Friday, March 1, 2024

Four points from fifteen does not make champions

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal

It’s impossible to be anything other than bitterly disappointed this morning. A 2-1 defeat at Chelsea has probably killed off our title chances for this season and while defeat against them hurts it’s our current form that’s the most disturbing to me. Four points from the last fifteen is not the kind of run title winning teams go on.

The team looks tired and I think we’re beginning to pay the price for having such a small squad. There’s no chance to rest players, there’s no real competition for positions and while I wouldn’t dream of suggesting any of them have been taking things for granted that extra bit of pressure on you to perform when you know there’s someone itching to get a chance really does make a difference.

For a while it looked positive. The first half was pretty even I thought. There were a couple of chances, Gallas, a couple of van Persie shots and a goalmouth scramble, while Chelsea had a great opportunity with Drogba but he fucked it up. It wasn’t great football though from either side. In the second half we took the lead through Bacary Sagna’s smart header from Cesc’s corner. It was a great finish and I did think we had the ability to hang to it.

However, a couple of things happened which put us under pressure. The first was when Emmanuel Eboue was moving down the right, a Chelsea player lay ‘injured’ and the crowd were beginning to call for him to put the ball out. Eboue, who wants to be everyone’s friend it seems, did just that when he should have just played on and waited for the ref to stop play. This bollocks convention is creeping back into the game and frankly it’s down to managers to make sure their players don’t do it. If the ref stops the play then fine, otherwise play on. Then John Terry, great sportsman that he is, instead of giving the ball back to us kicked it down towards our corner flag then Chelsea attacked the throw-in. Poxy stuff, and what a great example the England captain set there. Wanker.

Cesc ...From that moment we found ourselves under pressure and Bacary Sagna injured his ankle clearing a ball. Not to be outdone Eboue had to pretend to be injured too and when Kolo needed treatment we found ourselves with just 8 players on the pitch at one stage as Chelsea had a throw in. Sagna went off, Eboue to right back, and we just lost our shape from then on. Both Drogba and Anelka were offside when the pass was played forward but Gallas completely missed the header and when the ball fell to Drogba on the edge of the box he lashed it home to equalise. To my mind that all came about from Chelsea’s unsportsmanlike behaviour. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have scored in the game, because they had players capable of it and had been putting us under pressure, but that sequence of play came about from that.

The second came when Gallas was beaten in the air again, this time by Nicolas Anelka (hardly renowned as an aerial threat). He flicked on, Kolo kicked air and the ball fell to Drogba. His shot into the ground might have Almunia thinking he could have done better but I think the keeper got caught out by the bounce. Drogba was denied a hat-trick just minutes later when Almunia made a great stop at the near post after that cunt Beletti had opened us up down the right hand side.

We threw on Theo who, to my mind at least, seemed to be ignored by his teammates. At least twice I saw Hleb look up and see him in space on the right only to turn back infield and try the impossible pass. I know he didn’t do much with it the one time he did get it but I didn’t like what I saw there. Bendtner came on but it was too little, too late – and Chelsea’s bench showing where the sportsmanship comes from in the club by holding onto the ball when we had a throw sums up everything about that despicable club. The same fans who were chanting ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ to their manager were the ones cheering loudest at the end. Cunts. Three vital points lost and it leaves us with plenty to discuss.

I don’t really want to go too far down the road of criticising inviduals because as a whole the team is not playing well. But when that happens you need your big players to take on that bit of extra responsibility and make something happen. We seem to have regressed into the frustrating Arsenal of last season, everything through the middle, no width, and always looking for the eye of the needle pass. We know how good it is when it comes off but when it doesn’t come off you have to be able to try something different. Get wide, get crosses in, something.

