When a team creates two fantastic chances in the first minute, away at a place like Stamford Bridge, it tells the fans this will be a good game. And a good game it was. I thought the first half was closely contested with neither team creating many chances.
Apart from the first minute, when Koscielny really should have scored, Arshavin tested Cech twice, and Nasri went close on one occasion for Arsenal. For Chelsea, Essien had a free header from a corner but there weren’t many other clear chances.
The goal came out of nowhere. It started with what looked like a foul by Ramires on Song as he pulled him back from the shoulders before nicking the ball. Chelsea were quick to play it out wide to Cole who dragged it back. Drogba finished with an audacious, and I’d say somewhat fortunate, flick. Credit to the Ivorian for his desire and technique.
I was quite happy with the way Arsenal responded. We were able to control the game from then on till the last fifteen minutes or so. Unfortunately, we lacked width and pace and the impact of injuries to key players was quite clear.
Chelsea, to be fair to them, knew these weaknesses and were comfortable while sitting back. As the time went on we got more and more adventurous leaving vast spaces behind. Given the pace and clinical quality they had, I was surprised the Blues didn’t score a good goal on the counter. Much credit for that goes to the Arsenal defenders and Fabianski did a great job when the defenders failed.
The hosts eventually got their second goal from a rocket by Alex. I couldn’t quite see who gave the ball away that led to Anelka winning the free kick in the first place. It was a shocking pass deep inside our own half. It’s that kind of lapse that has always been our weakness in the big games and it came to the fore late in the game. I also thought the wall we had wasn’t good enough. It gave Alex a chance to hit straight without any need to curve the ball. In the wall, Song seemed to move away from the line of the ball instead of towards the ball. These are minor details but it all started with a very poor pass in front of our defence.
In contrast, Arsenal rarely threatened from set-pieces or corners. I’ve often discussed this issue and the way we neglect an important aspect of the modern game borders on the criminal. It was obvious we had no real plan on set-pieces. The ball was just lobbed into an area with some hope. Chamakh did get on the end of one or two but he was always under pressure. Not only that, our organization around the box was quite poor and Chelsea were easily able to break on the counter from our corners.
Before the game I’d said there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. After watching this display I feel much more confident about the season despite the loss. It’s a shame we didn’t turn up with such a performance against Sunderland or WBA. With due respect to those sides, we would have earned five extra points without doubt.
I thought we pressed the ball much better in this game. It allowed us to limit Chelsea and this game would have been a lot different if the ref had seen the foul by Ramires. Chelsea only looked comfortable once they were able to sit back on the lead.
On the flip side I was disappointed we gave them so many chances to hit us on the break. We also didn’t spread the ball as fast as we should have. I remember only three occasions when we switched the flank with a good ball. On all three occasions it was Wilshere who did it and the first was in the opening moments that led to the two chances. Another negative was that we didn’t have enough midfield runs into the box. Finally, the old problem of too many players running into the same spaces was still quite evident.
Any title is a distant dream at the moment. I don’t want to dwell on that too much. We showed we can play football in this game and only a brilliantly organized Chelsea defence was able to keep us out. We can be in the hunt come April and May if we turn up week in, week out. This kind of a performance against the smaller teams can see us build a run of wins. Any inconsistency or sloppiness will see us slip further behind.
In a League where an expensively assembled City side is barely winning at home and United haven’t won away from home in any of their four games, a loss away at Stamford Bridge is not a bad result. In order for it to stay that way we need to build on this performance and create a string of wins.
We still have a great deal of room for improvement. You could see that as a positive or a negative depending on your inclination. For instance, our continued wastefulness on set-pieces can be seen as a problem. It can also be seen as a great area for improvement that can make us much stronger. We will definitely benefit in this area when Cesc and RvP return. Similarly, our lack of width is a weakness. But we can improve on that when Walcott comes back into the fold.
There is no doubt we will need out best players fit if we are to challenge. Those who expect Arsenal to dominate the league without the likes of Cesc, RvP, Theo, and Vermaelen really need a dose of reality. Hopefully, we will have better news after the international break, although given our recent record it’s best to keep the fingers crossed for the next two weeks.
Fabianski: Not bad at all! Made some good saves. Caught some crosses. Came out at the right moments. Can’t really fault him for either goal except a bit for the size of the wall, which to me is a problem with the coaches.
Sagna: Worked hard up and down the wing. Could have done better with his crosses but he didn’t have enough targets in the box. Can’t really fault him for either goal although some might say he could have closed Cole down a bit better.
Squillaci: Looked quite shaky initially and almost gifted a goal when he was caught out by Anelka. Did well to catch Chelsea off-side on a number of occasions. Dealt with the balls into the box fairly well. Closed his man down in a good way.
Koscielny: Not sure how he missed that chance to score. Won quite a few balls in the box and made a couple of good tackles in dangerous areas. Conceded the free-kick that led to the goal but can’t blame him for that.
Clichy: I thought he played well. Worked really hard, didn’t allow his man a lot of room to cross. Should have done better in attack, especially with his final ball.
Song: I was disappointed with Song. Can’t blame him for a lack of effort but he lost too many physical battles. Wasn’t as close to the defence as he should have been. Was often caught out when Chelsea broke on counter attacks.
Wilshere: Had a good game for a youngster. Wasn’t able to create much but had some good moments. Good work rate and physical strength.
Diaby: He looked great in patches but I thought we made a mistake by playing him higher up. We needed his strength and reach closer to the defence. Didn’t get into the box often enough. On the whole his work rate was not good enough compared to what Cesc or Nasri do in that role. Didn’t have the guile to split the defence. Hopefully his injury is not very serious.
Nasri: Struggled a bit on the flank. Another one with fantastic work rate and some good attacking moments. Should have played in a central role from the start.
Chamakh: His limitations were exposed by the Chelsea defence even if we can’t doubt his effort. In the past I’ve said that he should look to score instead of winning the penalty and he could have done better in this game if he had his mind set on scoring. He also needs to be alert to the loose ball in the box. If the ball doesn’t come to him/his run, he just stops and watches the ball, which is a bad trait for a striker. Missed a good chances when Arshavin found him with a ball over the top.
Arshavin: He was on and off in this one. Gave the ball away quite often. Worked harder than his usual self but still not enough. A couple of good attempts on goal and a fantastic pass for Chamakh.
Subs: no real impact. I was surprised Eboue wasn’t brought on for his pace and directness.