Chelsea 2 (Mata 6, Lampard (pen) 16) – Arsenal 1 (Walcott 58)
Man of the Match - Ramires (Chelsea)
It was one of the best screenings ever. There were about 60 Chelsea fans, and about 60 Arsenal fans who had descended upon Dugout Sports Bar, in Bangalore for the screening of the big encounter between two Premier League giants.
I was among the Arsenal crowd of course, and despite being out chanted before the game began, considering it is a predominantly Chelsea hangout, I think we really gave a good account of ‘Bangalore Gunners’. There was loud chanting, taunting and abusing, and I think we gave a great account of ourselves.
In the pub, we did. On the field, er, not so much. It was another average performance against a Chelsea side, yet to fully kick into their stride. It came as quite a surprise, that there was no sign of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the squad.
Podolski had an illness, about which I had known a bit, but having Chamberlain out as well, meant a completely depleted squad, that is already missing the services of Tomas Rosicky, and more importantly Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s only attack minded option on the bench, was a Russian outcast, who hasn’t stepped on to the competitive football field for a long long time.
That meant starts for Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin in the centre of midfield, with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott plying up front. Koscielny returned to the bench after serving his one match suspension.
Chelsea, on the other hand, had strength in depth. John Terry returned from injury, and was named on the bench, with Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic starting in the centre of defence. Chelsea’s midfield was glittering with Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Hazard and Mata, while Fernando Torres was chosen ahead of new signing Demba Ba.
The match, which had warded off worries of being called off, was curtailed in snow, and it was the Gunners’ who had the first shot on goal, when Giroud, played in by Walcott, saw his attempt narrowly skim the far side of the post.
Arsenal were made to pay for that miss, less than a minute later, when Juan Mata took down an Azpilicueta cross from the right, and shot it past a helpless Szczesny. However, replays showed that Francis Coquelin was impeded by Ramires during the build up.
Santi Cazorla then saw his shot palmed away by Cech, before Eden Hazard jinked his way past some poor Arsenal defending, and then forcing Szczesny into a save. Moments later, it looked like another painful afternoon was in store, when Chelsea were awarded a penalty.
Abou Diaby failed to clear his lines, and Ramires darted and slipped with Szczesny sliding to get hold of the ball. A penalty of course. Szczesny, who had saved Dzeko’s spot kick last week, couldn’t repeat his feat, and Frank Lampard made no mistake from the spot, to put Chelsea 2-0 ahead.
Chelsea worked hard, and pressed constantly, barely allowing any space and time for Arsenal to operate. Wilshere was shut out for large parts of the second half, while Giroud had two centre-backs all over him, everytime he received the ball. Walcott, needless to say was kept well under check, and even Cazorla failed to get into his stride.
There was some stern talking done in the Arsenal dressing room, and it was evident in the second half, as Arsenal came out with more intent and verve about them. Mertesacker had a punt, and then Giroud headed wayward, off a Gibbs cross.
Arsenal were looking to step up their attacks, but Chelsea managed to thwart all of them, until Cazorla played in Walcott, who despite close attentions of Chelsea’s defenders, broke away and put the ball past Cech. Cue some crazy celebrations, down here in Bangalore, and some vicious chanting of “Come on Arsenal”, “Ooh! Ooh to be! Ooh to be a Gooner!”, and “We love you Arsenal, we do!”.
Soon enough, Coquelin was called off, as he seemed to be carrying some strain, and Aaron Ramsey was bought on. Fernando Torres, subdued as ever, had a great chance to finish off things, when he beat Vermaelen for pace, but Szczesny managed to collect the ball from the striker’s feet.
Szczesny came to Arsenal’s rescue again, when he palmed away a Ramires effort. Diaby had run his course of 75 minutes, when Arsene Wenger was forced to bring on the much ignored, burly Andrei Arshavin. It did little to change the dynamic of the game, as Arshavin walked the ball out of play.
