Chelsea Perspiration Stifles Arsenal Inspiration
Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea
A point which in the wider context of the season might yet prove crucial. It was not as is being seen in some quarters, the end of the world nor a signal that third place is out of Arsenal’s hands; that is patently not true unless Newcastle turn the goal difference delta around. And as spectacular as that would be, their run-in consisting suggests that it is unlikely. Thus Arsenal need to match their results; that is not to discount Spurs or Chelsea but with maximum totals between them of 72 points, again them finishing higher than Arsenal seems unlikely.
It was not a convincing performance, too laboured in the first half although this period contained the closest either side came to scoring with the woodwork caressed by van Persie as opposed to the brute force with which Koscielny rattled the crossbar. Either of those being a foot right or lower and Chelsea’s gameplan of containment with sporadic counter-attacks, would have been rendered impotent. But they weren’t and it was effective.
That was to be expected of the visitors. Twice in recent seasons they have played a style which might be construed as expansive; twice they have been on the receiving end of Arsenal’s attacking brutality. If nothing else, those lessons have been learned and it was up to Arsenal to find new problems to tease them with. Arsène nailed the fundamental problem post-match,
On our side I felt we had a very solid defensive performance. Going forward we didn’t find our quick passing game and the regret we have today is that we played offensively with a handbrake and not as clean technically as we can do
In part, this will have been a hangover from Monday with the players mentally aware of the price paid for being hit on the counter-attack. The gap between the back four and midfield triumverate was minimal. This was compounded by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s reduced effectiveness when forced into the more central midfield role; searing pace is something which is hard to exploit in a crowded area of the pitch. More penatrative in the latter stages when on the flanks, the youngster will get more opportunities with the season-ending injury to Theo Walcott.
The opening phase of the match offered false hope but Chelsea soon retreated into their shells, van Persie reaching Walcott’s cross directing it onto the outside of the post with fifteen minutes barely passed. An early goal would have changed the complexion of the match entirely. But it never came and the remainder of the half disappeared into a glistening haze as neither side was able to forge the opening which would make the crucial difference.
That was until Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled on the edge of the area as the interval approached. This time van Persie chose to deliver the free kick which Koscielny guided onto the crossbar; no-one in red followed up, principally because the chief goal threat had momentarily turned provider. It typified the first half and current form. Before the referee’s whistle would sound half-time’s arrival, van Persie forced a good save from Cech.
Hope that this flurry a resurgence in Arsenal’s attacking game faded quickly after the interval. Having ridden their luck, Chelsea were intent on strangling the life from this game in midfield, successfully as it turned out. Theo Walcott’s hamstring necessitated change with Gervinho coming on the for the stricken England international but it was introduction of Abou Diaby that gave Arsenal most direction. The tempo from midfield increased and the attacking impetus moved in Arsenal’s favour with the French internatonal almost capping his return to the side with a goal, his effort blocked before the net could ripple.
Robin van Persie was too often isolated according to his manager but this did not stop him creating a modicum of panic in the Chelsea defence to the extent that Gary Cahill clearly shoved the Arsenal captain in the penalty area. His failure to theatrically dive as a result meant that Mike Dean did not believe a foul had been committed. Cech produced another save from the Dutchman but there were few opportunities of note in the time which remained.
This is a point gained no matter how much it might seem like two dropped. At this stage of the season, games in hand are a useful commodity but points acquired already put pressure on the chasing pack. In terms of catching Arsenal, neither Chelsea or Tottenham can be written off; seven and six points can easily disappear in the space of a week but this presumes everyone will win their games in hand. And looking at the fixtures, that is a big presumption.
Time will tell but as it is, Arsenal’s future is still in their own hands.