Chelsea Rope-A-Dope Leaves Arsenal Floored
Chelsea 2 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Drogba (39)
2 – 0 Alex (85)
Another visit to Stamford Bridge found Arsenal leaving with nothing to show for their endeavours. Moments of danger were not converted into goals, chances missed, blocked or spurned. It is a defeat which is hard to stomach not because Arsenal was outplayed, not because Chelsea was obviously superior – they were far from that – but simply because it should not have happened.
But it did and this is a not unfamiliar situation. This part of London was a desert in the 1970s and 1980s, a place where defeat was tasted frequently. That reversed in the 1990s and until 2005. Now a familiar sinking feeling occurs; how did a good performance merit no result?
The answer came in the opening minute. Sagna’s excellent cross was met by Chamakh’s diving header, Alex’s boot apparently flicking the ball wide. From the resultant corner, the near post flick-on found Koscielny unmarked three yards from goal. One-nil to the Arsenal most surely? Inexplicably not, the Frenchman met the ball with the back of his head and it ballooned over the bar.
Chelsea responded in kind with Drogba and Malouda wasting chances. This might have been a clash between serious contenders for the title but it was developing into an open game. Both sides were passing quickly and crisply, finding space where little normally exists. Essien, Ramires and Mikel had been built into Goliath’s before the match but they were finding that Song, Diaby and Wilshere were their equals.
The Arsenal triumverate dictated the pace of the game, the tempo decreased and increased as it suited them. The hosts did not impose themselves or outfight the visitors. For the most part, Song and Wilshere in their deeper-lying roles provided a solid foundation for attacking play. Equally, the defence benefitted from their presence. The only time they did not work well, Arsenal suffered, conceding the first goal primarily because of the distance between Wilshere and Song meaning that support could not be given when possession was lost.
Diaby thrived as the most advanced of the three but did not neglect his defensive duties, an impenetrable barrier to Chelsea advances from set-pieces. Meanwhile Wilshere was passing through his opposite numbers assuredly, belying his youth with an impressive individual performance.
Once more Arsenal moved into the ascendancy; once more they failed to capitalise on growing possession. Arshavin’s rasping drive from the edge of area stung Cech’s gloves as it was turned aside for a corner whilst Nasri curled an effort wide of the far post. The Frenchman maintained his recent good form, denied the goal he deserved.
Moments later, Lukasz Fabianski proved that his recent performances were not a flash in the pan, deflecting Drogba’s shot downwards, the bounce taking it over the bar. Aside from an uncomfortable moment, spilling the ball, the Pole was confident and had a positive answer to questions Chelsea were asking.
As half-time approached, the deadlock was broken, controversially. Ramieres dispossessed Song with a tackle which won the ball but took the Arsenal midfielder’s standing leg in the follow-through. Whichever way it is viewed, a foul for dangerous play. Mike Dean proved as inept as lesser experienced officials and allowed play to continue, Cole racing onto the pass, crossing for Drogba to flick home at the near post. Inevitable, we were told as the Ivorian always scores against Arsenal.
Having been more than equal for the preceding thirty-eight preceding minutes, it was a sucker punch to succumb to. Half-time arrived with the wind taken from Arsenal sails. The magic sponge may heal wounded legs; magic words heal deflated minds. Wenger found the right combination during the interval because Arsenal started more assertively than in the first half. Chamakh and Diaby went close before the match’s pivotal moment arrived.
Earlier in the afternoon, Carlos Tevez had won a penalty for a foul outside of the penalty area and where he was cleanly tackled. Chamakh received Arshavin’s cross, moved inside Ramires and had his leg taken from under him. The Brazilian continued to clear the ball. No penalty. The inconsistency of officiating is one reason why frustration is often vented in the media, for once reflecting the consensus of fans. Curiously though, the penalty awarded went to the home side. The penalty denied went against a visiting team.
As the hour mark approached, Koscielny slid a pass to Squillaci in no immediate danger, although Anelka lurked nearby. Once the centre back slipped though, Anelka was onto the loose ball in a flash, rounded Fabianski and with the goal unattended, duly slid his shot into the side netting. A serious contender for miss of the season.
Arsenal once more regrouped and the introduction of Emmanuel-Thomas added more height to test the home defence. The accuracy of the crossing though meant little real danger was created. With five minutes remaining, Koscielny conceded a free kick twenty five yards from goal. The wall lined-up with Malouda in its foundations, no-one behind him. He moved, a gap appeared and Alex’s powerful shot hit the back of the net with Fabianski beaten comprehensively. The match effectively over, Chelsea may have increased their advantage before the final whistle, the much-derided Pole stopping efforts from Essien and Cole.
It left Wenger with some uncomfortable thoughts. Post-match, he observed that it was a hard defeat to take as overall, it had been a good performance. Defensively, the team were more cautious, not pressing as high up the pitch although Sagna and Clichy got forward well to augment the attack. Work may still be needed on the final delivery, particularly the left. Koscielny and Squillaci have had better afternoons. Mistakes were made and perhaps the opener should not have been conceded, the defender failing to get sufficiently ahead of Drogba to intercept Cole’s cross. Nasri did not track the former Arsenal left back either so to pin the blame on the central defenders might be considered harsh.
Yet the failings in front of goal are of concern. Similar profligacy has been apparent in the Premier League where his forwards have not scored since beating Bolton almost a month ago. Chances in clashes with your rivals, particularly away from home, have to be taken. Losing these matches damages your title chances in that a gap appears and now has to be closed. But we’ve been here before; last season Chelsea were eleven points clear and that gap evaporated quickly.
Despite the media telling you otherwise, this season is far from over for Arsenal. But it is going to be a long fortnight until Birmingham arrive at The Emirates.