Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1

Arsenal went into the game, looking to end their winless run and goal drought against Chelsea. After Leicester's 3-0 win over Stoke and Manchester City's taking a point from a 2-2 draw with West Ham, the Gunners started this game third in the table. Nevertheless, there were still 11 league places separating the two London sides, with last season's champions sitting 14th and 19 points behind Arsenal. Although whether Guus Hiddink's side would park the bus away from home, just like under his predecessor, Mourinho, remained to see, we thought this could be the best opportunity in years to claim a victory against them. However, the potentially good derby game was yet again ruined by the same cheat and the referee's poor decision.

Arsene Wenger made just one change to the side that started in a 0-0 draw with Stoke City the week earlier. Mesut Ozil, who missed the trip to Britannia Stadium through a toe injury, regained his place at the expense of Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain who dropped to the bench. Among other substitutes, we welcomed Alexis back after missing 10 games since he suffered a hamstring injury in November. New signing, Mohammed Elneny continued to wait for his debut in an Arsenal shirt on the bench. David Ospina, Gabriel, Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs, and the Ox occupied the remaining places on the bench. Theo Walcott was awarded captain's armband in the week that marked his 10th anniversary at the Club.

The game started as a typical end-to-end derby game between these two sides at high tempo and once again, the officials' decision played a huge part in the game. This time around, it was Per Mertesacker that saw a red card only 18 minutes into the game. Maybe we shouldn't have played such a high line with the notoriously slow centre-back in the rear guard. The German defender's look at the linesman might have slowed his action even further. He probably should have pulled out of the tackle and left it for Cech to deal with onrushing Costa. With all his shortcomings aside, there was no contact with Diego Costa, who rolled over the ground after taking a big leap. With 72 minutes to play with 10 men, the sending-off gave us a mountainous task.

It got even worse for us 4 minutes later. Conceding such a soft goal was a killer blow. Monreal was too slow to close down Ivanovic, who was allowed to deliver a cross on the right wing. It was very disappointing that we allowed Costa to tap in the cross at near post, despite his obvious threat in front of goal.

At Doolan's bar, we were reasonably content with trailing only by a goal at half time, especially after Flamini just missing a glorious chance in the stoppage time. The French midfielder ghosted into the box between the two Chelsea centre-backs, trying to volley Ramsey's cross. This Chelsea defence was not faultless.

Arsenal came out strong in the second half. Alexis was introduced in the 57th minute in place of Campbell. You couldn't fault the Gunners' efforts. They never gave up. It was hard to tell which side was a man down. They could have nicked a point when Courtois flapped at a corner or when Flamini's flick was saved by the Belgian keeper. 5 minutes were added at the end of normal time. Cech came up for an Arsenal corner. However, it was Chelsea that came away with 3 points as the final ball did not just quite come off for us.

One of the big talking points of the game was Wenger's decision to take Giroud off. The French striker was sacrificed to accommodate Gabriel who replaced Mertesacker. It was clear in the home crowd's expressions on the camera that his call raised many people's eyebrows. In the post-match interview, Wenger explained his decision as a tactical one. Pace was key in counter-attacking after sending off as Arsenal were supposedly forced to drop deep. The Frenchman also admitted that the risk of injury to Giroud was on his mind. The France international missed training the day before through an ankle problem. If he had got injured during the match, the boss would have had to use one of the remaining valuable substitutions. As three of our best chances fell to Flamini, we wondered if Giroud could have converted some of those chances. But then, probably Terry and Zouma wouldn't have allowed Giroud to run past them. Giroud is a more obvious target and easier mark for them.

As it turned out, it was Chelsea who opted for counter-attacking after half time. Arsenal had more play than Wenger anticipated in and around the Chelsea box, where Giroud's presence would have been useful. But this is all hindsight.

2 points from difficult away games at Anfield and Britannia Stadium were creditable, but this loss dealt with a significant blow to our title credentials. Taking 2 points out of the last 3 games was damaging for our title challenge, but the race is a long way with 15 matches remaining, including games against our title rivals. We are still in the mix, 3 points behind Leicester City and level on points with 2nd-placed Manchester City. Hopefully, we can get back to winning ways on coming Saturday against Burnley in the FA Cup 4th Round to restore our confidence. We look forward to seeing our new signing on the pitch for the first time in an Arsenal shirt. Also, we have a few players coming back from injuries in the next couple of weeks. Rosicky had 45 minutes under his belt after playing in an U-21 game on Friday. Coqulin has already resumed full training, while Danny Welbeck is expected to be back in full training this week. Alexis Sanchez looked sharp, causing problems for Chelsea defence. He always has a potential to conjure up a goal out of nothing. By the time we face Southampton at home in the Premier League Tuesday week, hopefully our squad will be in the better shape.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
He was at no fault for the goal and made some smart saves. His decisions were spot-on as well.

Bellerin: 7

Made a tackle, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances. His pace made the difference in defence and attack.

Mertesacker: 5

Costa dived, but he has his own faults as well. 

Koscielny: 6

Perhaps he could have done better in the first goal. With captain's armband handed over by Theo around his arm, he looked distraught after the final whistle, helped up by Cech.

Monreal: 6
His slow reaction to the loose ball ultimately cost us a goal. That said, he combined well with Alexis going forward but took a touch too many when he received the ball in a great position from the Chilean. Cleared a short off the line.  

Flamini: 6

Left the back four exposed at times.

Ramsey: 6
His passing was wayward, although his passing success rate does not read too bad at 87.9%. As Flamini bombed forward on every occasion, he had to take a defensive responsibility. Made 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances. 

Campbell: 6
He always works hard, making 3 tackles in this game but his finishing lacked quality. 68.8% passing success was poor. Replaced by Alexis in the 57th minute.

Özil: 6
Struggled to find space. Created only 1 chance, made 64 passes with a 76.% accuracy, which speaks volumes for his under-par display. Hopefully, he will rediscover his form soon. 

Walcott: 6

Made some clever runs, but adjudged off-side often (and missed the target anyway in one of those occasions). It was a disappointing display from the man who celebrated his 10th year at the Club this week.

Giroud: 6
His link-up play looked good before he was taken off in the 21st minute. 


Gabriel: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 21st minute after the sending-off of Mertesacker. He failed to deal with Costa in the only goal of the game, although other defenders, including Flamini, may be to blame, too. Made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 clearance.

Alexis: 7
Replaced Campbell in the 57th minutes. He looked dangerous going forward and even made a crucial tackle after tracking back. Made a big difference to the game.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Came on in the 74th minute for Walcott. He had a half-chance towards the end of the chance, but failed to connect. But used his pace well.

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