Arsenal 1 (Bendtner 70) Chelsea 4 (Alex 28, Anelka 39, Toure og 49, Malouda 86)
Recriminations for this defeat are already being heard, far and wide, as so many seek to write off at least five players, and the manager himself. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many ‘Wenger out’ posts since I began this blog over two years ago.
And while a painful and embarrassing defeat this undoubtedly was, the anger is strange given that, by and large, the performance was so much stronger than Tuesday night’s outclassing by United. In the opening half an hour, this was also one-sided, but in our favour, and if Walcott, who was as lively as he was subdued in the Champions League, had his shooting boots on, our dominance would have resulted in a two goal lead.
On at least two occasions, Walcott missed glorious chances that, in fairness, he played a good part in creating himself, but the worst miss was Diaby’s, taking the ball from Cesc’s foot and poking badly wide. While opportunities kept being created and spurned, you had a horrible feeling that Chelsea would make us pay, and they duly did with their first real effort on goal, Alex outjumping a static defence to head in Drogba’s cheaply won free kick.
After the week both sides had endured, the first goal was always going to be crucial, but to their credit, the players did not lose their heads. But by half time, the deficit had been doubled – Anelka turned away from Nasri too easily in midfield, Silvestre stood off him, and he lashed past Fabianski, who was beaten by pace and swerve.
The players looked shell shocked, and Anelka could’ve made it three before half time, but for once Chelsea were less than clinical. It didn’t take long for us to gift them the conclusive third after the interval, however – Cole crossed, Fabianski charged out, and Toure’s attempted clearance trickled tamely into the unguarded net. It was a shambles.
Walcott then missed the easiest chance he had all night, when a beautiful Song chip saw him one on one with Cech, only for him to fire horribly wide, but it was the introduction of Bendtner, for the hugely disappointing Diaby, that gave us our impetus back. After harrying in midfield for ten minutes, he got on the end of a Sagna cross to head a fairly difficult chance past Cech. Briefly, it looked as if we might get back in the game, but sixty seconds towards the end of the game summed the match up.
Adebayor, on as a sub, went clear on goal, rounded Cech, and collapsed tamely to the ground, looking for a penalty, and then on the counter, an offside Malouda made it 4-1 as Chelsea once again made the most of their breaks. It was the story of the night – we had at least as many clear cut chances as our opposition, but wasteful finishing combined with slack defending led to a heavy defeat.
The irony was that the performance was far improved from Tuesday night, but being three goals down at home twice in five days is unacceptable. Once again we played creative players out of position – Cesc looked less effective in the Bergkamp role more suited to Nasri, who was okay in the holding position while clearly being out of place. Meanwhile, Diaby has never played well on the wing, and his good games are becoming worryingly infrequent. Everything he did today slowed the pace of an attack down.
That said, some of the oft criticised players did well, an odd assessment in a 4-1 home defeat – Walcott was excellent apart from his woeful finishing, Song was superb while adding some lovely touches to his offensive play (his chip for Walcott’s chance was fabulous), and Bendtner sparked the team into life after coming on. It certainly was interesting that the Dane, in the doghouse after his midweek antics, still came on before Adebayor, who is looking increasingly on his way out this summer. More on that in another article coming up.
The defence were collectively poor, even though Gibbs and Sagna were solid again. In the centre, we are consistently beaten in the air, and too often stand off opposition, as if top level Premiership players can’t hurt us from twenty yards. They can, and they do.
The truth is that although the match was even, Chelsea took their chances and we didn’t. Cech wasn’t even called into action for many of ours. We are so close to having the right team (put Arshavin in for Diaby and it is difficult to argue against the front six), but we need strengthening defensively (literally strengthening) if we aren’t to be found out again next season.
But that doesn’t mean we need a complete overhaul. Most of the pieces are already there, and we all know what the missing ones are – they are largely the same as a year ago. Fix them, and we’ll be in business. Time to get it right.