Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

Arsenal's winning run finally came to an end after a goalless draw with the league leaders Chelsea. At the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, we felt the north London side should have won the game with a few chances of nicking it. However, we took heart from our team's performance, which proved that there is little between the two sides. On the top-four finish front, a point saw us move a step closer to securing a Champions League spot this weekend, when 7th-placed Southampton and 6th-placed Tottenham played out a 2-2 draw, with 5th-placed Liverpool also ending up with a goalless draw with West Brom, while 4th-placed Manchester United was defeated 3 goals to nil by Everton earlier on Sunday. We now sit third in the table below Man City on goal difference and 2 points clear of Man U, having played a game less. We are still well-placed for a top-two finish.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side that started in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading last Saturday. As expected, David Ospina replaced Wojciech Szczesny in goal, while Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal came in for Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs at the full-backs, both of whom in turn dropped to the bench. Per Mertesacker was rated 50/50 previously for his involvement in the clash due to an ankle injury he sustained during the semi-final, but passed fit thanks to Arsenal medical team's devoted efforts. Olivier Giroud started at the expense of Danny Welbeck. After the match, Martin Kewon stated that the England striker should have started in place of the France international, but Welbeck was ineffectual in the reverse fixture this season. Giroud's stat of 10 goals in his 12 games backed a claim that he was a striker on form at the moment. Although he had never scored against Chelsea, his big-game stats significantly improved this season, scoring against Man City away, Man U at home, and Liverpool at home and away. The remaining bench places were occupied by Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

If we have a complaint about the team selection, it's for a wide position rather than the centre-forward. We would have done better with a proper winger playing on the opposite side to Alexis. Aaron Ramsey kept vacating his duty on the wing, making defensive work easier for Chelsea, especially their left-back, Azpilicueta. We need to stretch the opponents' defence in this kind of tight games. When Walcott was brought on in the 83rd minute, Chelsea had already started sitting deep, with no room for the England forward to run in behind the defence.

We all knew before the match that Jose Mourinho's side would play for a 0-0 draw. John Terry's reaction at the end of the game spoke volumes for that. They came to the Emirates to earn a point and they did just that. We are proud that at least Wenger tried to play our brand of football. The Frenchman made two attacking changes (although we didn't necessarily agree with taking off of Coquelin instead), in contrast to Mourinho replacing Fabregas for a defender Zouma.

Their fans and the media heaped their praise for Jose Mourinho's tactics and his side's execution as if they had won the game, but let's not forget that it was a draw at the end of the day. We could not score a goal, but nor did they. Chelsea did not outplay us by any means.

We thought we played well in the first half. Passing was crisp and build-up plays were fluent with a high tempo. The intensity dropped a bit in the second half, but in the last 20 minutes, we regained it and created a few clear-cut chances. As Wenger stated in his post-match interview, decisions on the final ball let us down. He also admitted that his side might have been too conscious of Chelsea's counter-attacking threat, which inhibited their play in the final third. In addition, we did not have enough players in the Chelsea box when needed.

On top of Arsene Wenger's unflattering stats against Mourinho, Fabregas' return had been another topic of the game since the fixture was published last summer. Intriguingly, Wenger said that the conditions regarding the resigning of Fabregas were not as "clean" as people think. We will be interested to read the T&C's of the deal some day when Wenger's memoir has come out. Meanwhile, despite Wenger's plea to respect the ex-captain, the Arsenal fans' reception was mixed. For us, we acknowledge that the Club has moved on to build the team around Santi Cazorla as a deeper-lying central midfielder and Mesut Ozil as a central attacking midfielder.

Another talking point was the referee's decisions. Michael Oliver was refreshingly brave and brilliant in the FA Cup quarter-final encounter between Arsenal and Man U, but he became the centre of controversies because of his refusal of penalty claims on four occasions. In the first incident, Oscar went down too easily. Bellerin may have tripped him afterwards, but he was on his way down as soon as the Spanish right-back had touched his shoulder. For the second incident, we cannot deny that on another day, another referee may have sent off the keeper, but Michael Oliver was right to play advantage as Oscar's effort was already heading for goal, when Ospina crashed into him. Once Hector Bellerin had cleared the shot off the line, it was difficult for the referee to pull back the play and award Chelsea a penalty. Some argue that the Colombian keeper could have been sent off, but a red card would have been a wrong decision as Bellerin's subsequent clearing header testified that Ospina's challenge did not deny Oscar's goal-scoring chance. Michael Oliver's decision was correct again. On the third occasion, Fabregas was booked correctly for his simulation. Then, Arsenal had a legitimate penalty claim when Santi's goal-bound shot was blocked by Gary Cahill's raised arm. We know that these days hand-balls in the box are rarely punished, but on the previous day, QPR were awarded a penalty when West Ham defender, Collins committed an identical foul in the box. Furthermore, the sending-off of Ivanovic should have been well due when he finally went into the book in the 71st minute as the Serbian right-back's heavy challenges on Alexis went unpunished a few times in the first half.

