The first defeat of the season has taken place. And as always, the war of words, tantrums, anti-Wenger abuse, Giroud tirades, Diaby frustrations, Koscielny discussions et al have taken place in the huge forum that is the Blogosphere and in socal networking sites.
I, for one, haven’t missed out. And the reason is simple. Having not tasted defeat in over 5 months, the last being the home loss to lowly Wigan, this came as a bitter pill, especially after the anticipation with which I was, you know, anticipating the match!
Overall the game was a bit scrappy, to be honest. But, not as timid and boring as the 0-0 draw when the sides faced off back in April. Surprisingly, despite the midweek exertions of Chelsea, where most of their players played in the Capitol One Cup thrashing of Wolves, it was Arsenal who looked more tired, sloppy and disjointed for many periods of the game. In the end, it was a case of Arsenal gifting two goals to Chelsea.
I take a look at some of the key areas, where Arsenal lost out to Chelsea on Saturday.
1) Team Selection
Ok, I do not want to sound too critical of Arsene Wenger here, because I myself had blogged a few days back, saying my preferred partnership would be Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen. I am going to stick to it, because I feel they can offer more than what Mertescaker can, with any one of the above. But, yesterday, I would have liked to see Mertesacker play, simply because, he has not put a foot wrong this season. I felt he could have sniffed out danger better than how Vermaelen did. But, again as Arsene Wenger rightly said,
That is a decision which was based on the opposition we played. You can say it was a wrong one maybe, but I believe is a lowering the quality of the players who played, they are internationals.If you do not play Koscielny or Vermaelen and cannot win the game, you will ask me the same question.
Apart from that, I thought it was a bit negative to start with Aaron Ramsey in midfield. When you are playing away from home, it would be a good ploy, where you need to win the battle in midfield, but at home, I think it would have served us better if we had started with a Chamberlain or Walcott. Of course, events during the course of the game, would eventually force that to happen.
2) Vermaelen’s Positioning
Thomas Vermaelen always gives Arsenal fans the jitters when he bombs forward, leaving vast areas of space behind him, and this is one of many areas which Steve Bould needs to improve in our captain’s defending. He also needs to be more sensible in making tackles. For example, against Montpellier, Belhanda was literally going nowhere, and a needless penalty was conceded, which we could have done without. And, against Chelsea, two free kicks, the first of which was a poor challenge on his compatriot Eden Hazard, and the second, in which Torres was running into space, with Koscielny ahead of him, could have been dealt in a better manner. The captain’s positioning in the second was poor, as he had to run the length of the pitch to keep up with Chelsea’s attack.
3) Set Piece Susceptibility
While we have been rambling on and on, about our new found defensive strength over the first 5 or so games, what is worrying is we have now conceded 3 out of 4 goals from dead ball situations. Against Manchester City, our zonal marking system was ruthlessly exposed, as barely any of our players attacked the ball, allowing Lescott to slam home a goal. Mannone came to collect, but managed to fumble over completely. Against Chelsea, Koscielny was paying more attention in keeping Torres unsettled, rather than head the ball away to safety, and the Spaniard intelligently used this to his advantage to poke the ball home. The second goal conceded on Saturday looked silly enough, but again shown how weak we are still at set pieces. None of our players attacked the ball. In fact no one even came close. Koscielny who came closest, only managed to get a touch, and hence unsettling Mannone, who, probably would have saved it. Again, blaming poor Laurent for the goals conceded would be unfair. Defending should be done as a team, and not by an individual. My advice – Clear the ball for heaven’s sake.
4) Diaby’s Injury
It was almost inevitable. Abou Diaby limped off after just 15 minutes in the game, to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and this changed the balance of power in midfield. What Diaby would have offered was presence, height, calmness, and the ability to settle things in midfield, in situations where things can go either way. I would have hoped an enforcer like Francis Coquelin to come on, but unfortunately, he wasn’t even on the bench, and that meant a complete change in midfield structure. It seems like we are having to see the different avatars of the Frenchman. One that wows us with performances like the one he put up at Anfield, one that frustrates like the one that played against Montpellier and Manchester City, and of course, the perma crocked Diaby.
