If you didn’t understand Arsene Wenger’s faith in this team, watch this game again and again.
If you didn’t believe the earlier games between the sides were close and the first goal made a big difference, watch this game again.
I don’t want to get too excited over one win. That’s not in my nature. I do however, wish to enjoy a fantastic performance to the fullest. And since I realize this wasn’t Arsenal at their best, my exhilaration is difficult to contain.
To begin with, Arsene deserves a great deal of credit for picking the perfect starting eleven. Nasri, Van Persie, and Walcott were a really potent attacking trio. Song, Wilshere, and Cesc formed a strong midfield. Starting Djourou at the back alongside Sagna, Koscielny, and Clichy was pretty much a masterstroke.
I must also say it was great to see the team play with real belief right from kick-off. There was no hesitation, no hand-brake as Arsene calls it. In contrast, it was easy to see Chelsea were set up to defend. The visitors didn’t really have the confidence of taking the game to Arsenal. Those who think Arsenal have lost the fear factor have to see how a team like Chelsea put 10 or 11 behind the ball right from the moment the ref blew his whistle.
The first forty minutes were tight. Chelsea were playing like Birmingham or Newcastle but with better players. Arsenal were trying to penetrate the blue wall while defending against long balls and counter attacks.
The first opening came for RvP when Song found him with a ball over the top. The Dutchman lacked match sharpness and was probably put off by the attempted challenge by Ivanovic. Van Persie produced an air-kick from eight yards. Moments later Drogba took a shot from outside the box after a quick counter but couldn’t find the target.
After that the teams settled into their respective rhythms and nullified each other. When Arsenal got a corner in the 39th minute I was wondering whether this will be the moment for Arsenal. To be honest, I also had a thought at the back of my mind that this is just the kind of moment when Arsenal could concede from a counter! The corner was headed out but only to Sagna who let fly with his left foot. Drogba got in the way but the strike was powerful enough to knock him down.
Arsenal were able to sustain pressure and a couple of minutes later Nasri had some space on the edge of the box. His attempted chip forced a great save from Cech. It reminded me of the kind of goal Bergkamp used to score from that area.
The breakthrough finally arrived a couple of minutes before half time. Nasri was being double-teamed on the left. The Frenchman took the ball to corner of the box before squaring it back towards Song. The Cameroonian passed it Wilshere and went for the return. For a moment it looked like the youngster had delayed his pass for too long but he was able to dink it back towards Song.
Arsenal had three or four bodies in the area and Fabregas was tripped as he was going through. I would have taken a penalty and a yellow card for Ferreira but Song was alert, calm, and clinical.
This is just the kind of sucker punch Arsenal have conceded against Chelsea in recent games so it was always going to be interesting to see how the second half panned out.
Wenger’s men (emphasis on men!) came out for the second half with the right approach. They started where they’d left off and pressed Chelsea high up the pitch. Unfortunately for the visitors, they didn’t have the comfort of a lead and couldn’t really sit back.
This resulted in a great deal of space behind their defence and Arsenal exploited that expertly. Once again showing how dangerous it can be for teams to push out against Arsenal.
The second goal came after some good work by RvP. The Dutchman lost his footing but was able to hold off the central defenders. Essien was forced to come back and his toe-poke nicked the ball away from the Arsenal striker. Walcott was on the shoulder of Cole and showed greater alertness and desire. The Englishman also showed good composure while squaring the ball to Fabregas who had an empty net in front of him.
Minutes later it was three. Once again the pressure high up the pitch paid off as Walcott caught Malouda on the ball. He passed it to El Capitan and sprinted forward. Cesc expertly lifted the ball over Terry’s attempted interception and Theo showed he is turning into a lethal finisher.
After this, there was a little bit of hesitation in Arsenal’s approach. The player’s didn’t seem certain about the tactical approach. Should they shut up shop or should they continue the attacking game?
Chelsea found a goal soon after as Arsenal conceded a sloppy free kick. Drogba lifted it into the danger area and Arsenal defenders didn’t attack the ball well enough. Fabianski was exposed and he couldn’t quite come for the ball in time. Ivanovic scored with a simple header and Chelsea found some belief. Ideally the defenders should have dealt with the ball better and Fabianski should have stayed on his line.
After conceding the goal Arsenal showed great mental resilience and worked hard as a team. Ancelotti’s side couldn’t really create any clear chances and were limited to shots from distance and hopeful crosses. All the adjectives that have been used to deride and ridicule Arsenal would be applicable to this Chelsea performance. Arsenal did have a couple of opportunities on the counter but Nasri rushed his shot when he had the time while Diaby took too long.
Arsenal’s defending wasn’t perfect and the players did concede some daft free-kicks in dangerous areas. Nonetheless, it was a strong all-round performance and a massive win.
Fabianski: Didn’t have much to do in terms of making saves but marshalled his box well. Came for the ball when he had to and his distribution was quick and effective on most occasions. Some lazy and ignorant pundits and fans will blame him for the goal but I thought it was a collective problem.
Sagna: Took Malouda out of the game. Very solid defensive shift, lots of energy while running up and down for the duration of the game, put in some decent crosses.
Djourou: excellent physical presence, good interceptions and headers, composed on the ball, is beginning to fulfil his potential.
Koscielny: Read the game really well and his positioning was excellent. Looked composed while bringing the ball forward. Needs to improve his touch/ball control in and around the box, and has to do better with his passing when he moves forward and leaves a space behind. Made some minor mistakes but recovered well.
Clichy: Superb again. Took Kalou out of the game, reduced Chelsea’s threat on the break, made some important interceptions and tackles, went forward quite often and played a useful part in attack.
Overall the back five looked much better as they got good support from the midfield and the wide players. They’re doing a decent job of dealing with crosses and corners but set-pieces from the front seem to be a weakness. Newcastle, Tiny Totts, and now Chelsea have all scored from those angles.
Song: incredible work rate, well taken goal, excellent defensive contribution, good passes in the attacking areas. Gave away some silly fouls in the final quarter of the game.
Wilshere: worked hard, decent defensive contribution, had some good moments and some weak ones.
Cesc: had some amazing touches, a good goal, an excellent assist, but also gave the ball away uncharacteristically and his work rate wasn’t at the level we have seen from him. Still not quite there mentally and that can be a big positive if Arsene can get him back to his best.
The midfield dominated Chelsea for the first half and found a good balance between attack and defence. The desire of the players to track back was commendable.
Walcott: My MotM even though he wasn’t in the game all the time. In the first half his chances were limited as Chelsea denied him space. Destroyed Chelsea in a short spell early in the second half when he did get space. Loved his alertness, desire to win the ball back, composure when on the ball, awareness of players around him, and clinical finishing.
RvP: Not quite close to his best but offered a lot through his movement, ability to hold the ball under pressure, and intelligent passing. Another player who can make a huge impact on the season if he can get back to his best.
Nasri: Was double-teamed for large parts but did well in terms of holding possession, bringing others into play, defensive tracking, and forced three good saves.
The attackers were quick, skilful, and confident. They moved the defence around really well and forced Chelsea deep in the first half. Good defensive contribution by the wide players and RvP dropped deep quite often.
Subs: Diaby did well in defensive areas and it was good to see his loping strides on the pitch. Chamakh worked hard and forced the defenders into knocking it high and long. I was a bit surprised by the changes. I’d have moved Walcott down the middle, taken Cesc and RvP off and brought on Rosicky on the right and Diaby in the middle.