This match was a Mourinho wet dream…
Everything went almost exactly as he planned it.
Having spent much of the build-up lavishing praise on Mesut Ozil, he subsequently set up his team to ensure the German would be denied space for the majority of the game. Mourinho’s admiration does not extend to affording the German international much freedom.
The Portugese augmented his ‘deep block’ of Mikel and Lampard with Ramires. Although ostensibly starting on the right flank, the Brazilian was tasked with tucking in to crowd the midfield, much as Ray Parlour did for many years at Arsenal.
Every change he made was smart. He left out Luiz, knowing Cahill and Terry would cope better with the robust threat of Giroud. He even left Oscar and Mata on the bench, opting for the hard-working but erratic Willian (aka ‘The New Kalou’).
It’s not so much that Wenger can’t beat Mourinho — it’s that Mourinho is expert at finding ways to stop him. Our boss invariably sends his team out play the same way, whereas Mourinho will select a team specifically designed to nullify the opposition. It’s ugly, but it works. The stats back it up.
“If you can’t win the match, don’t lose” is becoming something a mantra for Wenger…
It started as a reaction to the defeat to Swansea last season, and was reinforced after Robert Lewandowski’s late winner for Dortmund a couple of months back.
There was a palpable fear of losing in similar circumstances tonight. The fans cried out for changes, but Wenger stuck with XI he started with, anxious that an unnecessary switch might upset the rhythm and, crucially , the defensive balance of his team.
In some ways it’s commendable, and shows Wenger’s growing pragmatism.
However, at some stage Arsenal are going to have to gamble, and accept the risk of defeat. Too many draws could prove costly in such a tightly-contested league.
The referee, Mike Dean, was awful…
I feel justified in saying this because although the majority of decisions went against us, there were plenty he called in our favour that baffled me too. Tomas Rosicky, for example, should have been booked long before he was eventually handed a yellow card.
The two major talking points were the Mikel tackle on Arteta and Willian’s trip on Walcott inside the penalty box. Both were well within Dean’s view, and yet both went unpunished.
It was plain odd. I don’t believe he’s biased, but I do believe he is a bad referee.
I can only think there’s a contrary streak in Dean; something that enables him to think he sees something thousands of fans and hundreds of cameras don’t. He enjoys the power and he revels in the controversy.
This match was haunted by the ghosts of two strikers past…
When Olivier Giroud shanked our most presentable chance wide at the near post, I can’t say I was surprised. The Frenchman is now without a goal in his last six games.
It’s the sort of chance the great centre-forward of Arsenal’s past would have gobbled up. Robin van Persie, in particular, frequently buried opportunities from that precise position.
On the other hand, had this Chelsea performance been augmented by the presence of our nemesis Didier Drogba, they might well have emerged victorious. Neither of these sides a boast a centre-forward to match their previous greats.
I don’t know what people expect from Arteta…
After the game Jose Mourinho admitted that Chelsea allowed Arteta to have the ball, knowing he would not cause significant damage. This is not because Arteta is a poor player, but because Chelsea expertly blocked off all available avenues to the Spaniard. He cannot pass to a team-mate who is marked. He can’t create a clear path where one doesn’t exist. He’s a midfielder, not Moses.
Thomas Vermaelen played well…
There were a couple of customary hairy moments, but generally the skipper looked assured alongside Per Mertesacker. Arsene Wenger did not say when Laurent Koscielny would be fit to return, but Vermaelen showed he is capable of being a fine deputy in the interim.
Thomas Vermaelen completed 98% of his passes, won 100% of his tackles & made 4 interceptions for Arsenal against Chelsea. Solid display.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 23, 2013
Finally, congratulations to the winner of the Warrior #SuperHeat boots competition: Rob Stein. I’ll be in touch shortly to help sort you out with your prize.