5) Midfield Issues
i) Chelsea made most of Abou Diaby’s injury, and took control of midfield. Ramires and Mikel, the deeper midfielders were able to control most of the game. Mata, Hazard, Oscar and later Moses played more centrally to stifle Arsenal, keeping their wing play to a minimal. This completely nullified any threat Aaron Ramsey could produce, and even Arteta had his work cut out, shoring up the midfield. Chelsea’s second goal gave them the upper hand, and they could play the waiting game, inviting Arsenal, and thus breaking on the counters.
ii) I have read some comments/blogs blaming Ramsey for a poor performance, but it can be attributed to Chelsea’s superior packed midfield, that didn’t allow the Welshman to flourish.
iii) Santi Cazorla was offered little space, often tracked down by his own international teammate, Juan Mata, which forced the Arsenal man to eventually turn more inwards as the game progressed. The problem here is we look like the team from a few years back, when Fabregas was the prime creative outlet. Creativity, should be a shared responsibility, and the lack of it allowed Chelsea to win the battle. Maybe, introducing Arshavin would have changed things a bit, but, alas, he too, wasn’t on the bench.
iv) Our players barely seemed to close down when Chelsea had the ball in midfield, and looked rather tired, lethargic and unenergetic. Our defence was left exposed more than once, with Jenkinson and Gibbs forced to make several interceptions, and we conceded a couple more free kicks in dangerous situations. In fairness, we gave them too much respect.
6) One-dimensional attack?
i) After a fine start to life in North London, Lukas Podolski was largely anonymous last week, and this week, as well. Our attack, to be honest, in both games, looks very one-dimensional, completely banking on creativity from midfield. The problem with Podolski is, he is still setting into a completely new league, and heaping blame upon him would be totally wrong. He is a fantastic player, but his game usually involves, making darting, aggressive runs into the box, something which he was offered very little space to do so.
ii) Gervinho, apart from the goal, was slighltly lacklustre himself, and I felt there was a lack of freshness. I am not too sure how a partnership of Podolski and Gervinho would flourish. Whether they compliment each other well, only time will tell.
iii) Theo Walcott, when he came on, offered very little. His off the ball running was poor. He didn’t track back out to help the midfield, but was content with ambling around, hoping to be played in. Clearly, this won’t work. We know he wants to play in the centre, but he has got to make most of the chances he gets, by putting in committed performances, and Saturday was proof why Arsene Wenger opted to leave him on the bench again.
7) Chances not being taken
Petr Cech was at his outstanding best on Saturday, and denied us several chances to equalize. Cazorla had around 3 shots himself, but failed to trouble the scoring charts. Lukas Podolski had a single effort, all game, and that was his header towards the far post, which was palmed away. Olivier Giroud’s deflected shot, looked set to be going in, only for an outstretched reflex save from Cech to deny the Frenchman his second goal of the week. But, Giroud had a great chance to equalize, in the 91st minute, having been played in by Chamberlain, when he rounded Cech, but his shot only hit the side netting. I really like Giroud, because I think he gets into fantastic positions, but always seems to miss. He needs a shot of confidence and bad, because as a striker, these are chances that are supposed to be put away. He has been heaped with immense pressure to replace Lord Robin, our master and savior and needs to show more composure. Apart from that, Arsenal had very few chances on target. Koscielny almost made up for his errors, by turning a corner on to the post, before that attack was called off for offside, and a Cazorla cross was nervously put behind by Luiz.
I have no second thoughts about the fact that we can match Chelsea pound for pound. In fact, I think we are better than them. But, we literally handed them the 2 goals, and the 3 points. Chelsea lacked anything creatively, and barely troubled our defenders from open play. Hazard, Mata and Oscar barely look like £80 million worth of football talent, if yesterday’s game was anything to go by.
While Saturday was frustrating, the team should take it only as a minor blip, and move on, assess the weaknesses, address them and become stronger, because the league is a marathon, and not a race. How you come back from your failures, defines your mental strength.
Next week, we face a daunting London derby against West Ham, one of the many physical, hoof up teams in the league, and we should be prepared for the challenge. Going into the international break with a couple of wins would do a great deal to soothe mine, yours and everyone’s nerves.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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