Arsenal’s chances of a top four finish are in serious doubts after suffering a second loss in a row. It was yet again a game of two halves. We were completely absent in the first but well and truly alive in the second. This report won’t be long because the things observed in this match were not new. In fact, it was really watching the City game played out again.
Shaky Controversial Start
Chelsea stormed forward from the get go. They pressed the full backs and opened up the middle as we were forced to spread out. I would like to take their approach and contrast it to ours. When we kick off first, we usually take a really long high forward punt and Walcott or some other winger will run for it. Why do we not do what Chelsea (or actually most teams) do? I don’t know.
Arsenal, when pressed, were in a state of disarray. Organization was lost. We tried defending. But we did it without structure and threw whatever strategy we had to the wind. It played to Chelsea’s game plan perfectly. They pinged the ball around decisively and directly. Like a hot knife through butter, our players flailing around were caught out of position and balls simply went past them. Maybe I was wrong about the term. More accurately, it should be ‘like a hot knife through already melted butter’.
We tried defending. But we did it without structure and threw whatever strategy we had to the wind. It played to Chelsea’s game plan perfectly.
The first goal had hints of controversy because of a preceding foul by Ramires. It was a foul, it was a free kick but the Atkinson waved play on and Chelsea scored as the Arsenal players protested. Have I said this before? Don’t protest until the whistle is gone. We gifted them the first. Sagna didn’t track back in time and Mata finished well.
The second was also controversial. It depends if you believe if WS1 won the ball. It did look like he did but it was a tough call and it didn’t go our way. 15 mins and 2-0 down. It was not over yet.
For the entire half, we offered almost nothing in terms of a response. We were defending for our lives and you should take that term literally because it was every man for himself. Chelsea had an effective trident moving forward. Our defensive third were losing 50-50s to their attacking players. We hardly breached their final line and when we did, we ballooned a cross all the way to the opposite corner flag. After watching most of Arsenal’s games this season, I am convinced we do not practice crosses.
We ended the half flat, completely dominated and outclassed.
Second Half Fight
We took the game to them in the second half and Walcott curled a great finish to bring the match to 2-1. We then, finally, decided to play football. We shook off challenges instead of crumpling. We pressed hard and created good chances. Unfortunately, this is Chelsea and they packed their defense while trying to slow the game down.
Now, it does sound good that we were dominating and pushing but let’s take a reverse view of this. When we were in Chelsea’s position being hit from all flanks, we ran headlessly for the ball. Chelsea, under the same pressure, defended as a team – with proper organization and handled their backs to the wall job well. When they had a chance to break, they did relatively well and it took some awful finishing from Ba to not make it 3-1 after beating WS1 outside the box.
That was the difference. Confidence, maturity and the absence of a panic button.
In many ways, Chelsea reminded me of the Arsenal of a decade ago. We used to be that rampant, spraying passes at will with accuracy and confidence. We were shit in defence but when we went forward, we almost always ended it with a shot. This time, Chelsea is that team. Our midfield was no match for the class they had. Our bench showed an even greater gap in quality.
Face it. We were outclassed and they made it count when it mattered.
It’s quite sad really but as a fan, you take the bad times with the good. Chelsea now plays better attacking and defensive football than us. Face it. We were outclassed and they made it count when it mattered. The referee may have made bad decisions that might have swung the game. That is two probable terms in one sentence but there is surety in the next. We were utter rubbish, especially in the first half. That is how you lose a game.
I noted before that Giroud doesn’t fit our system. He works hard, he is good in the air and given a good cross he will win the ball and net it. He has done that a good number of times. But, he is slow and his finishing with his feet is poor. He is a fox in the box kind of the player converting goals in a single touch just like he did at West Ham and against Tottenham. But, you know how good foxes have turned into sheep at Arsenal.
You know how good foxes have turned into sheep at Arsenal.
If we want to persist with Giroud up front, we need to work on the crosses. We need to get a second runner to pick up balls that Giroud knocks down. He did quite a few this match but there was absolutely no one around him. He was left up alone with 3 Chelsea players with him. He wins the header, knocks it to – nobody.
Giroud is not a Chamakh but we will turn him into one if we persist to play our system with him in a it. He is the jarring odd one out together with Mertesacker. Big, powerful but slow. For the most of this season, we have not found that balance. Just look at our crosses, a good number were closer to the corner flag than they were to the penalty box.
Also, we cannot seem to push up without our striker. Giroud had to drop in so deep there was no way he could have made it into the box in time. To play with Giroud, you need to be good on the flanks and allow him to sit on the edge of the offside line. He had nearly no chance to do that today.
I don’t think we deserve to finish 5th much less 4th. We are a single half team. I can name a number of teams who have put in better effort and consistency than us. Sometimes as a fan you have to be realistic and unbiased. The poor performance in the first half is not the first time we’ve seen this from the team.
This team must find its heart and guts in times of trouble.
Wenger has to do something about teaching the team what to do when the chips are down. We need to learn how to dig in when the pressure mounts and we are on a hostile ground with a less than friendly referee. We cannot blame external conditions for our own failure.
There are more worrying things than signing a new striker or a defensive midfielder. This team must find its heart and guts in times of trouble.