Thursday, January 20, 2022

Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea : Brought down to size

Before the game, Arsene said:

I think for our team this moment has come. We are not any more a team that has to be considered to be young.

After yesterday’s defeat I think the uncomfortable truth is that we are a team that has to be considered not good enough to mix it with the big boys. Chelsea didn’t really break a sweat yesterday and they dismissed us with consummate ease.

You can say ‘Well, how would Chelsea have coped with Anelka, Drogba and Ashley Cole missing?’. That is irrelevant. We were the ones who had to cope with some of our important players being out and we couldn’t do it. I don’t particularly have any time for Arsene’s ‘Everything went against us’ either. I can almost guarantee if the Arshavin ‘goal’ had happened at the other end and Anelka had kicked the ball out of Almunia’s hands he would be absolutely fuming if that had been given.

Of course he’s right to say at 2-1 it would have been a different game but I think pointing the finger at the referee fudges the issue – which is basically that they’re a better, stronger team than we are. And it hurts to say that.

It was looking reasonably positive. We had lots of possession, we got in behind their full backs on a number of occasions but we couldn’t find the final ball. Our forwards were busy but posed little danger to Chelsea’s defence and it’s hard to look beyond the fact that we didn’t have much of a physical threat throughout the game. Crosses were meat and drink to Chelsea’s centre-halves, I’m sure John Terry won’t ever have nightmares about playing against Eduardo.

Meanwhile, at the other end, our defensive frailties and inability to cope with Didier Drogba continued. The first goal came from a decent cross from Ashley Cole, he landed it between the two centre-halves and Drogba sidefooted it home. An instinctive striker’s finish from a player in exceptionally good form. Annoying, but what was to come just a couple of minutes later was infuriating. We were undone by almost exactly the same ball. Again Cole was free to deliver it unchallenged into the box, this time Almunia was off his line, panicked, and Vermaelen sliced it into his own net.

That we didn’t learn from the first goal is a real sign this team has little or no defensive nous and the central defensive partnership did not cover themselves in glory in any way. It was poor all round.

The second half began with the rather curious replacement of Alex Song with Theo Walcott. Song had been one of our better players and was about the only bit of muscle we had in midfield. Theo’s introduction helped push Ashley Cole back but little else. Wenger made changes early, bringing on Vela for Eduardo and then Rosicky for Nasri but nothing much changed. Lots of tippy-tappy, not much threat. Did Cech have a save to make in the whole game?

Late on Drogba added insult to injury with a decent free kick but Manuel Almunia ought to hang his head. It was obvious where Drogba was going to put it and for me the keeper should have saved that. Not that it would have made any real difference but still. Full time, 3-0, 11 points behind Chelsea and a lot of very depressed Arsenal fans. We got dismantled, at home, by a team who deserved their win.

Arsene post-game was classic ‘It’s not as bad as you think’, saying the scoreline didn’t reflect the game but it’s hard to see where he’s coming from. They had their chances and took them. We didn’t even really have chances. Of course we missed van Persie, Bendtner and even perhaps Diaby, but the fact is the loss of three players turns this team into a very small outfit indeed (headline of the day goes to Goodplaya).

I think we’re too small, even with the previously mentioned players available. We lack physical presence and it does make a difference. Ask John Terry or William Gallas who they’d rather play against – Eduardo or Drogba, and you’ll find them stumping for the Crozilian every time. When the intricate passing stuff doesn’t come off then a bit of brute force is needed, a change of game plan. The Arsenal website doesn’t have the height of the players but I’m guessing that out of the 16 outfield players in our squad yesterday only 2 were 6′ or over – Song and Sylvester, who stayed on the bench.

Now, I’m not saying height is everything, but it’s something. Football is a physical game and if you have no physical threat then surely you’re at a disadvantage no matter how pacey and skillful you might be? Having a small team worked for Spain in Euro2008 but the quality of little guys they have is superior to the quality of the little guys we have – and international football is nowhere near as physical as the Premier League. If you walk onto a football pitch and see big, strong men it gives you something to think about. It’s an area I think we have to address. With van Persie out till April, Song going away to the ACN in January only Diaby and Bendtner remain – and that we’re now pinning hopes on a player who is fails to convince many and is perpetually injured, and a young striker who is still very much in the learning phase of his career is telling.

So, November ends and there won’t be too many unhappy to see the back of it. The mood has changed, no question, and I was curious to see where we stood this time last year and whether or not things were much different.

End of November 2008: Played 15, Won 8, Drawn 2, Lost 5, conceded 19 goals

End of November 2009: Played 13, Won 8, Drawn 1, Lost 4, conceded 18 goals

For all the positivity it’s not easy to suggest we’ve improved, is it? Especially defensively, which is where we all wanted to see things get better. The much lauded partnership between Gallas and Vermaelen hasn’t stopped us shipping goals and you have to wonder if the goodwill towards them as a duo came from the fact their goals were so important early in the season and not their defensive solidity. You can’t look at those stats and ignore the fact we’re defensively worse – after 13 games last season we had conceded 15 to 18 this time around.

I’m not saying it’s just down to the centre-halves, defending is something the whole team should be doing but we’re just not good at it. We don’t have a goalkeeper who provides the base of the spine we need him to, our midfielders switch off allowing service to strikers, and we’re vulnerable from set-pieces. The issues from last season have not been addressed and we’re suffering for it.

Now, on a more positive note after last November we went on an unbeaten run in the league which stretched to 20-odd matches. Yes, there were some awful 0-0 draws in there, but it’s something we need to do again. For all their woes Liverpool, who we play in a couple of weeks, are just 2 points behind us and while I think they’re a worse side than they were last year they have enough experience and ability to turn things around and to get themselves out of the run of poor form they’re in.

We need to snap out of it and get things moving again. We have players who can win us games, December’s fixtures are relatively kind, and despite the points gap it is only the end of November now. There’s a long way to go in this season. Hand on heart I can’t see us making up 8/11 points on Chelsea but who knows what can happen?

What I do think though is that the manager has got to look at the issues that this side has in terms of our lack of physical power and our tendency to concede goals. How often do we concede to a team’s first chance or only chance? Arsene wrote that off as an anomaly a few weeks back, I would suggest it’s a bad habit and one we need to sort out quickly.

A season that promised so much a few weeks ago is now depressingly familiar. It’s not too late to turn it around, a few wins on the trot and everyone will be feeling a lot better about things, but when you’ve just been turned over at home like that, you would be unwise to ignore the lessons you’ve just been taught.

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