I can’t quite recall but somewhere on the internet there was this discussion about the game that mentioned the possibility of Arsenal winning by outscoring Chelsea. Did you also read it? 😉
What a game! Amazing. That’s how football should be. Both teams started with a very positive intent and carried on in exactly the same manner for the duration of the game irrespective of the scoreline changes. It was as beautiful as a work of art and more thrilling than anything Hollywood has to offer. Although Chelsea fans would probably prefer a comparison with a horror flick.
Both starting line-ups were fairly predictable and the systems very similar variants of the 4-3-3.
The opening minutes were frantic and Chelsea started strongly. The Gunners were caught by an number of runs in behind that appeared pre-planned even for a team that would normally look to make such runs. Ashley Cole was in acres of space around the Arsenal box twice within the opening five minutes while Sturridge too got into a dangerous position at the other flank.
The Blues couldn’t make it count as their final ball lacked quality and the Arsenal central defenders did a good job of tracking the runs. Arsenal full backs were looking terrible but the keyword there is ‘looking’. It was more a structural problem than an individual one albeit exacerbated by some mistakes.
The best chance of the opening minutes was created by Walcott after he skipped past Cole and delivered an inch perfect ball. Gervinho failed to hit the target from six yards. A minute or so later Theo put in another great cross but Van Persie couldn’t guide the bouncing ball towards goal.
In keeping with the dizzying pace and pulsating nature of the game, Lampard scored at the other end after a good cross from Mata. It seemed to me that Mertesacker was caught a bit out of position as he moved towards the near post and wasn’t able to get his head on the ball.
Chelsea continued finding space in the wide areas and created a number of other half chances. Sturridge missed a gilt-edged opportunity around the half-hour mark.
The Gunners were there or thereabouts in the attacking areas despite Chelsea dominating 69 percent possession in that period. Soon after, Van Persie eased the ball into the open net to equalize. The chance was created by an excellent run by Gervinho but more importantly via Ramsey’s delightful turn and through-ball.
Arsenal conceded a corner in the final minute before half-time. Many Gooners would have had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs as Lampard sent the ball into a fairly regular area that the central defenders should dominate. Once again Mertesacker was just a bit off and allowed Terry to attack ball. Chelsea went in ahead at the break and few would have argued it wasn’t deserved.
I would love to know what Wenger said during the break. Arsenal came out with greater desire and confidence in the second half but more importantly the team was a lot more cohesive. An early leveller helped.
Three minutes into the second half Santos, who’d been extremely poor in the first half, scored after excellent work by Djourou on the right and a quick, accurate pass from Song.
There was no letting up though, as Szczesny came out of his area and fouled Cole who would probably have been clean through. The ref gave a yellow card as Koscielny was getting back towards the goal but a red would not have been unprecedented. I thought in general the ref was consistently lenient towards the physical aspects in a game that was feisty but never dirty.
With 55 minutes on the clock, Theo put Arsenal ahead with a wonderful, and somewhat comical, solo goal. The English winger came in from the right and appeared to fall after tripping himself. Cole stopped playing and raised his arms to claim innocence in the matter. Ivanovic and Terry switched off as they too probably looked at the ref. The ball remained near Walcott’s feet who got up and moved past the defenders in a flash, with quick footwork, before hammering it past Cech who was again beaten on the near post.
Subsequently, Arsenal dropped deeper and looked a lot more solid in defence as the wide players supported the fullbacks better. I thought it possible that Wenger would have instructed his speed merchants to look for gaps left by the Chelsea fullbacks which would have led to a more open game in the first half on both ends of the pitch. After taking the lead Arsenal looked a lot more assured and the full backs were fairly composed. Santos made a number of excellent tackles all through the second half.
Chelsea got the equalizer after Lukaku fouled Santos. The ref let play carry on as he’d done all day. Mata got into space in front of the defence and his strike probably benefitted from a deflection off Song’s desperate lunge.
Buy now Chelsea had brought on a number of attacking players and were looking for the winner. Arsenal had always been on the edge of breaking through on the counter.
The fourth goal for the Gunners though, was a result of a terrible pass from Malouda and an untimely slip by Terry near the centre circle. Van Persie’s composure was commendable as we have seen plenty of players waste such opportunities.
With the home side going all out in search for the winner, Arsenal fashioned further chances and secured the game with Van Persie getting his hat-trick. Cech again looked culpable but I thought all the shots he missed were fiercely struck and/or well-placed. The final one swerved just enough to miss the strong part of his hand and went in skinning the fingertips.
