Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

This game was massive for Arsenal. They could return to the top of the league 2 points clear, if they were to beat Chelsea, while they could end up as low as fourth if they were to lose, which would be a dramatic fall from the height of the top a point clear before the weekend. The last Premier League match before Christmas was billed as the game of the week. So much so, we were even reminded how big this game was for the Gunners prior to the game by a few non-Arsenal supporters, who also wished us well. However, the top of the table clash turned out to be a scrappy goalless draw to everybody's disappointment. While Jose Mourinho set up his side for a draw, Arsenal struggled to break down the well-organised side. The weather conditions did not help. The both side lacked quality in the final ball.

The majority of pundits predicted a draw, based on what was at stake for either side. On the other hand, we, the Arsenal supporters, regarded this game as winnable in light of the West London club's recent unconvincing performances. But one thing everybody agreed on was the first goal would be crucial, which proved to be the case.

As soon as it was found out Mike Dean was in charge of this game, we knew we would be playing against 12 men. TV replays showed that Willian clipped Walcott in the box, which was a blatant penalty. Most of pundits and journalists alike seem to agree with that conclusion (apart from Jose Mourinho, obviously). If the 36-minute penalty claim hadn't been turned down, the game would have opened up and the result would have been completely different. People say that Arsenal cannot win big games, but when the officials make mistakes week in week out (we are not just talking about the last two games, but the Napoli game as well), it is difficult for anybody to win big games.

Mike Dean not only turned down a legitimate penalty appeal, but also let five sinister challenges by Chelsea players go unpunished. Most of the media seem to agree that John Obi Mikel could have been sent off for his studs-up lunge at Arteta, but the Chelsea midfielder escaped any colour of card. If Chelsea had had to play with 10 men for the rest of the 90 minutes, it is not difficult to imagine that a crack might have appeared in their impeccable defence before the end of the game. Chelsea were also lucky to get away with other fouls committed by Azpilicueta, Ramires (who was eventually shown a yellow card), Lampard and Ivanovic. Mike Dean's decisions were also inconsistent. We don't know why Arsenal ended up with one more yellow card than Chelsea. Walcott's tackle was innocuous as he pulled out last minute, while Rosicky's yellow-card offence was nowhere as bad as the aforementioned fouls. Mike Dean also failed to take control of the game at the latter stages when the game hotted up, showing the lack of authority as a result of his leniency.

Combined with the legitimate penalty shout turned down, we feel that Arsenal could have won the game as they created just enough chances at the death. We are disappointed in that sense, but probably a point is not a bad result.

Some fans criticise Wenger for not having made any substitutions, but we understand the ground of his decision against changing the balance of the team. As the Frenchman said, there was no sign of fatigue in players. You could argue that Giroud and Walcott might have been replaced, but it could have been a gamble. Considering the fact that the team created more chances at the latter stages, one may say that it was not a gamble worth taking.

One of the positives taken from this game is a clean sheet, which should re-establish the team's confidence in their defence after conceding 6 goals from individual mistakes in the previous game. Vermaelen came in for the injured Koscielny and did a very good job, arguably our Man of the Match. Fortunately, Koscielny's injury is not as bad as we initially feared and the French centre-back should be back before long. However, it is reassuring that we have a capable back-up in the Club captain.

Another positive is depth in the squad. We had Cazorla, Flamini and Podolski on the bench this night. It is a luxury to be able to rotate Flamini and Arteta without affecting the balance of the team. Santi could start against West Ham in Özil's place, where the Spaniard thrived earlier last season, in order to give the German international a breather. Poldi's return to full fitness is a huge boost as he is a reliable finisher. Jack Wilshere will be available again for the Newcastle match when he has finished his two-match ban. All in all, it is great to have the most of the squad back ahead of the busy Christmas period. The Ox shouldn't be too long to be back, either (reportedly in the New Year).

Many doubted that Arsenal would stay top of the league at Christmas. Although our lead has disappeared and we are second only on goal difference, we are joint league leaders, level with Liverpool on points. Liverpool still have to play against Man City and Chelsea before the halfway mark of the season, while we have got over  our toughest period. Hopefully, we will get back to the winning ways as soon as possible, while Liverpool are going through a couple of those difficult games. We can count on Mourinho to play for another draw against their title rivals. If those results go in our way, Arsenal could be back at top of the table by New Year.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Chelsea's 4 shots on target were mostly comfortable saves.

Sagna: 7
Worked hard.

Mertesacker: 7
Solid display. Made a great last-ditch tackle to stop Torres delivering a cross.

Vermaelen: 7

Unlucky not to score from 
Özil's corner as his header was cleared off the line. Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 13 clearances. Apart from a careless back pass to Szczesny, who had to hack it off the sideline, he had an overall good performance. Covered Gibbs well, when the Englishman went forward.

Gibbs: 7
Provided the width on the left wing. Great cut-back for Giroud, whose effort was blocked by Cech.

Arteta: 7
Protected the back four well, but his distribution was fruitless.

Ramsey: 6

Difficult game. Too many wayward passes and a 73% success rate is extremely poor by his standard. He shouldn't have kicked the ball out when Ramires was seemingly injured on the floor as the referee didn't stop the play. Made 2 key passes, though, and one of them was a delightful chipped ball in the path of Giroud on the left, providing the French striker a clear-cut chance.

Özil: 6

He was forced to operate deeper than usual. His pass to Walcott could have earned an assist if the penalty claim had been successful.

Rosicky: 7

He always drove the attack forward. One of our late chances came from his run forward.

Walcott: 6
We were hoping for him to cause the Chelsea defence all sorts of problems with his pace, but disappointed. Probably he didn't get enough service, but with a mere 41 touches, he was not involved too much. (That said, the figure is better than Hazard's 37 touches, Willian's 36 or Torres' 33).

Giroud: 6
The recent dip in his form worries us. Wenger couldn't lay his finger on the reason for it as the boss ruled out fatigue after a 9-day break. Had two good chances late. His close-range effort was blocked by Cech, while he failed to convert the other by slicing his shot into the side-netting. Very disappointed with his finishing again.

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