Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal
Arsenal lost more ground to Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table yesterday as the Gunners left Stamford Bridge with no points from an extremely tight game.
Memories of that 6-0 demolition the last time these two sides met were dredged up by the media in the build up to this match with the fear amongst the Arsenal faithful that a repeat performance was in store. The main criticism of Wenger in recent years has been the fact the manager never seems to learn from his mistakes, with his side being exposed time and time again and no indication of a change in tactics or formation.
However throughout the entire game yesterday, the Gunners largely matched Chelsea, were never caught out or exposed in the brutal fashion they had been before and could have come away with at least a draw had the decisive moments of the match gone their way. Early on, with the score still 0-0, Gary Cahill could easily have been sent off for a horrible challenge over the ball, on Sanchez, which referee Martin Atkinson decided was only worthy of a yellow card and led to Wenger shoving Mourinho on the touchline. Then in the second half Arsenal should have been given the opportunity to restore parity, following a clear handball by Fabregas in the area as he blocked an Arsenal shot with both hands raised, but the referee didn’t point to the spot and waved away the Gunners protests. On such decisions, tight games are won and lost.
In the post-match analysis much was made of the fact Wenger’s side had only mustered one shot on target which arrived in the 90th minute of the game, but Chelsea didn’t really trouble Szczesny either. The home side scored from their only two shots on goal and didn’t seem to carry much of a threat in attack. This could have been as a result of the Gunners pace in attack, with Welbeck up front and Sanchez on the wing, forcing Chelsea to sit slightly deeper and somewhat abandon the high intensity pressing game which forced so many Arsenal errors the last time the sides met.
The main issue for the away side yesterday was once again their frustratingly slow build up play. Sanchez was the only player willing to make direct runs, but they tended to be from central and deep lying positions. As so often with this Arsenal side, reaching the final third was not a problem, but once there, the Gunners lacked the incisiveness to break through the opposition defence. Wenger’s sides of old were renowned for their lightening quick football, one, two touch play, passing and movement, but his current team, despite containing several technically excellent players, are just too ponderous on the ball. Not once did an Arsenal player drive towards the by-line, turning the Chelsea defence and then crossing into the box or cutting the ball back for a midfield runner. Instead the Gunners wide men continuously cut inside, into the congested middle of the park, or attempted intricate through balls on the edge of the box which needed to be inch perfect to come off. On the one occasion Arsenal did manage to create an opening, Wilshere’s first touch let him down and the chance was lost. Essentially, throughout the match, there was just not enough movement off the ball from those in red and white shirts and therefore a lack of options for the man in possession.
Chelsea on the other hand scored two goals from direct attacking play. Eden Hazard’s moment of brilliance in the first half, showing supreme skill and close control to dance past three Arsenal defenders, was the turning point. As the Belgian made his way into the box, Koscielny dangled out a leg and brought him down, leaving the referee with no option but to award a penalty. In fact the Arsenal defender could also have been sent off, as he had effectively denied Hazard a goal scoring opportunity. In contrast, Wilshere attempted to drive forward in similar vein at times during the second half but struggled to get through Chelsea’s last line of defence. Having won the penalty, Hazard coolly despatched it, sending Szczesny the wrong way to give the home side the lead. Then with the game reaching its climax and Arsenal pushing men forward in search of an equaliser, the Gunners were caught out. A direct ball over the top from Fabregas was inch perfect for Diego Costa and the Premier League’s in form striker showed great control to bring the ball down before calmly clipping it over the advancing Szczesny to seal the victory. To a certain extent the second goal was inevitable as Arsenal had to gamble and left themselves exposed at the back, but still Mertesacker and Koscielny should be disappointed to have been caught out by a ball over the top. But the Gunners could do well to learn from this direct play. On both occasions, Chelsea spotted an opportunity, grasped it with both hands and won the game.
Ultimately, Chelsea’s star players turned up, whereas Arsenal’s £42 million man Ozil was a peripheral figure. He may have once again not been deployed in his favoured position, but there can be no excuse for the feeble way he was continuously pushed off the ball and the poor control he displayed on numerous occasions. The fact he remained on the pitch for the entire game was laughable. Given the way the Gunners had torn Galatasary apart in the midweek Champions League game, with Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks, it was believed to be far too risky to start with such an attacking line-up against Chelsea. In hindsight Wenger should have done exactly that. Mourinho complained after the game that Arsenal could have had three players sent off, but with Ozil on the pitch the away side were effectively down to ten men anyway.
Even Welbeck was disappointing. Coming off that great hat trick in midweek it was expected that he would be full of confidence going into this game, but he struggled to get the better of Terry and Cahill. Welbeck’s link up play wasn’t at its best and against such strong opposition it needs to be. The Englishman didn’t even muster a single effort on goal but was also starved of any real service with Chelsea committing clever little fouls every time Arsenal threatened to mount a counter attack. This is not the first time the opposition have employed such tactics to disrupt the Gunners rhythm and should really have been picked up by the referee, with Ivanovic and Oscar the main culprits. Yet Oscar was only booked in the 85th minute, by which time his work was done.
Arsenal can take several positives from this game, they matched Chelsea throughout and the outcome could have been different had decisive moments not gone against them. Mourinho in fact gave the away side the greatest of compliments, by indicating his wariness of the Gunners attack, bringing on Obi Mikel in the 69th minute to shore up his midfield. Ultimately however, this was another big game in which Arsenal fell short. They may not be a million miles away from being a top side but need to iron out those finer details in order to take themselves to the next level, while so called “star” players really need to take a long hard look at themselves. Until this happens, Wenger (who let his frustrations get the better of him with that shove on Mourinho) will never be able to celebrate another championship winning season.