Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3 (Drogba 41, 86, Vermaelen og 45)
I was genuinely optimistic before yesterday’s game. I had a real feeling that the players knew how important it was, knew how much a win would convince everyone that we were really in with a chance of lifting the Premiership this season, despite the injuries.
And in a way, I was right – they did appreciate the significance of the game. They certainly went for it, throwing everything they had at Chelsea in an attempt to overwhelm them. The only trouble was that it wasn’t even close to being good enough. Chelsea packed their box, happy to give us the ball in wide positions in the knowledge that crosses would be useless with such a tiny front line, and crowded us out. Despite the bulk of the possession and some excellent football in the middle of the park, Cech was untroubled all day long.
In midfield, we were decent enough. Song was snapping away, Denilson, Cesc and Nasri were finding small pockets of space, but everywhere outside the central third, it went badly wrong. Eduardo’s touch was off, Vela too easily brushed off the ball when he came on. Arshavin had moments but his final ball was poor. And at the other end, Drogba picked up where he left off against us, making Vermaelen look distinctly uncomfortable for the first time this season.
With Traore picked at left back, Nasri and Arshavin switched flanks, so that Nasri could help the young full back in a way Arshavin would not. But Chelsea simply turned their attention to the other wing, Ashley Cole defying the boos by setting up the opening two goals. The first was well worked, crossing for Drogba to sidefoot home, but the second was poor from a defensive point of view – Nasri allowing Cole too much time, Gallas missing the ball, and Vermaelen slicing in with Almunia in no mans land. It was a horrible goal and a horrible moment.
From there, the task was monumental. But we went for it, Walcott replacing Song at half time in a move that could easily have led to a five goal pasting. Walcott at least pinned Cole back, preventing any more danger down that side, but Cole’s work was already done, and while Walcott’s pace was dangerous, his end product was not.
We had a goal disallowed, but unlike many I actually think the referee got it right. Cech was in the process of catching the ball when Eduardo nicked it away from him. At the other end we would have screamed for a free kick.
Drogba put the icing on Chelsea’s cake, firing a free kick into the corner Almunia was supposed to be covering at the end. The keeper really should have done better, and certainly didn’t impose himself on the game as a man of his experience should.
It is very difficult to take any positives from a game like this. We played with a good intensity, never gave up, and had more of the possession. But despite that, we were completely and utterly outclassed, which is a painful thing to hear, let alone say.
However, a result like yesterday’s makes it easy to forget everything that came before – the goals from all parts of midfield and the improved performances of some of our players. We must not write the team off simply because Chelsea are in another league right now (and they are). Doing so would be counterproductive, and I’ve already seen the ‘Wenger out’ brigade rearing their heads again. However, there are issues to resolve. Eduardo needs a run of games to get his confidence back – for such a cool customer he looks completely devoid of belief right now. Similarly, Vela looks very raw.
At the back, there are still question marks over Almunia, while the lack of cover for Song is a persistent worry.
But January is a month away, and Wenger is usually loathed to sign players to c0ver injuries – he takes a much longer term view than that. In this instance, that may not be wise – without any physical presence a team as good and as powerful as Chelsea will always overrun us. That isn’t to say other teams will – Chelsea needed to be organised to keep a clean sheet yesterday, but it is still a concern.
We were handed a footballing lesson yesterday, and it was a painful one. What counts now is how we respond. Look at Wigan – bouncing back with a win after a 9-1 hammering. We cannot afford to wallow.