10/03/10: @ Chelsea 0-2

Frustrating, absolutely frustrating. Nobody likes to see the Arsenal lose a game to both a London and Top-4 rival simultaneously, and it doesn’t get any easier considering we haven’t had much success against Chavski in the last year or so. But although it would be easy to do as the pundits do, making it seem like the sky is falling and Arsenal are out of the title race and whatever else, I feel there were positives to take from the game and Arsenal’s performance. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some match notes.

Energy: Of the two teams, we were the most fired up. For the most part, every ball was battled for, Chelsea players were harried at all times, and everyone got stuck in. That was clear when we almost – and should have – went up 3 minutes in after Chamakh’s near miss and Koscielny’s embarrassing “attempt” on goal. You could see that the Blues players were tired by the end of the game, despite the boost from the home crowd, demonstrating that Arsenal had played with the work-rate worthy of one or three points in a difficult away fixture.

Drogba: What can you say about a guy who seems to know a secret about your team you don’t? He’s confident based on his performances against us in the past, and that confidence translates into goals. But short of one very nice, albeit lucky strike, I don’t think he was that effective. He had a couple shots straight into Fabianski; nothing else sticks out in my memory as dangerous efforts. Yes, he continued his streak against Arsenal, but not as easily as the tele would have you believe. Don’t think he is unstoppable, nor are future goals against us a guarantee.

Fabianski: Praising him would be difficult, because really he just did what a keeper at the level of Arsenal FC is expected to do. Fab’ski saved simple shots, made some confident grabs (excluding one disastrous punch-attempt early on), and generally positioned himself well. But considering his recent record of blunders, the importance of the fixture, and the lack of support he gets from the Arsenal faithful, it was nice to see him do well and I hope he can continue to do well in the absence of Almunia. Wenger clearly sees something from this player to warrant his continued faith, so hopefully LF21 shows the rest of us that potential in future fixtures.

A Dull Attack: We are not a team, at least at present, that has followed the old maxim that great teams “build from the back”. Shaky goalkeeping, volatile centrebacks and often erratic sidebacks means that defending is never going to be our strong point. This means that we need to keep the ball to ourselves (possession) and then need to put that ball into back of the net. The team has been built around this concept.

In the first half, we basically played counter vs counter against Chelsea and it was not to our benefit. We failed to come close on most of our counterattacks, and on the break the other way Drogba and Malouda got behind the sidebacks and gave Kos and Squilly a lot to deal with. Seemingly inevitably, this strategy lead to a Chelsea opening goal (although I agree with Wenger that Song was fouled in the build up).

In the second half we played proper, modern-Arsenal football; taking control of the ball, keeping possession patiently, and building up our attack. This isn’t enough if you don’t score however, and that’s what Arsenal’s problem was on the day. Our decision making was weak, our crosses were ineffective, and few times did we put together a string of short passes to unlock a stubborn Terry/Alex combination. If we want to win games, more is needed from everyone involved in the goal-scoring process. Admittedly we are currently missing two, perhaps even three of our biggest contributors to this – Cesc, RVP, and Walcott respectively – but we should expect 2 of the 3 will be out at any given point of the season and the team needs to have enough depth to make up for that. So far, it’s looking like we do not have it… but that’s another argument for another day.

It would have been nice to see Ancelotti made to look a fool with his overconfident strategy of leaving 2 or 3 players up the park, but with our blunt attack it wasn’t to be.

JET Introduction: Desperation or a worthwhile gamble? I lean towards the latter. However, I think if it was going to be done, it should have been done earlier. 10 minutes is not a lot of time to make your mark on a game. Young players play with a lot of heart and soul, as they have a lot to prove. Sometimes that excitement can cause errors of judgement or technique, but it can also pay dividends when that player – a largely unknown quantity to the opposing team – makes a breakthrough by scoring or creating a goal. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas is a powerful, versatile player with a huge frame, and with Arsenal’s lack of attack (see above) AW wasn’t wrong to give the kid a shot to try to shake up the team. Unfortunately he did not get a chance to make a storied debut, as Chelsea killed the game off only five minutes later.

Things sound negative, and there are definitely improvements necessary, but we should not be terribly upset. Stamford Bridge is a difficult place to play for any team, even for Top-4 sides, and the 2-0 loss does not tell the whole story in this case. Arsenal could have easily started 1-0, or grabbed a second half equaliser,  potentially resulting in a different full-time outcome. What was present that is worth building on is the hunger that most of the team expressed throughout the fixture, eager to not be outclassed by a team that has had our number for a while, and the quality of the possession-based game we played in the 2nd half (minus the lack of goals). If we can bring that attitude to all our fixtures, we are not out of the EPL race at all; that being said, three points will be required at home vs Birmingham followed by a positive result at Eastlands in order to prove we’re still serious about the title.

Until then, “enjoy” the inter-lull and let’s hope we get our players back safely without injury.

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