Not Quite Fatal But A Damaging Defeat
Chelsea 2 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Drogba (7)
2 – 0 Drogba (22)
The title chances took a dent, not ended as some would have you believe but battered and bruised nonetheless. As a performance, the team were vastly improved from last week’s defeat at home to Manchester United but still fell short at Stamford Bridge.
The wounds for this defeat were self-inflicted. Marking was absent for the opener; Terry had a free header, losing Vermaelen and Diaby with an entirely predictable run to meet the corner; Drogba was left unmarked by Song and Clichy went walkabout. Errors which were individually avoidable with the collective being punished.
A sense of déjà vu with the second. An Arsenal attack broke down on the edge of the Chelsea area with Lampard allowed to roam free through the midfield before finding Drogba on the left, isolating Clichy. The run into the box and shot had an air of inevitability about it, Drogba not wasting the opportunity.
The lessons of the previous week were not learned. Apparently Ancelotti observed that the best way to play Arsenal is on the counter-attack, a point proven by the second yesterday and most of the goals scored by Manchester United at The Emirates in the last twelve months.
It is a deeply dissatisfying result. Arsenal had most of the possession yesterday but failed to convert their opportunities. Chelsea, once the lead was established, showed professionalism in containing the Arsenal threat, reducing it to sporadic moments, repeating their tactics from earlier in the season, content to see the ball in midfield with their opponents, defending in depth on the edge of the area.
That is not say that Chelsea were entirely comfortable but Cech dealt with all that was thrown at him. Between the goals, Arshavin played Cesc in, the Spaniards volley well saved. A freekick driven under the wall was blocked by the Chelsea goalkeeper, Gallas narrowly failing to convert the rebound.
Set plays were a disappointment yesterday from an attacking perspective. Corners inevitably found their way to a Chelsea head or the for once, safe hands of Cech. With chances at a premium in such games, it is imperative that opportunities are not wasted, efforts on target have to be the order of the day.
Certain bad habits which had been almost eradicated reared their heads. Cesc had the opportunity to score but spurned it, preferring to pass rather than take on the effort. A reverse situation for the criticism Arshavin received last week and out of character with the captain’s form this time around.
Chelsea’s attack was not nullified in the second period, Malouda shot wide, Drogba rattled the bar from a freekick, jabs to the Arsenal jaw, reminders that threat remained even if a breakthrough had occurred.
It did not and Wenger was disappointed afterwards. Possession statistics mask the blunted Arsenal threat. Bendtner was deemed not fit enough to start yet played for 25 minutes. Surely some leeway was necessary with Eduardo’s absence. Walcott put in a decent enough performance but like all attacking players, when you are stifled in possession by a mass rank of defenders and midfielders, you need options. Too often we did not have them.
And for all of that, the position of the team is not dire. The players are good enough to be in the top three, the mental impact of the manner of the defeat to United still appears to linger.
Where favour can be found is that the remainder of the season, 10 of the remaining games are against sides in mid or lower table. These matches are not straightforward; relegation threatens to around 11th place – albeit tenuously – and clubs have something to play for.
However, compared to those of Chelsea and Manchester United, the opportunity is there to close the 9 point gap. Problematically, whilst there is a reasonable expectation that both will drop points, Arsenal need to recover their strength starting on Wednesday and then win a high proportion of their games.
They can do it and until the mathematics deem the title unachievable, there is no reason to disbelieve that it will not happen. Right now though, we need to show support for the team. Perceived and real weaknesses cannot be resolved with signings – or as Wenger describes it, ‘The English solution‘ – and the squad need to regain confidence. This tough run of fixtures draws to a close on Wednesday when a victory may close the gap immediately, provided that results go Arsenal’s way.