Although we were still unable to defeat Mourinho's side at our 13th attempt, we take positives from the closely-contested draw. The biggest positive was the clean sheet. As much as the Chelsea supporters are proud of their defenders, in particular, John Terry, we take heart from our defensive display. Our defence kept the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year, Eden Hazard, quiet. We also kept in check the physical threat of Didier Drogba, who scored 8 times in 11 Premier League appearances against us in those days when the Chelsea supporters accused us of light-weight defence.

We'd like to think that Arsenal did enough to suggest they could compete with the champions-elect next season at the top level. The Gunners' slightest hopes (created by the media) of winning the title may have extinguished, but we still have plenty left to play for this season, including the FA Cup final at the end of the next month. Fortunately, our players seem to remain upbeat despite having not found the net for the first time since the New Year's Day at Saint Mary's. Our catch-up weekends continue with next Monday's away game against Hull City. It's going to be a must-win fixture as we could be 4th by the time we play this game, after Man U and Man City have taken on West Brom and Tottenham, respectively (we will be probably cheering on for our north London rivals just once for this one).

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
His rush challenge on Oscar was our most anxious moment, but made a smart save for Ramirez's effort. 

Bellerin: 7

He was quick to rescue his team-mates, saving Oscar's certain goal with a clearing header. Going forward, he did well to cut the ball back to Santi, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Cahill's arm. Made 3 tackles, 1 interceptions, and 4 clearances. Kept Hazard quiet. Playing a part in such a big game ahead of fit-again Debuchy indicates his meteoric rise this season. Aresnal fans' chosen Man of the Match.

Metesacker: 7
He took charge of dealing with most of Chelsea's long balls. Made 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 5 clearances, winning 5 aerial duels. When the rebound from Özil's shot fell in front of him, he should have at least put his effort on target. That said, this was one of his better games.

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 clearances. Made a marauding run on the left in the latter stages of the game and found Santi with space at the edge of the box, but the Spaniard hooked his shot wide. Recovered well after being kicked in the head by Willian.

Monreal: 7

Assured defensive display. Made 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances. His offensive work was instrumental in Arsenal's late chances. 

Coquelin: 7
Made 2 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 1 clearance. Another good game. He shouldn't have been sacrificed for an attacking option unless the collision with Drogba affected him physically. Replaced by Welbeck in the 76th minute.

Cazorla: 8

Made thrusting dribbles from deep. Had 3 shots, none of which was on target. Orchestrates everything from centre midfield.

Ramsey: 6
He showed a glimpse of his technical brilliance, but he lost the ball too often for our liking. He dropped deeper and more central after Coquelin was taken off. Made 2 tackles and 3 interceptions. Obviously, Wenger rate the Welshman as one of our match winners, but the right wing is clearly not his best position.

Özil: 8
Continued his fine form. Had 2 shots, one of which was on target. He had a glorious chance in the closing stages of the game, but the ball went through his legs. Nevertheless, it is noticeable that his body language has largely changed for positive. He smiled and acknowledged the cross to his team-mate. Created 3 scoring chances, making 5 dribbles. Made more passes (77) than any other player on the pitch, with an impressive 92.2% accuracy.

Alexis: 7

Fouled 5 times. Involved heavily in Arsenal attack especially in the first half when most of attacking movements took place on Arsenal's left flank, but his final ball was not quite there.

Giroud: 7
Won 5 aerial duels. If he had stayed on and been given the same glorious chance Welbeck had, he would probably have flicked it into the net. He was tightly marshaled by John Terry, but we still think the team play better with him as centre-forward.


Welbeck: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 76th minute. His pace made an impact, but he should have taken his chance.

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace Giroud in the 83rd minute. Had only 2 touches.

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