I have to admit I was a bit confused by the end of match reaction yesterday. Sky lauded Chelsea for grabbing a draw, Roberto di Matteo called it a ‘great point’, and they interviewed Gary Cahill who stood there gabbering as if they’d taken a giant step towards the title or something.
Plucky little Chelsea. Plucky little unlimited resources Chelsea. Plucky little unlimited resources £50m striker who has scored less league goals than Thomas Vermaelen Chelsea. Wasn’t this a game they kinda had to win? Far more than us, even if three points would have been very handy. We extended our lead over Sp*rs – later aided and abetted by QPR ensuring the wheels on Harry’s wagon came well and truly and hilariously off – yet Chelsea failed to gain any ground on us.
I do wonder if the post-match coverage coloured people’s perceptions of the game. A point against Chelsea isn’t a bad result at any time. Sure, they were slightly weakened and played the game like a practice match ahead of their game at the Camp Nou – parking the bus and looking to hit us on the counter – but if any performance and result this week should draw brickbats it was the one on Monday night against Wigan. That’s where the real frustration lies, for me at least.
Although we never got into top gear, Arsene suggesting we couldn’t find our quick passing game as if it were hidden (perhaps beneath heavy legs), we had the best chances in the game and probably should have won it. Robin van Persie missed a chance from Theo Walcott’s free kick that a couple of weeks ago he’d have finished with his eyes closed whilst doing a somersault and sipping a Martini, Laurent Koscielny’s header crashed back off the bar with no Arsenal player following the rebound in, while van Persie shot straight at Cech.
In the second half a beautiful long ball by Ramsey set up a volley which the skipper shanked wide and later still the Dutchman added to his collection of misses when John Terry fell over and he rushed a right-footed effort. Arsene said pre-game he’s not in the ‘red zone’ physically but he looks like he’s clattering around in there mentally. The quickness of thought and the confidence to just finish has deserted him. It’ll return, no doubt about it, but maybe we’re seeing a guy who is now simply a bit jaded after a quite incredible goalscoring run.
It’s up to others to pick up the slack and unfortunately there was nobody else to do that. Arsene’s substitutions told their own story, there was no rest for Robin as Chamakh stayed rooted to the bench ahead of his inevitable departure this summer, while midfield options were used to try and break down Chelsea’s rearguard. Diaby looked like a guy who hasn’t played all season, Gervinho was a bit livelier than in previous games, while Andre Santos really got stuck in and tried to make things happen.
The two starting wide men struggled. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was well shackled down the left and drifted in-field to try and get on the ball, but the game passed him by for the most part. It’s a good learning experience for him and will stand him in good stead for the future, but perhaps we can see why the manager has been somewhat reluctant to use him in recent weeks.
On the other side Theo Walcott was quiet again and picked up a hamstring strain which is likely to keep him out of the final three games of the season. I do wonder why he was allowed back on after the initial tweak, it’s not as if this is an injury you can run off, and he only made it worse by saying he could continue. Surely we know better than that? So season over for Theo and if you were giving a mark it’d be a C+, some nice stuff but must, can and should do better.
As the game wore on I was a bit worried that they’d nick it, we pressed forward and again over-complicated things. I know people will focus on Aaron Ramsey’s passing but the Welshman was pretty much spot on all game in that aspect. Look at the stats, 63 out of 65 passes completed, 13 out of 14 in the final third, but he does need to work on his awareness and was caught on the ball too easily. That said, I thought with an under-par Rosicky and a careless Song, he put in a very important defensive shift in midfield and played far better than much of the immediate post-game analysis suggested.
As for Song, late in the game with the left hand side wide open, he tried a pass to Diaby in midfield from which Chelsea countered and almost scored. I like that he has a bit of vision, his pass to van Persie for the first half chance was really excellent, but I wish somebody would have a word and tell him to keep it simple, especially in circumstances like yesterday’s. That could have been very costly indeed.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
Before the game I thought it would be an open one – we had to win, they had to win. They decided to lock up the game and catch us on the break only.
I feel that we were a bit nervous today because we lost against Wigan and you could see it played a part in the fact that we played with the handbrake in the first half. To have an open game the two must go for it, but Chelsea never came really out.
Somebody call our mechanic because that handbrake keeps going on when we don’t want it to. Overall though I don’t think it was a particularly bad result or performance. It’s very difficult to break down a team like Chelsea at the best of times and we were clearly a bit under-par. QPR’s win over Sp*rs gives us some breathing space but as Newcastle keep winning our focus must remain total for the final three games.
We now have a full week to rest, to get some zip back into those tired legs ahead of what’s always a fun game at the Inbred-a-Bowl in Stoke. It’s still in our hands, let’s make sure we keep it there.