Archive for December 11th, 2006

Chelsea 1 – 1 Arsenal: Point Proven

81 comments December 11th, 2006

With many fans expecting the worst, Arsenal produced a battling display to draw 1-1 with Chelsea in what was surely the game of the season so far. Indeed, but for an absolute screamer from Michael Essien, it could’ve been an unlikely victory.

Arsenal set up with a 4-5-1, with Mathieu Flamini filling Tomas Rosicky’s midfield role. I for one was disappointed to see him start, having hoped we might go with a more attacking option, but I was to be proven wrong late on.

The first half was a tense affair, with both sides taking it in turns to have their fair share of posession. The second half was a tad spicier, but it took until the 78th minute for it to really liven up: Mathieu Flamini played the ball wide to the excellent Alex Hleb, who tucked it back to the Frenchman to fire into the far corner. Against all the odds, it was once more one nil to the Arsenal.

Chelsea’s 84th-minute equaliser was the sort of goal you can do nothing about, and from then on it was mayhem, with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard both conspiring to hit the woodwork (for the second time in Lampard’s case) when scoring seemed easier.

Some felt that Chelsea’s goal should never have stood due to a foul by Cashley Cole in the build-up: personally, I hate it when fans moan about tiny decisions like this – the decisions do even themselves out in the end. Yes, perhaps the ref should’ve blown up, but overally he dealt with a difficult game extremely well, particularly in the case of a rather silly confrontation between Didier Drogba and Jens Lehmann. The two giants both pushed each other, taking it in turns to roll around like they’d been shot. Pathetic.

Jens didn’t have the best of games, looking dodgy on a couple of crosses and almost costing us the game by spilling a shot near the end. There is a school of thought that believes that with the World Cup now gone, his motivation may have dropped. One to watch out for.

It was an extremely young back four, with an average age of 21, and some did better than others. The youngest, Johan Djourou, kept Andriy Shevchenko as quiet as usual, whilst Gael Clichy had arguably his finest game of the season. However, Emmanuel Eboue and Philippe Senderos both looked shakey. Eboue’s tendency to over-play, as well as his steadfast refusal to mark Arjen Robben after he came on, could’ve proved extremely costly. Senderos, meanwhile, again came off worse in his duel with Drogba: at times, you felt sorry for the lad. I’m sure he’ll go on to be a great centre-half, but yesterday he wasn’t remotely comfortable. One a day when so many others with a point to prove succeeded, he lagged behind.

Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor both continued their evolution into top class forwards with a couple of good performances, with Adebayor particularly excelling. He really is immensely powerful, and if his new-found confidence brings with it some more composed finishing, he could be a real player for us. He certainly gave John Terry his toughest game for a while.

Our outstanding performer, though, was Gilberto Silva. After a year and a bit of Henry with the armband, it’s fantastic to see a real captain’s performance. One interception the Brazilian made defied belief: he was everywhere, and he also knew when to have a word with his team-mates to watch their positioning or cut the theatrics. A fantastic ambassador and on his day, a brilliant player. If he continues like this there will be calls for him to take up the captaincy on a permanent basis, but that’s a whole other article…

When you concede a late equaliser, it can sometimes feel like a defeat. But overall, we should be proud of what we achieved. When you look at the names we were missing, and the average age of the outfield players (23) compared to Chelsea’s (29), it was a stalwart performance with guts and desire.

We might not win the title, but with good results against the top sides we can certainly instill the squad with the belief they’ll require to launch a proper challenge next season.

ps. Congrats Theo and Niklas, one top award and another top performance.

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