By Greg Oldfield (@GregOldfield21)
Arsenal beat Chelsea 4-0 to capture the Florida Cup in front of a record 63,811 fans at Camping World Stadium Saturday night. A rousing crowd of red and blue, remained jubilant for the entire game, but the red fans were rewarded by a spectacular effort from the Gunners, who controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, leaving a mark on their rivals ahead of the Premier League season.
Gabriel Jesús and Martin Ødegaard scored in the first half while Bukayo Saka and Sambi Lokonga added goals in the second half to claim a one-sided victory and hoist the Florida Cup trophy on their last stop of the preseason American tour.
“There are a lot of positives to take away from this game,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “The way we played, the intensity we showed, the way we were trying to show who we are as a team.” One positive was the debut for Oleksandr Zinchenko, who made his first appearance for the Gunners, starting as the outside left back. Newly acquired Gabriel Jesús also started ahead of Gabriel Martinelli, Ødegaard, and Saka in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1, and earned Man of the Match honors. Raheem Sterling made his first start for the Blues and his second appearance, deployed as an attacking midfielder alongside Mason Mount with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz playing the striker roles in a 4-2-2-2.
Arsenal controlled possession early with Ødegaard, Granit Xhaka, and Thomas Partey linking up several times to spring Martinelli and Saka down the flanks. Chelsea were content initiating their pressing and counter game, although it was Arsenal with the first jump on the counter in the sixth minute when Martinelli and Saka broke free on a two-on-one following a Chelsea corner. Martinelli hit Saka in stride, but Saka’s shot was kicked away by Eduoard Mendy.
Arsenal took the lead sixteen minutes into the game. Xhaka won a Trevoh Chalobah giveaway and found Jesús down the channel. Jesús took a touch forward and beat Mendy with a delicate chip for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Jesús’ fourth this preseason.
Four minutes later, Ødegaard nearly doubled Arsenal’s lead with a dangerous free kick from outside the box on the right side, but his shot was tipped over the bar by Mendy. Arsenal had a bit of a scare when Martinelli went down with an apparent hand injury thirty minutes in, but the Brazilian winger was still able to continue and impact the game.
Ødegaard would get his goal nine minutes from the break. A smooth bout of possession resulted in Partey finding Martinelli down the wing. As Martinelli pulled the ball back from Chalobah, he spotted Ødegaard with a splitting run through the backs, and the Norwegian took a quick touch to settle before finding the far corner. Ødegaard had seven goals last season for the Gunners.
Chelsea created a couple chances late in the half off the foot of Reece James, but each time the defender’s crosses through the six yard box couldn’t connect with a teammate. Adding to Chelsea’s woes, Chalobah was forced off just before the half, replaced by Malong Sarr. Mason Mount nearly pulled a goal back in stoppage time, but his first time shot from inside the box beat Ramsdale only to be denied by the post. Going into the half up 2-0, Arsenal fans were certainly happy with the performance as the Gunners proved to be the stronger side with a 6-4 advantage in shots.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel expressed his concerns with the loss. “In the first half,” he said, “it was even hard to escape in a productive way in our own half and to play in the opponent’s half and to create.” But the German boss saw bright spots in the second half, including the first twenty-two minutes where he felt his team was the better side and the introduction of Kalidou Koubaly “The best player on the pitch for us.” Tuchel said.
Chelsea made a number of changes in the second half, with American Christian Pulisic, Matteo Kovacić, Marcos Alonso, and César Azpilicueta coming on while Arsenal made one change, with Nuno Tavares replacing the newcomer Zinchenko. The action intensified as Chelsea looked to get back into the game, yet Arsenal managed well despite a few early chances from Chelsea.
Saka added to Arsenal’s lead in the 66th minute. Martinelli forced a strong save by Mendy, but the rebound fell to Xhaka, who sprung the Chelsea keeper into action again. Saka was there to finish the rebound to put Arsenal up 3-0. Saka appeared to be offside on Xhaka’s shot, but the goal stood, giving the Gunners a commanding lead.
Michy Batshuayi, on for Havertz, almost pulled a goal back in the 68th minute, but he was unable to steer a James cross on target. Two minutes later, Ziyech, also just into the game, picked out Alonso on the far post that just missed the Spanish defender.
More changes came shortly after, including Koulibaly for the Blues and American Matt Turner replacing Ramsdale in goal for Arsenal. The pace of the game stayed high late as both teams pushed at either end. Nicolas Pépé scorched a free kick at the end of regulation that was pushed away by a sprawling Mendy save. Sambi Lokonga finished off the Blues in extra time when he headed home Cedric’s cross. Left alone at the back post, Lokonga beat Mendy to the far side on a well-controlled header, adding to his rival’s woes.
The Florida Cup record crowd surpassed 62,510 that witnessed Orlando City play New York City FC in the MLS club opener on March 8, 2015. 62,387 fans saw Netherlands play Belgium in the group stage of the World Cup on June 25th 1994.
ARS: Jesús 16’
ARS: Ødegaard 36’
ARS: Saka 66’
ARS: Lokonga 90+2’
CHE: Mount 49’
ARS: Nketiah 60’
CHE: Alosno 76’
CHE: Ampadu 77’
ARS: Ødegaard 78’
CHE: Koulibaly 90’
ARS: Lokonga 90+2’
Ramsdale (Turner 72’), White (Cedric 72’), Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko (Tavares 46’), Partay (Elneny 72’), Xhaka (Lokonga 78’), Saka (Marquinhos 72’), Ødegaard (Maitland-Niles 78’), Martinelli (Pépé 72’), Jesús (Nketiah 57’)
Unused Subs: Bellerín, Mari, Holding, Nelson, Balogun
Mendy, James (Hudson-Odoi 73’), Chalobah (Sarr 44’), Thiago Silva (Koulibaly 73’), Emerson (Alonso 46’), Gallagher (Kovacić 46’), Jorginho (Ampadu 73’), Mount (Ziyech 64’), Sterling (Pulisic 46’), Havertz (Batshuayi 64’), Werner (Azpilicueta 46’)
Unused Subs: Bettinelli, Sharman-Lowe, Chilwell