Archive for May 11th, 2009

Who managed the more pointless dive: Adebayor or Fabianski?

Add comment May 11th, 2009

Arsenal 1 – 4 Chelsea (Alex 28, Anelka 39, Toure og 49, Bendtner 70, Malouda 86)
here; Arsene’s reaction here

Before yesterday’s game, not only had we we twenty-one Premiership games unbeaten, but we had also managed not to concede a league goal since Robbie Keane scored for Liverpool on the 21st December.

It’s a good job we had , too. Without the impressive run we had between January and May, we might well have failed to pick up the invaluable fourth position, regardless of Aston Villa’s capitulation. Yesterday’s crushing defeat, much like our exit from the Champions League, was a timely reminder of the flaws that run managed to paper over. Take away a couple of defensive stalwarts, like Gallas and Almunia, and we’re defensively shambolic.

There some very generalised problems – we lack physical power and leadership, for example – but there are more specific issues too. Despite Song’s improvement in the tackle and on the ball, our back four still look terribly exposed – he doesn’t yet share Gilberto’s sense for sniffing out danger, or Flamini’s capacity to seemingly be everywhere at once. Central defence, meanwhile, is imbalanced and understocked.

With all that said, Chelsea would not have been able to grab the goals they did had we taken some of our early chances. The fact we didn’t meant that after they scored their opener from a set piece, they were able to sit back and catch us on the counter, following the route Manchester United used so effectively in midweek.

And yet it did all start so well. After their varying midweek misdemeanours, Adebayor and Bendtner were dropped, with Robin van Persie upfront alone. Abou Diaby came into the midfield, whilst Silvestre and Fabianski replaced Djourou and the injured Almunia.

In the opening twenty minutes, we were first to everything. The crowd roared their approval as we zipped the ball about delightfully, and Theo Walcott should probably have done better with several half-chances. He also provided a low cross that Abou Diaby ought to have converted – even in a first-half in which our midfield were dominant, Diaby managed to play poorly. He turns 23 today, and I have serious doubts about his capacity to mature into the player Arsene plainly believes he will be.

And then Chelsea pulled a goal-shaped rabbit out of their deep blue hat, and we were behind. Cesc Fabregas tripped Didier Drogba and then got foolishly booked for suggesting the Ivorian dived, before the striker dusted himself off and clipped a ball into the box which Alex met a header that gave Fabianski no chance.

Silence fell, as the players visibly reeled from yet another game in which they’d conceded against the run of play. And then, all of a sudden, just as against United, it was two. And what could be more painful that a screamer by Cristiano Ronaldo? Why, a screamer by Nicolas Anelka, of course. The Frenchman was allowed to turn in midfield by Samir Nasri, and the back four decided to back off. That gave Anelka space to shoot, and he punished us for our negligence with a swerving strike that Fabianski would possibly had saved had he been better positioned.

Their next two goals were, from our perspective, even worse. First Ashley Cole got in behind Sagna, untracked by Walcott, and his cross was turned into his own net by Kolo Toure. However, had Fabianski been stood in goal, he would have caught Toure’s tame toe-poke. As it was, he was heading off towards the corner flag. I have literally no idea what he intended.

There was a fourth. I can’t tell you very much about it, because as soon as the ball dropped to Florent Malouda I closed my eyes in horror.

In between the third and the fourth sub Nicklas Bendtner powered home an impressive headed consolation, but it was little more than that.  There were more embarrassing moments when Emmanuel Adebayor, booed as he entered the field was play, dived twice.

Our defensive frailty saw us thrashed at home by Chelsea, in a week where we were also thumped at our own ground by Manchester United. Painful.

In the last few weeks we’ve faced Liverpool away, United home and away, and Chelsea at home. We’ve now lost all but one of those encounters, and that was only because of one man: Andrey Arshavin – sorely missed yesterday. It could yet get worse, with the possibility that failing to win at Old Trafford next week will see Man United crowned Champions.

Asked on the BBC last night about where Arsene might look to strengthen in the Summer, he advised Johnathan Pearce to “take a look at our goal difference”. 36 goals conceded in 36 games does not make pretty reading.

Our hopes of coming third and now over, and thoughts will now inevitably turn to next season. There are so many questions to answer as regards the future of this team, and we may not get some of those responses until the 1st September.

It’s been a horrible week, but one that has served a timely reminder of the deficiencies that forced this side to go on a twenty-one game unbeaten streak in order to finish fourth. Arsene said yesterday:

“As long as we finish in the top four and get to the last four of the Champions League, that is not too bad.”

Not too bad? Maybe. Good enough? Certainly not.

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