It seemed, when the line-ups were announced, that Wenger’s intention was to go for a win against Chelsea whereas Mourinho was probably happy to settle for a draw. Without the likes of Mata or Oscar in their starting eleven, there was very limited creativity in the Chelsea side and their manager acknowledged that he was ‘not unhappy’ with a point.
Maybe a moral victory for Arsenal? Maybe not.
The patterns of the game were reminiscent of many of Arsenal’s battles against sides like Chelsea and United, most of which ended with a lot of possession for the Gunners but few chances of note. Usually, such games ended in draws or defeat – if there were errors at the back and the opponents were clinical enough.
This game wasn’t very different. Arsenal controlled the ball but Chelsea had the better chances. Admittedly, there was a big penalty decision that could have changed the game but you do want to see the home side create more, particularly if it has pretences of being the best team in the League and boasts of a positive, attacking mentality.
Apart from a couple of chances that fell to Giroud, who isn’t exactly the best finisher in the League anyway, the Gunners had very little to show for their possession which seemed passive. Part of the problem was that the team was too slow and cautious with their passing and movement, and, at times, tentative and unsure with their touch or weight of the pass. The conditions didn’t help but more than that this was again a matter of a lack of tactical balance between attack and defence.
Wenger didn’t make any substitutions and talked about the need for balance after the game. His team was barely hanging on as it is. Introducing more offensive players might have increased the probability of conceding a goal rather than scoring one. People forget very quickly that we have seen Arsenal struggle to score against big teams with such tactics for years now irrespective of the starting line-up and substitutions. Lazy opinions based on the, “change something, do something different” mindset don’t hold much value when seen in the right context based on historical data. In that sense I thought Wenger was right in keeping the players he had on the pitch. If you can’t win, don’t lose.
Ramsey and Rosicky were needed on the pitch because they cover a fair amount of ground and chase back relatively better. Taking off the likes of Özil or Walcott is not a clever idea because these are the type of players who can produce something out of nothing and you have to give them that opportunity. Arteta was obviously important to the defence. Furthermore, the options on the bench weren’t great either. Bendtner for Giroud would have been a change based solely on hope with limited or no rational reason behind it. Podolski hasn’t played for a long time and introducing him would also have been a matter of hope rather than reason. Cazorla might have produced something but he hasn’t had many decisive moments this season. Think carefully and you’ll see that the calls for substitutions were little more than, “this isn’t working so do something different” rants.
That’s not to say substitutions would not have worked for sure. We will never know. The point is that there is no solid argument to say they would have worked so the manager’s decision is understandable and he has bigger fish to fry.
The real problem that Wenger needs to worry about, and one that has been around for a while, is the issue of balance. Why isn’t his team able to get past such a defence? And it wasn’t a great defensive side, certainly not when compared to some of the defences Arsenal have faced in the last few seasons. Focussing on the incorrect penalty decision alone is a case of denial in my opinion because it completely ignores the obviously limited nature of Arsenal’s attack, something Wenger himself acknowledged after the game.
The Gunners are not very good at wing play and that contributes to this issue as teams can sit deep and narrow. Chelsea’s back four was quite compact and they had three midfielders sitting in front who protected the central areas effectively. The openings existed on the flanks but Arsenal were too inefficient in utilizing those.
Numerous counter-attacks from Chelsea and some excellent chances created by the visitors also exposed Arsenal’s problems in defending against a quality opponent. This consistently limited the attacking potential of the hosts because the players were always wary of the visitors’ threat. When a team that is apparently playing to avoid defeat creates more than the team that goes into the game wanting to win, serious introspection is needed.
It was Déjà Vu in many ways but, at least, it was a point gained in a game that was lost last season and with a referee who seems to inspire results against the Gunners. Many are only talking about the title race but I also have an eye on the race for the top four spots that can get very tight. In that regard this is a good enough result in the short term but this spell of weak performances doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for the long haul.
Visiting Allardyce and Co….
West Ham are one spot and one point above the relegation zone at the moment but visiting a physical side is never an easy game for the Gunners. The problem with consistent struggles in the big games is that it turns such tricky away games into high-pressure, must-win encounters because there is practically no margin for error left. We see the impact of this in the players’ performance in the form of the handbrake, or technical errors, or lapses in concentration, or something else.
This game is quite predictable in terms of tactics. The hosts will sit back and remain compact in the central zones. They will try to frustrate the Gunners with their positioning, discipline, and work rate, and will rely on their physicality to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm. Balls will be hit long at every opportunity as they look to gain territory in the hope of contesting duels in the visitors’ penalty box. ‘Get there often enough and something might give’, seems to be Big Sam’s mantra.
The crowd will get behind the players who will also gain confidence if Wenger’s side are rattled or show signs of weakness against these predictable but utilitarian tactics.
The Gunners have to find their creative game in this one because the hosts won’t mind a nil-nil draw. They’ve already had four of those this season, which is almost a quarter of their games. And I wouldn’t put it past them to score against this Arsenal defence if the team tries to be too attacking. While West Ham have kept a clean sheet in half their home games, they’ve none against the teams in the top ten. Chelsea, City, and Everton have won at Upton park and all of them have scored three goals. The Gunners will probably need more than one to win. The challenge for Wenger and his players is in finding balance, efficiency, and clinical finishing. But it will start with having the confidence to play their own game at a tempo that unsettles the opposition. The Gunners won’t vary their tactics that much so this battle to control the speed of the game and each side’s ability to stick to their game plan will shape the patterns of play.
The players should all be in good shape right now after that nine day break before the Chelsea game. However, with an eye on four games in the next ten days, Wenger might want to change a few players. Ideally, this should be a game where he can rest some of his key players.
I’d leave Özil out of the side but the Frenchman probably won’t. Bringing Flamini in might be a good idea but it’s tough to decide whether Ramsey or Arteta should sit out. Bendtner ahead of Giroud is another option but I have a feeling we will see that at home against Cardiff rather than in this derby. It’s a shame that Wilshere is unavailable for this game.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Arteta, Özil, Flamini – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
Podolski is also an interesting option but my guess is that he’ll get a couple of substitute appearances before getting a start.
The Gunners should create a few promising moments in this game and they can get the three points if some of those are converted into goals. They will also need moments of dogged defending at the back because the hosts will undoubtedly find their way to the Arsenal penalty box. In theory this should be a straightforward win for Arsenal and they most definitely need the points. Question is, can they dominate the decisive moments of the game?