The biggest money-spinning game in the history of domestic league football didn’t really live up to its billing, though I’m sure Chelsea went home happy. I wouldn’t say they ground out the win, but they were prepared to work harder than Arsenal. They closed down higher up the pitch and most of the time presented each other with more options for easier passes. Despite that, for the middle period of the game Arsenal dominated and looked likely to at least remain unbeaten.
Chelsea started more positively, once they’d kicked the ball out for a throw straight after kick-off (spot betting, anyone?). For five minutes Arsenal chased shadows, before working their way into the game. When Chelsea took the lead the goal was, if anything, slightly against the run of play. The entire Arsenal defence seemed far more concerned with holding off the attacking players than worrying about where the ball was going from the free-kick, allowing Torres to hook his leg around his marker and volley in from three yards past the helpless and hapless Mannone.
I didn’t see what happened to Diaby, but he limped off before half an hour had been played. I believe both his legs have since been amputated and he will be back in about three seasons once he gets used to the artificial ones (insert ‘like a new signing’ gag).
With Diaby off Ramsey moved inside – to be honest he didn’t look wholly effective wide on the right – and the Ox took up station attacking Ashley Cole and John Terry. It’s still hard to get the better of Ashley Cole, at least on a football field – I wouldn’t back him on Mastermind – so although the Ox, Jenkinson, Gibbs and probably several others all managed to put crosses in, that was where our attacks usually ended. I think I counted nine or ten crosses, including a free-kick and a corner, before one found an Arsenal man in the box.
Fortunately the second time a ball got to an Arsenal man in a dangerous position Gervinho swivelled and fired it into the roof of the net from ten yards. You could say great finish or you could say it was lucky he wasn’t two yards further away from goal, because it would have gone the way of most Arsenal efforts to that point and only troubled those around Row R.
Half time soon came and the mood was relatively positive. No reason to believe we could not go on and win.
The second half started much as the first had ended, with Arsenal marginally shading it on points, but unable to turn possession into anything much dangerous. And then a second goal for Chelsea: a fairly innocuous challenge and a more innocuous-looking 30-yard free-kick that somehow found its way into the corner of the goal via the faintest of touches from Kos’s shin. Mannone is not at his best when there are other players in the vicinity. His late decision to dive left him helpless once again. I don’t think a Chelsea player was within five yards of reaching it. It may have gone in without the help of the shin, or it may have hit the post or just crept wide, who knows? Any of the options may well have confused Mannone.
After that the game wound slowly towards its inevitable conclusion. Walcott came on five minutes earlier than usual (that ranks as Plan B for Arsène), so with the added minutes he got pretty much half an hour to impress, but didn’t exactly look raring to go. You couldn’t have worked out from his energy levels and commitment that everyone else had played an hour longer.
To run through from back to front:
Mannone – never looks comfortable under pressure, and has to take some blame for both goals, though the defenders hardly helped. Can’t see him ever being a true top-class keeper.
Full backs – Gibbs got a bit too ambitious at times, but both he and Jenkinson were reasonably solid against a team that has a lot of good fast and tricky players who were all prepared to work at it.
Central defence – Vermaelen and Koscielny have played brilliantly together at times, but this wasn’t one of them. Silly free kicks given away and poor work on the set pieces that led to goals.
Midfield – Arteta was in form. He was forced to play a more attacking role in the second half as we hunted in vain for a second goal. I certainly don’t recall any glaring errors. Cazorla worked hard and created a lot without ever looking like his best. It just wasn’t happening for him. In fact you could say the same about pretty much all the offensive players: Diaby, Ox and Ramsey all worked hard without things really coming off for them.
I’m not sure whether to count Gervinho as a midfielder or forward, but either way he continued at times with his usual tendency to overplay things and decide the blind alley was the best choice. Took his goal well.
Podolski seemed to find it hard work, but without playing badly the end product just wasn’t there today. Walcott did little to justify a wage, never mind a wage increase. Giroud had the last quarter of the game to make an impression, and almost did when he rounded Cech and fired into the side netting from a difficult angle.
The key feature of this game for me was that no one played particularly badly, but no one really shone either. Three or four times in the second half the ball missed Chelsea’s right hand post by inches with Cech beaten, twice when diverted by his own players. On another day we’d have scraped a win.
At one point in the second half Cech took a goal kick and seemed to twist his ankle. He hobbled around the area in pain for a few minutes while we won the ball back and singularly failed to try a speculative shot. You can bet if Mannone had done the same thing someone would immediately have lobbed him from 40 yards.
What does all this tell us? The first thing it tells me is not to accept a ticket from Steve Cooper again – last time I sat in the exact same seat next to him we went 3-0 down to West Brom before losing 3-2. I think it also tells me that we’re probably not good enough for a sustained challenge for the title this season. We can beat anyone on our day, and even on an off day we can scrape past most teams. We’ll lose the odd game that we shouldn’t and we’ll put in the odd great performance. We’ll probably do okay in the cups, without going the whole distance. In summary, much like the last three or four seasons. Chelsea on the other hand have a meaner and keener look about them. I don’t read too much into a single performance or result, but they are rapidly getting away from us at the top.
We could have signed some more players. An extra one top class player would have helped. There’s money in the bank. Lots of money. I hope it’s earning a good interest rate.
Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5
I thought about finding a nice picture of today’s match to illustrate this report, but I wasn’t that enthused by it so instead here’s a picture of the motorbike I went to it on. If you can guess how old it is (or work it out if you know enough about bikes) I may award a small prize.