So still Arsene can’t beat Jose Mourinho. I’m no ‘Wenger out’ shouter, but surely Arsene himself must find this embarrassing. Nil-nil at home with barely a convincing effort on goal does rather make it look as though tactically Arsene can’t handle the biggest matches. If this was a one-off then I wouldn’t be concerned, but the consistent failure to beat other title contenders is a problem. Chelsea have lost just twice at the new Home of Football, winning four times. That’s a poor record.
Mourinho stated afterwards that he was happy to see the ball given to Arteta, because he was doing nothing really creative with it. Usually it went to one of the full backs. There was no way we were going to play it through the Chelsea midfield.
For most of the match our attacking was slow and ponderous. Chelsea may have shipped a few goals this season, but they were quite capable of containing an Arsenal attack that wanted a couple of minutes to get everything just right, and would rather pass the ball into a crowded penalty area than attempt a shot from 20 yards.
There’s a very strong case that Arsenal should have had a penalty for Willian’s tackle on Walcott, and indeed his foot was hooked away. Unfortunately he was on the way to the floor after the first minor contact and that probably coloured Mike Dean’s view of the incident. Either that or he’s just incompetent. Or biased. Or both.
Arteta was fouled by Mikel’s studs-up lunge and on another day in front of another referee he might well have walked for it. Gary Neville argued that it was a fifty-fifty ball and both men went in at the same angle, it was just that Arteta got to the ball marginally earlier. One angle seemed to support this, but all others showed Mikel less in control and arriving late and dangerously high. A let off for Mikel that could easily have changed the game.
However, Arsenal got lucky with Lampard’s woodwork-hitting effort, as Szczesny was well beaten. An inch lower and the keeper would have been picking it out of the net. Then we’d really have seen Chelsea defend, while Arsenal’s build up play would have moved at glacial pace for the remainder of the game.
Things got better, though. We eventually made chances. Giroud had a shot late on that should have been on target at least. It was a tight-ish angle and you always risk hitting the keeper from those, but you really need to get them on target first and worry about the keeper second. I’m not going to say certain other strikers would definitely have scored it as there’s no way of knowing, and even the best in the world miss them sometimes.
Arsene and Steve Bould were seen deep in conversation for much of the match. Clearly the Boss felt that there was no need to bring on a sub – or else Bould talked him out of it. I take this as Wenger believing the 11 on the pitch weren’t going to lose, and it was better to take a draw than take any risk for a win. There is some logic in that given recent form, depressing as it is in a home match where there was the chance to go back to the top. Instead Liverpool go into Christmas in front, which, if past form proves anything means that they are pretty much certain to finish in the top four. Then again, with only eight points separating the top eight, that omen may not be so strong.
This leaves us second on goal difference, and if you’d asked anyone before the season started, never mind after the Villa match, if they’d have taken that at Christmas you’d have got a resounding yes. There’s everything to play for this season of all seasons. Hang in there, strengthen in January (there’s plenty of money to do it) and we could still be flying come spring.
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