Chelsea 6 - 0 Arsenal
Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of Arsenal quickly turned into a nightmare on Saturday as the Gunners repeated their pathetic performance away to Liverpool with a similar capitulation inside the opening 20 minutes of the game.
It was clear that none of the lessons from that display at Anfield were heeded as the Gunners simply turned up and rolled over once again. The most disappointing aspect was the fact that Arsenal couldn’t have had more incentive to win this game. Three points here would have propelled them to within one point of Chelsea, with a game in hand, victory would have also thrown Mourinho’s taunts right back in his face and on top of this, the game was a landmark occasion for Wenger, the man who has shown so much faith in each and every one of them through the years.
Of course one can point to the fact that the team set up really played into Chelsea’s hands and for that the manager should take full responsibility. With Walcott out injured for the rest of the season, the Gunners just do not have any pace on the wings. Therefore the opposition do not have to worry about an Arsenal player running in behind them and can press the ball high up the pitch. As Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only squad player who possesses pace to trouble the opposition, it is perplexing that Wenger should opt to deploy him in a central position at a time when the team is desperate for pace out wide.
Additionally, the decision not to select Flamini alongside Arteta at the base of the midfield was equally perplexing. The Frenchman is the only player within the squad who relishes a physical battle and helps organise the team defensively, constantly barking orders to his teammates. Surely Wenger would have known that Chelsea would attempt to turn the match into a physical battle, it would have only taken one look at their physically imposing line up to realise this. With their game in hand, Arsenal didn’t even need to win the game, a draw would have done, but Wenger selected an attacking line up, which was ultimately light weight and was duly destroyed in a matter of minutes.
Chelsea were hunting the ball down in packs; they were simply stronger and hungrier. Every time the away side played the ball into midfield, the Arsenal player in possession was surrounded by blue shirts and quickly dispossessed. With the slow Arteta as the only defensive midfielder, once in possession, Chelsea surged through, onto the Arsenal defence, often outnumbering the Gunners and creating chances at will. It was no real surprise that it only took the home team 5 minutes to break the deadlock; they had had two good chances before that. This time Schurrle broke clear and fed Eto’o, who checked inside and placed a wonderful effort inside the bottom corner of the net.
Once again, Arsenal had conceded an early goal in a big away game. It is at times like these when the true characters of the players come to light. They should have regrouped; rolled their sleeves up and dug in, making sure they didn’t concede the second. But there were no leaders on the pitch, no one shouting at the others to get them switched on and focused on the task at hand and two minutes later the Gunners were two goals down. Matic this time found Schurrle and his shot found the bottom corner again.
The game was effectively over before it had even begun and in the 17th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hand ball in the area was the final nail in the coffin. The Englishman highlighted Arsenal’s sheer desperation by diving full length to palm the ball away from goal, when Hazard’s shot was going wide anyway. What followed was purely comical as the referee and linesman failed to spot the handball, with the referee only pointing to the spot following consultation, presumably with the fourth official. He then mistakenly brandished a red card to Kieran Gibbs and insisted his decision was right even when Oxlade-Chamberlain told the referee it was he who had actually handled. Seeing as the ball was going wide of goal, it wasn’t even a red card and should have been only a yellow. But in truth it didn’t make much difference, even with eleven against eleven Arsenal would still have been comprehensively beaten.
Hazard despatched the penalty with ease to make it 3-0 and before half time Oscar made it four from close range. At half time Wenger replaced Koscielny and Oxlade-Chamberlain with Jenkinson and Flamini and the Gunners at least stemmed the tide for the opening twenty minutes of the second half, before Oscar found the net again, with a shot that Szczesny should have saved. Five minutes later and Salah caught the Arsenal defence ridiculously high, beating the offside trap with ease, to race through on goal and despatch Chelsea’s sixth.