I liked the way Arsenal kept the ball and didn’t hoof it every time the opponents put them under pressure. It can get better but they are clearly making an effort. I also appreciated the way central defenders in particular tracked the runs of the attacking players. In the past we have seen Arsenal players stand with their hands up when opponents broke in behind but in this game they stuck to the runners and covered for the mistakes of their teammates.
While Chelsea were undoubtedly the better side in the first half, there can be no arguments against the result as the Gunners bossed the game after the break. In individual moments of significance, the Gunners showed better composure and quality. That was ultimately the difference between two very attacking sides.
Szczesny: Another shaky game from the youngster. Couldn’t have done much for any of the goals but his decision making wasn’t very good and flapped at a few balls into the box. But one might also say he did enough to push the balls away from danger areas.
Djourou: Space behind him was exploited time and again. It was more an issue of coordination and tactical clarity as he wasn’t beaten in one-v-one’s but was caught out positionally. Looked assured in possession and moved the ball well. Big part in the second goal. Not sure why he was subbed. Hope it’s not another injury concern.
Mertesacker: Made a number of crucial interceptions/tackles and won a lot in the air. But he was culpable for both goals and will have to do much better to dominate his area of the pitch.
Koscielny: Absolutely magnificent. Another world class effort from the Frenchman. Joint MotM in my book. Read the game better than anyone else on the pitch, decision making was spot on, got his foot in at vital moments time and again.
Santos: Seemingly a game of two halves for the Brazilian. Struggled when exposed in large spaces or when the opponents got a chance to run at him. But his tackling technique is unusual and rather effective. Did much better once he got some support. Well-timed run and good execution for the goal.
I thought the defence looked very poor but the individuals didn’t make that many mistakes. Certainly higher rated and better valued opponents made more. As I have said for close to two years, when a team plays with an attacking mindset, defenders are exposed and suffer. That doesn’t make them bad players. Nevertheless, there is more than sufficient room for improvement at the back tactically and in terms of decision making, attacking the ball, etc.
Song: Very impressive in the defensive areas, particularly in the second half. Made a good assist for the second goal after a number of disappointing attacking passes in the first half. His tenacity was integral to the relatively solid second half.
Ramsey: Joint MotM with Koscielny. Didn’t have many headline worthy moments but overall contribution was exceptional. The assist for the first goal was sumptuous. Work rate was unquestionable. Showed a great deal of intelligence on the ball. Can do even better but on the right upward curve.
Arteta: Another player who worked his socks off with an appreciable defensive shift. Played some very promising passes as well when the forward players got into space. Picked up an assist for the final goal, is that his first for Arsenal?
I thought the midfield was caught in a no-man’s land in the first half as the pressing wasn’t cohesive which allowed balls in behind rather easily. Once the team dropped deeper in the second half they helped the defence look compact.
All three played a part in sustaining possession under pressure, the importance of which cannot be overstated. All three also got an assist each.
Walcott: Another excellent effort from Theo. He is lethal when the opponents give him a bit of space. Cole used to dominate battles against Walcott when he used to play deeper and with supporting players but was ripped to shreds in an open game. Put in a number of dangerous balls, scored a fantastic goal, worked hard on the flank.
RvP: Immense. On another day he would have walked away with the match ball and the MotM. His movement and positioning is a pure delight. Finishing was top notch.
Gervinho: Excellent movement and good awareness for the assist. Missed a great chance and misplaced some passes, especially in the first half. Was always threatening when he got a chance to run at the defenders.
The attackers showed their quality as they got space to manoeuvre. Both teams missed some opportunities but Arsenal’s front three made the decisive contribution.
Subs: Jenkinson was fairly solid in the few minutes he got. Rosicky looked good on the ball and put in an energetic shift. Vermaelen didn’t have much to do.
Wenger: He was aware Chelsea were going to be very expansive and set his team out to exploit that. It wasn’t as efficient in the first half as one would like but got it right after the break. Deserves immense credit for believing in the players and motivating them despite such negative circumstances. Just like Coyle in midweek, wasn’t AVB another manager who was deemed better than Wenger?
Wonder what the Chelsea chairman will have to say about that. Will probably pass the buck I guess. At this point I must also say AVB deserves some time and the freedom to buy players he wants. I really liked the way Chelsea played. He needs more experience at this level to fine tune the details but the basics and attitude are there.
Arsenal are slowly and surely moving up with improved performances, better understanding, and indubitable spirit and determination. If you haven’t seen it already, do watch this speech that Arsene gave at the AGM.