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Arsenal find blueprint to away success without Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil

Down the years there have appeared to be a number of 'Eureka!' moments for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Home games when they've pressed the opposition relentlessly from the start and blown them away with incisive, decisive finishing; away days when they've focused more on what they need to do defensively than trying to impose their own style on their opponents.

It would be wrong to say that these performances have been false dawns, but too often Arsenal lapse back into bad habits -- a kind of tactical hubris which sees Wenger revert to type. A manager who believes so strongly in the football he wants his team to play, Wenger ignores the evidence that has mounted up in front of him.

Sunday's 0-0 draw with Chelsea was another of those moments, but this time it must become the norm. As pundit and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry said afterwards on Sky Sports: "In terms of performance, that's standard in terms of what you need to do away from home."

If Wenger and Arsenal are looking for a blueprint when it comes to facing the top teams away from home, this was unquestionably it. They were committed, well organised, positionally disciplined, and created enough moments of danger to have won the game.

First and foremost Arsenal had to be more defensively secure than they were in the 4-0 defeat against Liverpool a few weeks ago, but both Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette also had glorious chances to score. Welbeck headed wide after a great Hector Bellerin cross, while the summer signing from Lyon will have nightmares after failing to tuck home the rebound from four yards out after Aaron Ramsey's shot came back off the post.

They are misses which will tinge the result with a measure of regret, but the positives for Arsenal were obvious too. In comparison to the performance at Anfield, this was chalk and cheese. The key issue was midfield, and whether or not Wenger's side could close up the spaces that Liverpool had so ruthlessly exploited.

The selection of Granit Xhaka alongside Ramsey was Wenger's tacit backing of them as a duo, and he was rewarded by a much improved showing. Once more the Switzerland international sat deepest, picking the ball up from his defenders and shielding them when required, but this time he had a much more disciplined partner.

Ramsey loves to get forward, and showed his prowess with that run and shot which came so close to breaking the deadlock, but he often does so at the expense of his defensive duties. That was not the case at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the gaps between himself and Xhaka were never so great that the midfield were left exposed, and it's an illustration of how the pair can be an effective partnership when they have their priorities right.

It sounds almost reductive to say it, but the fact there was more focus on the collective was reflected in Arsenal's display. Without the injured Mesut Ozil, Wenger chose Alex Iwobi, a selection which raised a few eyebrows before the game. The young Nigerian has been struggling in recent months, but this was a show of faith in him.

For a game in which Arsenal had to avoid defeat at the very least, it was a bit of a gamble, but one which paid off. Iwobi, like Welbeck who was selected ahead of Alexis Sanchez, contributed well to a more collaborative performance with strong running, defensive awareness and high pressing in the Chelsea final third when the opposition had the ball.

Alex Iwobi of Arsenal vs. Chelsea
Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck were picked ahead of Sanchez and the injured Ozil.

The quality of both Sanchez and Ozil is obvious, they stand out as the team's top individuals, but at a time when neither player is willing to commit their future to the club, there's no harm in Wenger prioritising the needs of his team over those of his star signings.

There's no question that he will need the finishing, creativity and game-changing ability of both players throughout the season, but it's interesting that such a hard-working display overall came without them as starters.

In mitigation, the circumstances played a more significant part in that. The need for Arsenal to respond was always going to see the players dig in, and if Ozil and Sanchez had played from the start they would have done their bit, but it was an illustration that Arsenal are capable of getting a result without them.

As recent encounters with Chelsea have shown, the issue really isn't so much one of quality but mentality and character. The Gunners had some questions to answer in that regard, and they did just that.

It just remains to be seen whether this now becomes the blueprint for big away days, and whether they can reproduce this kind of effort consistently.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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