost to the two quality opponents they have faced this season, namely Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, with both of those setbacks coming at the Emirates Stadium. In contrast, Chelsea recorded their sixth consecutive win in all competitions with their last two victories being inflicted on Premier League contenders Manchester City and Arsenal.

The confidence is coursing through not just the team but the whole squad, a testament to Mourinho’s methodology and the impact it is having on the players. John Obi Mikel has featured sparingly this campaign yet was flawless against the Gunners. Similarly, Michael Essien, while clearly lacking match sharpness, put in a typically physical performance -- the type that was emblematic of his manager.

On the scoresheet there was only one victor but with the bigger picture very much at the forefront of the respective manager’s minds, the future impact of this result stands very much in Chelsea’s favour. Mourinho now knows that he has not just an 11 but a 22 that he can count on whereas Wenger is left with the knowledge that beyond his first choice team he lacks the resources to patch up any holes caused by injury or suspension.

Newcastle are up next for the Blues and they will approach that long trip with a spring in their step. It would be easy to start getting carried away given the glut of positive recent results though with everything slowly falling into place Chelsea will enter St James Park with justified confidence.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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