Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: A different kind of frustration

I’m used to finishing matches between Arsenal and Chelsea with a feeling of immense frustration gnawing at me. It generally floods in to replace the dread that’s accompanied the build-up to such games.

However, this time round it’s been different. Heading in to the match I was actually excited. We had such a weight of momentum behind us that I was convinced we stood a really good chance of ending Arsene Wenger’s ugly record against Jose Mourinho. If there was ever to be a time to end the hoodoo, this felt like it — 13th time lucky.

It wasn’t to be. I do feel frustration now, but it’s not the hair-pulling, hand-wringing hysteria that previously accompanied our capitulations in these top-of-the-table clashes. I think Arsenal did most things right. Game-management has been Arsenal’s undoing on so many occasions, but they were largely able to negotiate this fixture with intelligence and maturity.

Nevertheless, they couldn’t shake the Mourinho-faced monkey from their back. We did most things right, but he clung on to preserve his record. This was an Arsenal team ready to win, but they faced a Chelsea team who weren’t ready to lose. The scoreline may have been a draw, but only one manager left with the result they came for.

At this point in the season, Mourinho has given up any pretence of trying to appease Abramovich with attractive attacking football. He abided by that decree in the first half of the season, but on this home straight he’s reverted to type with some execrably pragmatic displays. It’s regression to the meanest of footballing philosophies, but it works.

For Arsenal, there’s no shame in drawing with the champions elect. It’s actually a very decent result, especially in the light of Manchester United’s defeat at Everton — but it also feels like an opportunity missed. Chelsea might be weaker in future, but with eight consecutive wins behind us I’m not sure we’ll ever be stronger.

The fact we still couldn’t break them down suggests that when we do eventually beat them, it will require the rarest of defensive lapses. As John Terry marshalled Olivier Giroud into subordination, his hilarious slip at Stamford Bridge felt like an awfully long time ago.

This game was understandably talked about as an opportunity to lay down a marker for next season, but the reality is that Arsenal do not need to beat Chelsea to win a Premier League title. Far more important is to avoid the sort of disastrous start to the campaign which handed Mourinho his insurmountable lead.

Arsenal didn’t get the landmark win they craved but they gave a good account of themselves nonetheless.

Traditionally, my exasperation has stemmed from the fact Arsenal have humiliated themselves. This time, it’s due to the fact that we weren’t able to humiliate Mourinho. I’m choosing to look upon that as progress.

Some thoughts on Chelsea and Mesut Ozil

Shad Forscythe

Another match away to a top team, another defeat. A few days have passed since events at Stamford Bridge but it doesn’t feel any better. I’m not exactly OptaJames, but I believe I’m right in saying we haven’t beaten a good team for more than a million years.

I’m not inclined to dwell on refereeing decisions. It seemed to me that the incompetence of this particular official extended to both teams. Gary Cahill should undoubtedly have been sent off, but so too should Danny Welbeck. Arsenal might well have had a penalty, but arguably Laurent Koscielny should have been dismissed for conceding the spot-kick that was given.

I’ll run through some thoughts now. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll link to a couple of a pieces I’ve published elsewhere too.

The primary difference was that their stars delivered…

Although we didn’t get any points, we did see some progress. Arsenal were more compact, more combative, and stayed in the game for much longer than last season. Admittedly, that’s not difficult. I don’t know about you, but I was watching the game in 5 minute increments, delighted as each segment passed without the concession of a goal. Mathieu Flamini was particularly good, hurling himself in to tackles and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Ultimately though, the game was decided by two moments of attacking brilliance. The first was that superb slalom from Eden Hazard. The second comprised of two pieces of play of outstanding quality: a lofted pass from Cesc Fabregas, and an emphatically efficient demonstration of control and finishing from Diego Costa.

Mesut Ozil, on the other hand…

…was desperately disappointing against Chelsea. As ever, many leapt to his defence, but I thought he was undeniably poor. During the latest episode of the Arsecast Extra, I described him as being a bit like modern art: people keep telling me I should see things there that I can’t quite make out.

Arsenal Player Ratings vs. Chelsea | ESPN

Mesut Ozil, 4 – It’s difficult to understand just how Ozil managed to avoid being substituted against Chelsea. Deployed on the right flank, he was woeful. Not only was his passing shockingly erratic, but he seemed to shrink in the face of Chelsea’s physical approach. He must toughen up if he is to influence these big games.

Anyhow, it seems his form is no longer of any great concern. As I sat down to finish off this piece, the news broke that Ozil could miss as many as three months with a ligament problem.

Many will tell you it’s a blessing in disguise. I think that’s a bit strong – you never want to lose your most talented players for a prolonged period. However, Arsene has struggled to find a way to fit Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla and Alexis in to the same XI. Perhaps the German’s absence will simplify the task of arranging his midfield, at least until January.

In these big games, the first goal is so crucial…

Arsenal somehow need to find a way to get the first goal in big games on a more regular basis. Having taken the lead, Chelsea were able to execute their preferred game-plan to perfection, sitting deep before picking up on the break.

In Alexis and Welbeck, we have players who offer a real threat on the counter. Had Chelsea been forced to come out in search of a goal, we might have been able to exploit the space in behind. As it was, we found ourselves banging against a blue wall.

According to Orbinho, The last time Arsenal came from behind to beat a top four team was against Liverpool in March 2012. Since then, there have been 20 such fixtures played. In each of Arsenal’s three wins, the Gunners got the first goal. The big teams simply don’t let leads slip. You can’t afford to give them a headstart.

On Wenger vs. Mourinho | The Mirror

Time after time, Mourinho’s pragmatism has overcome Wenger’s purism. The Frenchman is gripped by footballing ideals that define his tactical philosophy. Mourinho does not seem burdened by the same romanticism.

Wenger is known as “The Professor”, but can’t shake his artistic tendencies. In reality, it is Mourinho who is the clinical scientist.

Fore an audio dissection of the match and Arsenal’s start to the season, check out the live edition of the Arsecast Extra.

Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea: Stalemate sees Mourinho in his element

Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

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.

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.

Other pieces of mine on the game: ESPN | Bleacher Report