Chelsea substitute Demba Ba had a great chance to put his side 3-1 up, when Arsenal were left bare at the back. He hoodwinked Szczesny, who had come way out of his line, but Vermaelen’s last ditch block kept Arsenal in the game.
Vermaelen himself had a shot on goal, when his free kick went narrowly wide, after Sagna was bought down by Ashley Hole. Arsenal huffed and puffed in the final minutes, with Giroud’s header going over the post, with Cech comfortable covering.
It was Arsenal’s second loss in a row, and we were treated to some Chelsea fans hogging the limelight, as they made a beeline for the screen. But, we kept chanting “We love you Arsenal, we do!”.
There is very little I could decipher from the game. The deficiencies of Arsenal squad are there for everyone to see. Key areas are clearly in central midfield, where we clearly lack a robust defensive midfielder, who can stay fit throughout the season.
Coquelin had a good game, but still looks some distance away from the finished product. Diaby has been out of the game for so long, that he clearly requires more time to blend in with Arsenal’s style of play. Cazorla and Wilshere, when kept under wraps, means that Arsenal really have no creative outlet.
Gibbs, at times, had ventured off, probably to the Far East in search of treasures, far too often giving Hazard plenty of time and space to circumnavigate Arsenal’s penalty area. Vermaelen had a good game, and made several important challenges, but was partly responsible for allowing Ramires run through and win a penalty. Mertesacker had a decent game too, but the pace and relentlessness of the season, seems to be getting to him, and Sagna, who had a particularly pukish first half.
It is about time the manager ring in the changes, and give Jenkinson a run in the first team, and give Sagna some rest. Up front, Giroud worked hard, but surely needs to get some shooting practice, as chances against the top teams, are ones you always have to make the best use of.
Credit to Chelsea, for closing down on Giroud every time. Walcott, fresh from signing his new contract, was offside over a billion times. Ill timed runs, and poor movement off the ball were the order of the day for the £100,000-a-week forward.
Arsenal’s chronic lack of options was clear to see. Aaron Ramsey did his best, but apart from that, there was no one on the Arsenal bench to suggest, that he could change the game. Koscielny, Jenkinson and Santos were all defenders, while Frimpong and Arshavin just made up the numbers.
The transfer window shuts in less than 10 days, and spending the huge pile of cash, the club sits on could be one of the ways out for the side, if they are to finish in the top 4 this season. Demba Ba, one of the transfer targets, earlier in the season, was one that got away.
In many ways, he is similar to Giroud, but yet you know he has more of a goal scoring instinct, than the blunt looking Frenchman. Wilfried Zaha looks on his way to Old Trafford, and the rumors linking us to Edinson Cavani are laughable.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, captain of Montpellier, was one transfer option. Strong, well built and a natural leader, he can play in defence and in midfield, and could have been a really great signing, but Newcastle seem closest to securing his signature. Yann M’Vila, linked to Arsenal for a long time now, seems set to sign, for QPR, of all clubs, while Mohamed Diame, was supposedly watched by Arsenal’s scouts, when his West Ham side were narrowly beaten by Manchester United in the FA Cup last week. Watching, and bidding are two different things, though.
With Arsenal being told by Barcelona that David Villa is out of bounds, and Klass Jan Huntelaar signing a new contract with Schalke, it could seem another empty transfer window, something which Arsenal fans have become so accustomed to. One that promises plenty, but ends with the signature of Moldova’s brightest young talent.
Bayern Munich must probably be rubbing their hands, in relish, awaiting the Champions League tie, which is now, less than a month away. With Arsenal already 22 points off the top, and more importantly 11 points off 3rd placed Chelsea, and 7 points off 4th placed Sp*rs, albeit a game in hand; the Gunners also face stiff competition from Everton, who are 3 points ahead, a rejuvenated Liverpool, and upstarts West Brom and Swansea.
Clearly, loads of work required to be done. A win over West Ham 3 in couple of days time, could be a reasonable start.
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