Archive for November 30th, 2009

Arsenal 0 – 3 Chelsea: Not Even Close

110 comments November 30th, 2009

Vermaelen can only look on as the ball flies in for Chelsea's second

Arsenal 0 – 3 Chelsea (Drogba 41, 86, Vermaelen og 45)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A goog big ‘un will usually beat a good little ‘un.  Football is a physical, combative game, and size is definitively an attribute.  Taking to the field yesterday without an outfield player over six foot against a comparatively titantic Chelsea side (one that’s also packed, it’s only fair to say, with plenty of footballing ability) meant we were always going to be up against it.

In any contest where size is an issue, people often bring up ‘David vs Goliath’ from that old book of stories.  That’s it: the bible.  Well, this was pretty much like that.  Except if David forgot to bring his slingshot.

We played some decent stuff, and as usual Arsene pointed to our possession stats in his post-match press conference.  However, lots of neat passing moves mean nothing compared to the horrible “0 – 3” that shone out from the scoreboard.  My friend Kesky posted this video as a summary of the game.  I think it makes the point rather well:

If football had weight divisions, I don’t doubt we’d be the featherweight champions of the world.  But it doesn’t: it’s a free for all, and the fact that injuries to three players (Bendtner, Van Persie and Diaby) left us with a team that looked like they might be going home with Snow White afterwards is indicative of the handicap Arsene seems to have given himself.

Arsene obviously sees the Spanish team of Euro 2008 as an inspiration – packed with playmakers like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva – yet whilst Spain won that competition in some style, I doubt they’d replicate the feat in the Premier League.  International football is played at a slower pace, allowing teams to win games principally by retaining possession – if the opposition do not have the ball, they cannot score.

That goes out the window when you’re playing a team like Chelsea, who, through a combination of guile and force, can score in an instant.  Or twice in three minutes.

Much as it will pain every Arsenal fan to admit it, Chelsea’s first two goals were the result of excellent crosses from Cashley Cole.  Here’s where Arsene’s failure to pay attention to defensive tactical detail infuriate me: we had two wingers on the day, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri.  The former is terrible defensively; the latter has been considered as an option in holding midfield.  Deploy and keep Nasri on the right to track Cole’s attacking runs, and put Arshavin on the left against Ivanovic, who offers almost no attacking threat.  But no, the pair were left to rotate as they saw fit, meaning that Chelsea’s first goal saw Arshavin fail to intercept Terry’s pass to Cole.  The devil’s in the detail, Arsene.

Not, it should be said, that Nasri did much better for the second.  As Cole’s cross was swung in, Vermaelen expected Gallas to clear.  When the Frenchman just misses the cross, it struck the number five and flew into the same top corner Drogba had found just moments before.  0-2 at halftime, and it looked a long way back.

Theo Walcott came on at half-time, confusingly for Song, who I thought had fared rather better than Denilson.  Walcott spent much of the second half running down blind alleys.  In fact, some of his dribbles were so bizarre that he might just have been blindfolded.  At the moment, he looks a long way from a starting place at the World Cup.

Much talk before the game focused on how Eduardo would do in the absence of Van Persie.  The answer, like much of the fallout of yesterday’s game, was negative.  After the third occasion when the Croatian failed to get a shot away in the box, Arsene called for Carlos Vela to replace him.  The Great Crozilian Hope for our striking role was withdrawn after just an hour.  Meanwhile, Vela moved to the left, and Andrey Arshavin stood not-so-tall against Terry and Carvalho as the lone striker.  The pygmy in the middle.

Post-match Arsene complained that an Arshavin goal was incorrectly disallowed, but it looked to me as if the Eduardo challenge on Petr Cech that sent the ball spinning towards the number twenty three was unfair.  It’s clear the manager is just trying to spin a rather humiliating defeat into the result of a refereeing error rather than deficiencies in his squad.

Drogba added a third with a precision free-kick, and the defeat suddenly felt even more emphatic.  The truth is that Chelsea were never troubled – they defended well and were extremely comfortable.  Had we scored, one had the sense they had another gear to go to.

People will point fingers at our defence and rightly so.  However, this is an Arsenal team that plays an old fashioned 4-3-3: it is set up to attack.  The philosophy, rightly or wrongly, is that we go out to try and score more goals than the opposition.  And yet I yesterday I don’t think we created a single clear cut chance.

The bigger boys came to our neck of the woods, and bullied us out of three goals and three points.  They’re now eleven points ahead, and whilst we do have a game in hand, I’m fairly convinced that this year’s Champions were the team in blue rather than the team in red.

We’ve got the Carling Cup on Wednesday (and, by the way, a tricky FA Cup tie with West Ham in January).  Whatever happens in that game, we need to quickly get back to winning ways in the league.  I suspect the title is beyond us, but we need to accumulate some points to make sure we’re in a strong position as regards Champions League qualification.

I think I’m right in saying that at this stage in our maligned league campaign of last season, we had only lost one more game.

Worrying stuff.

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