In the cold light of day I can look back at yesterday and not feel as downhearted as I did last night. It was certainly a better Arsenal performance than in previous games against Chelsea yet we were undone by two moments of carelessness. And when you play against a team as good as they are, you’ll get punished.
For the first goal Samir Nasri switched off, allowed Ashley Cole to run in behind the defence, and when Ramires found him with a decent pass he squared for Drogba to finish. At first I thought it was a fluke, that the ball had got caught between his feet and taken a lucky ricochet, but it was a clever attempt which was two inches too good. It rattled off the post and in.
If there was a touch of deja-vu about that goal you just need to cast your mind back to the Grove last season when Cole’s ability to get away from Nasri in the final third brought about the first two Chelsea goals that day. It was Nasri’s sloppiness which led to the second as well. He played a tired pass square across our defence straight to Nicholas Anelka, Koscielny really had no choice but to make the foul and Alex fired home the free kick.
You can ask questions about our wall as well. Why did we let Malouda stand there? He span away leaving a gap for the ball to go through and Alex Song might well have been braver instead of turning away from the ball. It was one of our most experienced players, Andrei Arshavin, who stood beside Malouda and didn’t organise things, didn’t shove him out of the way. A salutary lesson that at this level basic mistakes will be punished.
And let’s be realistic, we made too many mistakes. Squillaci’s ponderous moment in the second half saw Anelka go through one on one, round Fabianski and then somehow contrive to put it wide of the open goal. When Gael Clichy was caught upfield yet again Michael Essien ought to have made it 3-0 to Chelsea but Fabianski came out and made a good save.
That’s what was disheartening last night. That we played well, had the lion’s share of the possession, yet hardly created a chance worth talking about. And every time Chelsea countered they looked dangerous. A simple long ball over the top rattled us time and time again.
Of course we should have scored first with two chances in the first minute. Chamakh did well to get ahead of a static Alex in the first minute but his header was deflected wide. It wasn’t an easy chance, to be fair to him. Laurent Koscielny, however, has no excuses whatsoever for his miss. As the ball came across from the subsequent corner he managed to head over from just a couple yards. In a game in which the first goal was always going to be so important it was a horrible, horrible miss. Arsene’s frustration with it was evident in his post-game interview.
Beyond that there was a Cech save from a first half Arshavin rocket, a Nasri shot which went wide and a Chamakh header just before their second goal which he probably should have got on target. It was hardly a sitter but with his prowess in the air you expect better. That was the extent of Arsenal’s attacking threat
The positive is that we went there and had so much of the ball. Nasri, mistakes aside, was industrious and available while Jack Wilshere again enhanced his reputation with another solid performance. It was interesting to note that Wilshere, very often, was the deepest lying Arsenal midfielder while Alex Song’s attempts to get forward and convince the world he’s some kind of playmaker failed time and again. Someone really needs to have a word with him and get him back to doing the basics properly.
We threw in plenty of crosses from the full back positions but neither of them put in a ball worth talking about in the whole game. They were meat and drink to Chelsea’s defence. When Nasri overlapped and fired in a fantastic ball across the six yard box there was nobody there to attack it.
For all the possession we lacked the craft to open Chelsea up. It was a game made for Cesc Fabregas and it does show how much we need him, especially in games against better opposition. I think, at one stage, we had 60% of the ball in the second half but unless you can do something with it it’s not worth shouting about.
Chelsea showed that taking your chances is what matters. A better performance from Arsenal it might have been but at the end of the day what’s clear to me is that we were beaten by a better team. By all means talk about how it would have been different with van Persie, Walcott, Cesc, Vermaelen etc, but we can’t keep using injuries as an excuse. I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve heard ‘If only we had X or Y…’. The fact is we don’t have them too often and when you’re missing spinal players it’s always going to be more difficult.
I just think we have made a demonstration that you can play well and lose the game. We live in a realistic world and when you don’t score and don’t take your chances then you don’t win big games.
Having the ball is only part of playing well. Turning the possession into chances is another part of it so while I’ll admit there were positives the fact we couldn’t trouble Chelsea is a negative, in my opinion. If we had forced Cech into a string of saves then I think you can say we played well. Arsenal looked good until the final third at which point we looked pretty much toothless. Compare that to Chelsea who sat back, soaked up the pressure and looked dangerous whenever they came forward.
Sure, they took advantage of Arsenal’s naïvete, another worrying aspect if you really want to go there, but they could have had a couple more. Lukasz Fabianski had a much busier afternoon than Petr Cech, and credit to the Pole for another decent display, but that tells its own story. As does the league table this morning. Going into the Interull with just 11 points from 7 games, already 7 behind the leaders, is really not great. Dropping points away at Chelsea isn’t at all unexpected, it’s the games previous which cause much more dismay.
So two weeks without football. The manager needs to work with those he’s got to put things right because this team needs to get itself back on track and start winning games. I know it’s still early in the season but with the traditional month of cuntery in November to come we’ve got to sort ourselves out sharpish.
Final word to Arsene:
We have to be more clinical to win titles – we can’t lose a game like that.
Yet we do, too often. As frustrating as the Interlulls are, perhaps this one has come at the right time on the back of three very disappointing results. We have a chance to regroup, refocus and get things, which clearly aren’t right, well and truly sorted.
Over to you, boss.