Is this post breaking the record for late match reports? Probably no one cares. And I think it’s safe to assume no one wants to read three thousand words three days after a match, especially after one that lacklustre. So I’m just going to make some observations that seem worth discussing. Each paragraph will be a new point; some general, others about players or combinations.
As expected Chelsea came to park the bus and play on the counter. I didn’t expect as many as 8 changes, which virtually made this a second string side. They still had their strong defensive system and the replacements did a good enough job of adhering to it thereby reducing the chances Arsenal could create.
In attack, Chelsea had some chances early on but they couldn’t quite find the final pass or finish despite getting in behind Arsenal with relative ease. The quality of the second string, or the lack thereof, obviously had an impact here. This allowed the Gunners to get away with some poor defending. For instance, in the 7th minute Koscielny pushed up to the halfway line but couldn’t quite work it out with Song and the Gunners lost possession. Kalou was able to get into the space vacated by the central defender and got to the box. The Ivorian couldn’t quite control the ball and danger was averted but the defending was poor regardless. Sagna also had a little nibble at Kalou and a clever player, who’d have anticipated the challenge, might have found a way of winning a penalty and a red card from that. Imagine going a goal down and a player down in the 7th minute. Add to it the fact that Sagna would have missed the trip to Stoke. How big an impact would that have had on Arsenal’s points tally and confidence? The difference between a harmless looking situation and an unmitigated disaster can be that small at this level. Maybe I’m being overdramatic here but these things happen every once in a while and the more you tempt fate the more you risk getting screwed.
In general I thought Arsenal’s defending remained worrisome. It also seemed that the players sensed this and it brought the handbrake on in the first half after the opening 10-15 minutes. They couldn’t find the balance between caution and aggression but erred, prudently in my opinion as safety is the first priority, on the side of protecting their goal.
This does not mean that the defenders per se were poor. They did make a number of excellent last gasp interventions but the fact that they had to make those does not bode well for the longer term.
One of the reasons the defence was exposed fairly regularly was that Ramsey and Song didn’t quite gel as a duo in front. Arteta was missed to state the bleeding obvious. It was directly interlinked with the fact that movement upfront was minimal/ineffective. None of the front four were able to shake of their markers and get into positions to receive passes as frequently as they should have been doing. This forced Song, Ramsey, and, to an extent, Koscielny into taking greater risks. Ramsey was caught on the ball more than a couple of times as he looked for passes. Song tried some riskier ones and it didn’t always come off. Same goes for the centre back. This contributed to the muted attack and the nervous defence that didn’t impress many of those watching.
Both the wide players struggled to get on the ball. The team can carry one of them and that one could get the licence to wait for opportunities to make a run if the other winger can get between the lines and help the team past the first line of defence around the centre line. When both can’t do it the whole attack looks toothless for long periods and the defence is put under pressure.
Interestingly, Arsenal struck the woodwork twice from set-pieces. Those were probably the best chances of the first half except perhaps the counter-attack in injury time that broke down due to a poor choice by Chamberlain. You could say Chelsea rode their luck but these are low-percentage chances. Arsenal had to create a lot more but just couldn’t click as a unit.
Rosicky looked lively when he got the chance to turn and run with the ball. He also played some quality passes. But a lot more is needed from a player in that position. He too was guilty of not offering an outlet for a ball behind the first line of defence often enough. He had 32 touches i.e. one every two minutes, which is just not good enough for that role especially when Arsenal were the team looking to take the initiative. This isn’t the first time either, he’s had similar struggles against well-organized sides with Liverpool and Newcastle (first 20 odd minutes) being good examples.
Arsenal looked much better after Diaby came on for Rosicky in the 64th minute. Part of the reason for this was that Ramsey was able to move up the pitch and was able to influence the game more. He played an excellent ball over the top for Van Persie, spread the ball to the flanks, made runs that opened passing channels, and added to the collective attacking quality as Arsenal created more meaningful combinations in this period. It’s worth noting that Ramsey completed 26 of his 27 passes from the 64th minute onwards. In a comparable role in the first 64 minutes Rosicky only managed 21/24.
Of course, the three substitutes also played a big part in giving Arsenal greater impetus in the final 20-30 minutes, even if it wasn’t enough to get a goal. The Gunners got closer to the Chelsea goal in this period and were able to work some combinations around the box that involved more than a runner and a quarter-back, so to speak.
Once again the importance of the wide players getting involved in play was highlighted. Walcott completed 11 of his 16 passes in an hour. Gervinho completed 14 or his 16 in roughly half that time. Similarly, Santos completed 16 of his 18 passes in just over 20 minutes while Oxlade-Chamberlain only managed 18/23 in close to 70 minutes on the pitch. More passes implies greater involvement, which in turn suggests higher number of passing angles and options to the man on the ball, that in turn results in more fluid play and a higher probability of creating quality chances. It didn’t happen this time but the effort was appreciable and a big improvement on the opening hour or so.
Looking at the way Arsenal struggled to get the ball forward in the first half and the combinations played towards the end, which involved some good movement and passing from all the subs, it would not be unthinkable to start the game against Stoke with the side that ended this one. Santos was energetic on the flank and seems to be getting his match fitness back. He also provided decent defensive cover and can be a physical as well as a technical player with dribbling skills and offensive intelligence to boot. Gervinho too, looked sharp but some might rightly point out that he looks better when playing as a sub.
In other thoughts, Diaby looked rusty but also had a presence on the pitch as he ate up the ground effortlessly. Koscielny made a number of excellent interventions at the back (tackles, clearances, etc) but he was also turned once or twice where he shouldn’t be and was a bit wasteful with his passing, perhaps due to the lack of options. Song again played a number of exceptional passes but he remains error prone and didn’t always make the right decisions. Van Persie was probably frustrated with the lack of service early on and that forced him into hopeful attempts when some composure might have helped. He also went solo once or twice even though a teammate was better placed. Again this was most likely borne out of frustration and a searing desire to win the game for the team coupled with a sense of responsibility.
Moving on from the game, I want to link to an article on Serge Gnabry by Gooner Dave. Do check it out if you haven’t already done so. I am not a fan of hyping youngsters but this article presents some interesting facts. And hidden between the details about the wonder kid, there’s a short note on Bergkamp that is highly recommended, particularly if you think of yourself as a student of the game.
Also, Van Persie deserves accolades for winning the Player of the Year but a sentence at the end of such a post would not do him justice. Trying to find words that do will be a challenge but I’ll try soon enough.
Before ending I want to say thank you to everyone who is reading this. I generally get less than half the readers when I post a late match report when compared to an early one. But I appreciate those who take the time out to read my half-baked ramblings even after a couple of days much more than others who do add to ego-boosting numbers but probably don’t value these write-ups as much. Thanks for reading.Follow @goonerdesi