Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0

After the match, Wenger admitted full responsibility for Arsenal's capitulation against Chelsea as he spoke to BBC. Was it a tactical error? Or should the players be to blame? There was no usual post-match press conference afterwards and Wenger even cancelled a Monday conference ahead of Tuesday's clash with Swansea. So we have to make a guess as to what was Wenger's gameplan.

We think that Wenger got his gameplans wrong. Arsenal should not have gone out to attack from the beginning of the game. This game being his 1000th game, did Arsene Wenger's desire to play faithful to his philosophy of attacking football cloud his decision on tactics? Or had last season's slow and cagey starts to matches against the big clubs changed his approach to those games? Arsenal should have stayed cautious until they settled into the game. Chelsea pressed well and didn't give the Gunners much time to retain the ball possession and dictate the pace of the game. This was the Liverpool game at Anfield all over again. Arsenal played a high defensive line with a slow centre-back and a holding midfielder who are not blessed with pace. Both full-backs pushed high up on the pitch. The whole shape of the team was too open. Giroud had a similar goal-scoring opportunity that could have changed the dynamics of the game, but failed to convert it. Chelsea and Livepool are both well known for their strength in counter-attack. This was the worst possible tactics against those teams.

As we said in the previous post, this group of attacking players are better suited for counter-attacking football. Wenger fielded the same starting XI from last weekend's 1-0 defeat of Tottenham and tried to play Arsenal's trademark possession football. This was the second tactical error. Many fans argue that Flamini should have started. His fighting spirit and presence as a vocal leader, as well as his willingness to do dirty work, may have at least made the scoreline look more respectful. Wenger faced the same question after the above-mentioned Liverpool game and simply answered that the French defensive midfielder started in the 6-3 defeat to Man City. We will never know whether Flamini's start alone may have made a difference, but it is a valid argument whether we should have started Flamini alongside Arteta to see how the first half would pan out.

In fact, we should have played a goalless draw like Chelsea did at the Emirates, considering the current injury crisis. A point would have done more favour to Liverpool and Man City rather than us, but the result wouldn't have been detrimental to our title challenge, keeping the current league leader Chelsea within our reach. More importantly, our title credentials and confidence wouldn't have been dealt such a big blow. Apart from occasional goal leaks against top teams away from home, our defensive record has been very good and our defence might have just managed to hold Chelsea to a goalless draw.

There is nothing much to say about the team's abysmal performance. In the Liverpool game, Özil's two errors directly led to goals, while in this game, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, and Tomas Rosicky all contributed to the downfall of the team through sloppy passing. Arsene Wenger insisted that they had a good preparation in the week running up to the game. However, the team lacked concentration and focus, as well as commitment. In the interview he gave on Monday, Wenger stated that he was puzzled over why the players did not turn up. With plenty of motivation on the boss' 1000th game, we don't understand why the team turned up with such a meek display. In the run-up to "the game of the season" (according to Wenger), all the focus was rather on the celebration of the Frenchman's achievement over the past 18 years. Did it work as some kind of distraction to the players? We cannot afford this kind of performance in the latter stages of the season, whether the oppositions are title rivals or not. 

The major talking point, which is still rife in the footballing world, is the sending off of Kieran Gibbs. Andre Marriner officially apologised for the case of mistaken identity on Saturday evening. Arsenal lodged appeals against mistaken identity and wrongful dismissal on Monday. After a hearing at an Independent Regulatory Commission, the red card for Gibbs was rescinded and this was transferred to the Ox. Arsenal's second claim regarding the wrong dismissal of the Ox was upheld as his handling of the ball was not regarded as denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity in light of the fact that Hazard's shot was heading wide anyway. Now both players have been cleared to play their parts in the next game against Swansea. The decision was totally wrong whichever way you look at it.

Even more questionable than the mistaken identity, but largely overlooked is the fact that Marriner did not see the incident but he still took action. The mistaken identity suggests that none of the other officials did have a clear sight of the incident. Andre Marriner appeared to have been bullied into the sending-off decision. This is not the first time that Marriner has made a wrong decision in favour of Chelsea. Mike Riley, referees' chief, had to issue an apology to West Brom for the same referee's controversial penalty decision which cost the Midland club two points and kept Mourinho's unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge intact. In the London derby, a penalty was indisputable, whether the reason was a handball (which is a yellow card offence) or preventing a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Nevertheless, the sending-off was a wrong decision whichever the alleged offence was and Arsenal had to play with 10 men for 70 minutes.

