Sitting in a Stratford pub of die hard Arsenal fans, I found it somewhat ironic that I had managed to place myself next to seemingly the only Chelsea fan in the venue however, upon further questioning he revealed that Chelsea was actually his second team, West Ham being his first seeing as that was where he lived and Chelsea being…blah blah blah. I think it suffices to say that his loyalties and credentials as a fan were questionable at best which enabled me to tolerate his persistent goading throughout the game calling Arsenal cat orifices! (Transpose cat & orifice for other words of less ambiguous nature but similar meaning).
Anyhow on to the match itself and as usual, I began the match with the usual sense of optimism rather than outright confidence that I’ve lernt to adopt over the past 5 years against the top 4 sides, barring Liverpool. Even when the first 11 squad side by side comparisons were shown it still remained in my mind a realistic possibility that we could earn and achieve something from this match taking into account that we possessed the home advantage, what seemed like, from the confines of the pub, a fantastic Emirates atmosphere and an Arsenal side coming from a confident but controlled champions league performance. Although it must be said, arguably, not one player in our match day squad would have made it into their first 11, Cesc included (if they can have Deco come off the bench then they could get by without Fabregas), and that my friends, is not an issue that can be ignored. What followed then, came as a massive disappointment but of little surprise when the events that occurred on the pitch were the equivalent of 2 brothers playing football with the older, stronger, bigger brother allowing his talented, younger, smaller one to have the ball in areas of little danger proceeding to muscle his younger brother off the ball as he gets closer to goal to run off with it and bang it straight into the back of our net. As crude as this thinly veiled metaphor is, the sad thing is that is exactly what happened on Sunday.
We started brightly and continued to play well with the ball around the midfield area, yet as time went on that feeling of dreaded inevitability crept in as it was clear that for all our attractive football, and yes it was very nice to watch with there being noticeable comparisons with Spanish league champs Barca, we lacked that incisiveness that saw us concede 3 and score none while Barca win their equivalent important match up against, like ourselves, supposed title contenders. Up front we were ineffective with the old cliché phrases used to describe us rearing their ugly but truthful head. “Same old Arsenal trying to walk it into the back of the net…Fantastic football but easily bullied…an illogical defiance to simply pull the trigger.”
Eduardo seemed reluctant at best to release a shot that wasn’t more than 12 yards away as could be said for others who got into shooting positions. Vela was equally unproductive and although maybe deserving of a pen or free kick at least, Chelsea had a couple equally valid shouts themselves. At the back we looked frantic at times with Cole punishing us twice and Anelka & Drogba bullied us all day long. Also before I continue can somebody please explain to me where the midfield was when John Terry…I repeat John Terry, was allowed to play a defense splitting pass on his weaker foot straight through the right winger, right back and centre back?
Back to the action, I frequently witnessed the blue strike force bringing down all manner of goal kicks and long 30, 40, 50 yard passes on their chest and worst of all, under pressure! I’ll admit it is somewhat unfair to use our wing backs on a strength based comparison with the beast that is Didier, however, nothing summed up the gaping chasm in strength when Armand Traore (who didn’t fair too badly) ran full steam into Drogba but ended up dominated, defeated, disheartened on the lush, green Emirates turf. I laughed at the time but simultaneously died a little inside. If I had had poorer eyesight I could have been excused for thinking I was watching a pre-rendered game trailer highlighting some overly exaggerated rag doll physics engine for the latest football game. After the game Arsene spoke again about mental strength but where was the physicality needed to compete?
In midfield came, in my opinion the biggest disappointment where we showcased for most of the match dominance but not superiority. Harking back to my earlier example of the two brothers playing football, we played nice football for extended periods yet achieved nothing apart from keeping the ball moving. To no surprise to me Denilson contributed little going forward or coming back. Song was “tactically” taken off after the half to make the midfield more offensive. After the initial 10 minutes Theo blended perfectly into a side lacking a cutting edge. Saying all this, what more could Arsene have done? Who could he actually have taken off and brought on that actually would have made a noticeable difference?
With the injuries that we have (and seem to have every season for whatever reason) my answer is no one. Credit to Arsene for realizing the seriousness of the situation for trying to make the change early for once but in the breath that I compliment Arsene on his tactical nous of when to make the change, I then negate it by criticizing the replacement itself. Out of the 3 changes made the only drastic change that was made was Alex for Theo to which I disagreed with anyway. Eduardo for Vela, Nasri for Rosicky, like for like and we continue on in the same pretty but frail fashion.
I haven’t even gone into the individual mistakes and misjudgments that cost us our 3 goals as they don’t merit any more than a passing (something that we do too much of by the way) mention. The saying trouble comes in three’s applies perfectly to the first goal. Denilson didn’t get close enough to the pace-less John Terry who slipped the ball through to Cole who should have been tracked by Arshavin, who was ball watching. Finally Gallas remained blissfully unaware of Drogba behind him who he left earlier to try and cut out the cross at the near post.
For the second, from a short throw to Anelka, two men were drawn to the ball including Nasri who left Cole unmarked to put in another good ball into the box. Gallas again compounds the error by mis-timing his block leaving a helpless Vermaelen to slice it into the back of his open goal as Almunia had also decided to come out and catch knee to waist high ball behind both his central defenders. Where’s the communication guys?
For the third Almunia places his wall to block off the right side of his goal. At the last possible second decides the wall is not good enough and steps in behind his wall and is promptly made to look a fool as Drogba slots in an easy goal into the far side where he would have been able to save comfortably had he stayed put. Also worth mentioning is that we had a goal disallowed in my view very harshly but not overwhelmingly surprisingly. All hope died at that precise moment as far as the team went.
In the end the score line didn’t bother me too much as defensive lapses and mistakes like that can, do and did happen but the manner in which we lost was far more embarrassing. Here you go gunners, you play around with the ball for a little bit and we’ll take it back and score when we feel like it. Chelsea yesterday, much in the same way Bolton used to under Allardyce laid out a formula of how to beat the Arsenal.
Sure it does help when your team is in form and your squad is full of experienced top level internationals but come on we’re meant to be title contenders not pretenders and should be able to put up a more convincing fight than we did.
Our game lacks and I’m sure many professional pundits will say the same, has lacked for a number of years now, a bit of variety. Don’t get me wrong I’m not losing faith in our boys, but the truthfulness in the statement is worrying. Wenger himself said we have a long time to contemplate over spending in January and although I am in no way an advocate of the Real Madrid, Chelsea and more recently Manchester city model of acquiring a good team neither, should we continue on the other extreme end of the spectrum buying very little and winning titles and trophies even less so. In Arsene we trust but please Arsene, don’t ask for any more patience as we’ve been patient for nearly 5 years and it’s been a long time to wait!