Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 19 2009
Wembley in the sunshine is always an exciting occasion. It was my first visit back to the stadium since that fateful night that Gabriel Batistuta ended our Champions League sojourn. We started our day at a very pleasant Fullers pub in Harrow on the Hill called the Castle where sunshine, beer gardens, fine ales and heart attack inducing burgers were the order of the day. Emerging to Wembley Way an hour or so prior to kick off, we were presented with a coccophony of blue and red as we walked over to Gate A. My memories of Wembley from my childhood were the giant concrete steps leading up to the turnstiles. Not Disability Discrimination Act compliant perhaps, but the giant glass facade that has replaced it does not match up iconographically. Perhaps nostalgia displacing my better judgement there.
Arsene went for power in midfield with Abou Diaby starting the game on the left hand side and Andrey Arshavin surprisingly remaining on the bench, Diaby shifted in field after as little as three minutes with van Persie moving to the left hand side. Perhaps Arsene had miscalculated Nicolas Anelka's role in the Chelsea formation? The Gunners nearly found themselves behind after as little as four minutes, Chelsea had obviously done their homework on our rather docile defending against Wigan, Ivanovic hooked a long ball over the top of Silvestre. who had his customary panic attack with the ball above his head, Fabianski came rushing out and Drogba beat him to the ball, nodding it towards goal, but Kieran Gibbs was fortunately on hand to clear off the line. It was the first act of what was a very assured performance from Gibbs. It was a stark warning of what was to come from Drogba and Silvestre. However, Arsenal got a foothold in the game and found themselves in an early lead. Adebayor played a clever ball into the left channel for the onrushing Gibbs, he clipped an intelligent cross to the back post and Theo Walcott connected with a left foot volley which deflected past Cech via the, presumably sovereign clad knuckles of Ashley Cole.
The Gunners were in the ascendancy, moving the ball as crisply as the terrible pitch would allow. However, chances were at a premium. With van Persie marooned on the left, he was unable to cause Chelsea any damage, whilst Adebayor looked as though he would rather have been anywhere else in the world. The fact that he was substituted with the scores at 1-1 tells you everything you need to know about how badly he stunk the place out yesterday. van Persie was industrious but effectively neutered. With Arsenal dominating territorially but offering little in the way of clear cut chances, Chelsea pulled themselves level after 32 minutes. Lampard's crossfield ball found Malouda, Eboue allowed him to cut in onto his right foot all too easily and his weak shot beat Fabianski at his front post. Arsenal fans were left ask themselves the futile question of what might have been had Almunia and Sagna been fit.
It was Chelsea's turn to assume control of the game now and they nearly snatched themselves into the lead when Denilson passed to Diaby in Arsenal's penalty area, Diaby characteristically dithered and Anelka burgled the ball from his toes and saw his quickfire left foot shot cannon off the post. Chelsea's dominance wasa beginning to build, but again chances were at a premium. The surface did not really allow for any sort of fluent passing which really went some way to comprimising the match as a spectacle. Half time came at the right time for Arsenal, it had been a schizophrenic half. The break saw Arsenal emerge slightly refreshed but no more inspirational upfront as the creative juices just would not flow with Arsenal's prime architect and perhaps our only player capable of producing something from nothing still festering on the left hand side. Walcott appeared to be the Gunners best outlet with his pace terrifying the Blues backline, Terry shoulod comfortably have dealt with Denilson's overhit pass, but Walcott's wing heels caused consternation in the England skipper, Walcott raced onto the ball, crossed for Adebayor, who screwed his shot horrendously wide.
It was Walcott again causing ruptures in Chelsea's backline as he careered onto Fabregas' pass and his low cross just evaded van Persie's toes on the back post. The game appeared to be heading for extra time when Chelsea unleashed their not so secret weapon. It was a Lampard ball over the top, Silvestre again showed all the composure of a teenage boy in his first fumble with the ball above his head, Fabianski made the unwise decision to rush out, leaving Drogba to nod the ball past him and slot into an empty net. Once again we were left to ponder how injuries to Gallas and Almunia might have hurt us. The match had fallen exactly the same way as the Carling Cup Final two years previous, with the team line ups rather similar too. Arsenal had a brief flutter of hope in the 89th minute, when Cech flapped at a Walcott cross, the ball fell to Arshavin whose shot deflected wide, In the end, Chelsea had the experience to close the game out. Recent history suggests that the key to getting a positive result is to go behind. Chelsea's power usually proves problematic for us, but yesterday we made individual errors and lost too many experienced players to negate Chelsea. Other than Walcott we offered too little threat going forward and the strange formation explains this, if we were going to line up with a 4-5-1 I have to ask why Arshavin was left on the bench and van Persie asked to play on the left. Injuries to players such as Sagna and Gallas, wily competitors with the experience to play these occasions hurt us, but there is simply no time to lick our wounds. The good thing is the games are thick and fast now so there is no time to pontificate too heavily on defeat, there are still many rivers to cross.LD.
Date:Sunday April 19 2009
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