The bottom line though is that we’re lacking personnel. I don’t understand how Arsene thinks Emmanuel Eboue is good enough to play on a regular basis for this Arsenal team. He is a joke of a footballer, rubbish again yesterday and one cross aside has contributed nothing to what this side has achieved this season. No goals, just that one assist, and this is from the right hand side of midfield – where if you really want to win the title you need players who can contribute something. Anything! He was also lucky not to be sent off yesterday, if Clattenburg had seen his deliberate handball he’d have been off. He’s a liability. Give Theo a run in the team on the right hand side now. I just can’t understand why Arsene persists with him. I really can’t.

We have players off the boil too. Adebayor is struggling but he made an outstanding contribution to this season already – and you have to say he’s not really getting the same kind of service at the moment. Alex Hleb when on song is a fine player. Alex Hleb when not on song is a hindrance. He slows things down, always looks for a difficult pass, never shoots and overall, on song or not, doesn’t produce enough in terms of goals or assists for a player of his ability and responsibility. He probably does need a rest but we can’t give him one. That’s not his fault, that’s down the manager for not augmenting the wide areas like he should have done in either the summer or the January transfer window, but he’s got to give us more than he’s giving at the moment.

I’d also question why van Persie, a striker, was played left so Hleb could play behind Adebayor. If Hleb was in sparkling form that’d be something but he’s not producing at the moment and van Persie’s effectiveness is lessened with him out there. Play your best striker as a striker. Makes sense to me. Hopefully the time on the pitch will do Robin good because it’s fairly obvious he’s finding his touch again after so long out. There were a couple of moments where I think a fully sharp RVP would have caused some serious damage to Chelsea yesterday.

At the back I don’t really understand why the Gallas – Senderos partnership was broken up. I know Kolo has been a big player but this has not been his finest season and I’ve always maintained that he and Gallas are too similar. I lost count of how many times they simply stood off Drogba, not challenging him in the air, and let him take the ball down as easy as you like. Hopefully the runaround Drogba gave both Toure and Gallas might dispel the myth that it’s only Senderos that has ever found Drogba difficult to play against. Drogba’s scoring record in the last couple of seasons suggests that pretty much every defender in the league has found him hard going. We needed somebody to challenge for headers yesterday and neither Kolo or Gallas did. I’d drop Kolo and bring Senderos back – or if Sagna is out for a while I’d consider moving Kolo to right back, especially if it means Eboue doesn’t play. You’ve got to pick a team on merit, not reputation, and Senderos did not deserve to get dropped.

Afterwards Arsene Wenger was critical of the defence, saying:

It is a big setback for us when you add the four games we drew and today’s loss. Now we just have to come back and win games before we dream of the title. We needed a bit more defensive authority as the game was there to be taken. We had plenty of chances on the counter-attack when they went 4-4-2. It was just a matter of time to score the second goal. We were not serene enough defensively.

I don’t know that you need to be defensively ‘serene’. Solid, would be good. More committed would also be fine. You need your experienced centre-halves to not kick fresh air. Of course it’s a team thing, defending from the front and all that, but the fact is we’re still prone to conceding sloppy goals and it’s costing us.

Anyway, like I said there’s plenty to discuss and everybody has their opinion. On the other hand though, before everyone gets too downhearted, there’s still a lot of football to play this season. If by some miracle we do find our form again we still have a chance in this league. A win at Old Trafford would cut the gap to 3, and we just need United to slip up once more (remember they have to play Chelsea as well) and it’s all open again. I know it’s unlikely but it’s not impossible. And that’s saying nothing about the Champions League. So, while it’s perfectly normal to be pissed off and upset and angry about yesterday let’s not start wallowing in it. The fat lady might be warming up but she hasn’t sung yet. We’ve got to find our form again though, and quickly.

So, with Steve Bennet doing his best to make life easy for Demento at Old Trafford (Mascherano’s sending off was quite disgraceful, as was the yellow card Torres got for being kicked in the back of legs three times) it’s been a good weekend for United. And it seems like way too long since we had a good weekend ourselves.

More tomorrow.

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