In the team news ahead of the Swansea game, Wenger stated that he would make a decision whether he would include the Ox after the ruling. The Ox is probably still struggling to get over his dreadful performance and stupidity to handle the ball, so it may be a good idea to drop him from the starting XI (we wouldn't call it a punishment though). Especially, now he has got off without a punishment, there is a backlash against his handling of the ball, with some calling him a cheat. Although we have few options in midfield at the moment, if we are to face Swansea without the Ox, Arteta and Flamini play together. Alternatively, it is also interesting to see how Kallstrom will perform alongside Arteta or Flamini.

On the positive note, an opportunity for the team to redeem themselves will come as early as on Tuesday night. Immediately after the Liverpool game, Arsene Wenger's priority was on tightening up at the back and restoring the team's confidence in their defence. This effort resulted in a goalless draw against Manchester United, but hopefully, we can snatch a win against a struggling Swansea side this time round. We have been in this position before and every time we had disappointment, the team came back with a positive response. So hopefully, they will do in again.

We have to concede that after the defeat to Chelsea, our chance of winning the league looks pretty slim now. The fact that the other title contenders produced convincing performances in their respective games at weekend didn't help either. However, if we can finish as high as possible in the league (and secure next season's Champions League football, needless to say) and win the FA Cup, it will make a strong platform to build on next season with a few reinforcements in the summer. Getting involved in the title chase until mid-March is a huge improvement over last season and the Club proved that they can challenge for the title.

We need to bounce back quickly. The Swansea match is now crucial. Hopefully, Saturday evening's clash with Man City at home will turn out to be a whole lot different affair to the lunch-time kick-off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. (Mertesacker has concluded his analysis that our hefty defeats against top teams all came away from home in lunchtime kick-offs.)

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Although he made an error leading to a goal, he pulled off a number of fine saves. The scoreline could have been a lot worse without those saves. 

Sagna: 6
Started at right-back and ended the game at left-back.

Mertesacker: 6
Struggled with Arsenal's high defensive line. With the full backs bombing forward both Mertesacker
and Koscielny were left very exposed.

Koscielny: 6
Poor display after last week's Man of the Match. Taken off at half time due to a calf problem. He will have a scan on Monday to determine how long he will be out for. Another injury is just what we need.

Gibbs: 6
Mistakenly sent off in the 23rd minute, but he should have been where the Ox was. He was unnecessarily high up on the pitch and caught out of the position. His positioning has been questionable recently.

Areta: 6
Seriously lacked pace against the quick Chelsea midfield and some of his positioning was questionable. But then Arsenal shouldn't have played such a high defensive line.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Woeful display. Recently he told that the boss had been telling them to track back and win back the ball quickly when they have lost the ball. He has been doing it and did it in this game, but Eto'o was too good for him. The lesson is do not give the ball away in the first place. Some overreactive fans insisted that he should be dropped to the bench for the rest of the season, but anybody who watched him play as a box-to-box player against Bayern Munich in Germany recognises his huge potential in that position. Inconsistency is one of common shortcomings among young players and part of the learning curve.

Rosicky: 6
Culprit for the fifth goal by giving the ball away, but had two shots, both on target, created 4 chances, and made 5 tackles.

Cazorla: 6
Guilty for the second goal by giving the ball away.

Podolski: 6
Quiet. Sacrificed in the sending-off incident. 

Giroud: 6
Had a great chance to score when Rosicky's defence-splitting pass released him behind the Chelsea defence, but failed to make a clean contact. 


Vermaelen: 6
Replaced Kieran Gibbs at left-back in the 23rd minute and then moved to the centre-back position on the withdrawal of Koscielny at half time.

Jenkinson: 6
Came on at half time to replace Koscielny and slotted into the right-back position. His touches were suspect. He had a goal-scoring chance late when a rebound from Cech's save fell for him, but ballooned it.

Flamini: 6
Came on at half time to replace the Ox. Worked hard.

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