Archive for October 4th, 2010

Chelsea thoughts: Disappointed but not surprised

16 comments October 4th, 2010

Chelsea 2 – 0 Arsenal (Drogba 39, Alex 85)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A couple of seasons back, I characterised Arsenal – Chelsea games of recent years as being comparable to this video clip:

What’s disappointing, I suppose, is how little that has changed.  There was even a predictability about the identity of the man delivering the knockout blow: one Didier Drogba.

Arsene Wenger, among other pundits, has suggested that Arsenal had an “outstanding game”.  And yet there’s nothing unfortunate about our defeat.  This has happened too many times to be merely ‘unlucky’.  Yes, we had plenty of possession, but Chelsea probably knew it would be that way.  They knew if they sat deep, defended tight and narrow, that they could win the match by being better in both penalty areas.  Their centre-backs just about had the measure of Marouane Chamakh, whilst we have never been, and probably will never be, able to cope with the threat of Drogba, who now has 13 in 13 against us.

There is a lot of talk about us needing to take our chances.  The finger of blame is pointed at Laurent Koscielny, who failed to head home our most presentable chance in the game’s opening moments.  It was a poor miss, but in isolation it didn’t represent the difference between the two teams.  It’s not as if taking the lead in the game would somehow have prevented the defensive sloppiness that allowed Chelsea not only to score twice but miss more enticing opportunities.  The gap could have been wider: Nicolas Anelka slotted wide when scoring seemed simpler, and Fabianski twice saved from one-on-one situations.

Yes, Koscielny should have scored, but I’m not going to blame a centre-back for the ‘nil’ next to our name.  What Arsenal need to do is make their keep-ball strategy more efficient.  Arsene is reportedly obsessed by stats, and has sat in press conferences before defending defeats on the grounds of our possession percentage.  It means nothing, however, if it’s not converted in to goals.  A better team – a team like Chelsea – can let the other side have the ball in the knowledge that they can go from winning it back to scoring a goal in a matter of seconds.  You don’t need a twenty pass move when you can score with three.

The same applies to set pieces too.  If you’re a team with a lot of approach play down the flanks, it is inevitable you will win a lot of corners.  So work on them.  Create varied and dangerous routines.  Yesterday, Arsenal had ten corners.  Only one provided any serious threat.

This general inefficiency is why I’m a declared fan of Andrey Arshavin.  Yes, he gives the ball away more than any other player in our side, but he’s also, in the absence of the much-missed Cesc Fabregas, the most productive in the final third.  Yesterday, he produced two stinging efforts which brought the best out of Petr Cech, from nothing.

Of course you can only use those kind of rapier counter-attacks if you can defend.  The Arsenal of 97/98 had the likes of Adams and Keown to hold the fort whilst Nicolas Anelka sprung the offside trap to clinical effect.  The Invincibles had a back four including Sol Campbell in his prime and protected by Vieira and Gilberto, two masters of their trade.  This side does not have a good enough defence to play in that way.  We have to control the game using keep-ball and create chances against tight, packed defences.  Against almost every side in the Premier League, that’s good enough.  But not Chelsea.

There’s no shame in losing this game.  When you go away to the Champions, there’s a significant chance you will get beat.  This result is only a problem in the context of others.  Had we beaten West Brom, we’d be just four points off the top as opposed to seven, and table would make much prettier reading.

Already, just seven games in to the season, there’s little margin for error.  Crucially, we need to start beating the bigger teams.  If we are to provide a serious threat in the league this season, I’d suggest we will have to beat both United and Chelsea – and possibly City – at the Emirates.

International breaks always get me down.  Going in to one on the back of two defeats is particularly depressing.  Happy Monday this ain’t.

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