Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday May 10 2009
Games against Chelsea are always something of an occasion given the amount of Chelsea fans I know. As always this dictated an early meet at the pub followed by an appetising lunch at the Olive Tree, a lovely Cypriot restaurant on Blackstock Road. The artichoke hearts and plate full of Kalamari were to be the high point of my day. Both sides were on the end of midweek disappointments of a different scale. Chelsea were scorned in midweek and unrepentant about their typically mendacious behaviour in midweek. Arsenal meanwhile, were consummately outplayed and disposed of by a rampant United. The particulars of this game rested very much on who reacted better to their disappointment.
The Gunners started with the bit between their teeth, despite again starting with a 4-5-1 formation that stunk of a manager again admitting his midfield was not robust enough. After less than thirty seconds, Fabregas played a cute ball in behind Ashley Cole, Walcott beat his man to the ball in a threatening position, but could only smuggle the ball wide. It was the first of many times that Walcott took up threatening positions only to be let down by a lack of sangfroid in the box. It was again Walcott predominantly involved when a 1-2 with Nasri coaxed some space for Theo in the area, but Cech easily saved Walcott's effort at the front post. Walcott was to have Arsenal's third chance too, Diaby, for perhaps the only time in the game he didn't demonstrate his oft repeated trick of lingering in possession for a yawning eternity, cut the ball back to Walcott from the left flank, but Walcott lashed his finish well wide when a hint of composure would have seen him at least test Cech.
Chelsea were largely pinned back but did forge a decent opportunity when Cole, given free reign by Walcott and the very disappointing Sagna to forray down Chelsea's left all afternoon, latched onto Drogba's pass and cut the ball back for Malouda, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs. The Gunners best chance arrived straight after, Nasri's free kick was deflected up into the air, Diaby took the ball down in the box and Alex Song turned and lashed the ball wide from close range with the goal gaping. It was pretty much Song's only contribution of note in what was a desperately indifferent display from a man who has only just won a place in the team. Arsenal's lack of efficiency was well and truly punished. Drogba once again somersaulted under a non existent challenge from Fabregas, Dowd showed himself to be one of the thickest men on the planet by falling for it. I hope he doesn't try to buy a second hand car anytime soon. Cesc called the dive and was amazingly booked for doing so, there is no rule that codifies that mimicking a dive action is a yellow card. Dowd consistently showed a lack of understanding of the laws, which is quite amazing for a man appointed to uphold and protect them. For instance, Malouda went down as if shot in the second half, Dowd motioned the physios on, at which point Malouda decided his flesh wound was treatable with mere oxygen. Dowd did not make Malouda leave the field despite the presence ofthe physio, a very basic rule and Dowd did not know it. Inexcusable.
What was scarsely more excusable was the defending from the resulting free kick. Drogba floated in a sweet delivery, the Arsenal defence did not quite cotton onto the fact that the six foot four inches centre half Alex might possibly, maybe a target and left him unmarked to head the ball in off the underside of the crossbar. Toure and Silvestre between them are very experienced centre halves, but both are wholly incapable of organising a defence. From there Arsenal showed an enormous character defect and contrived to completely surrender. Abject surrender is always punished by an outfit as ruthless as Chelsea and when Nicolas Anelka was invited to walk through the Arsenal midfield without challenge, the inevitable consequence was a long range daisy cutter which beat Fabianksi when it really should not have done. A shot from that range should really be spectacular to beat a top class goalie, it was an average strike that just happened to be on target. From there on in, I counted about three Arsenal tackles for the rest of the afternoon.
Come the beginning of the second half, the game was clearly gone but the crowd craved a reaction of sorts. The team had been comprehensively written off as lightweight by the media and by a section of Arsenal support. We wanted a sign from these pampered and well paid individuals that they belong at this great football club, that they belong on the big stage and have the desire and ability to rub shoulders with the likes of Chelsea. The auspices of the manager has been a persistent theme all season long, we wanted the players to add the slightest gravitas to the manager's honeyed words of promise. The experienced players such as Toure, van Persie, Sagna can be incredibly embarrassed with what they produced, which was apathy and indifference. I dread to think of the irascible reception Bendtner would have received from the Emirates crowd had he shown the appalling effort van Persie put in this afternoon. Toure played with his chin on his chest, Song looked longed for the beach, Sagna too, Fabregas and Nasri could not and would not turn the tide and Diaby was just laughably inept in just about everything he did. We wanted a sign of defiance and all we got was indifference. Though not the same calibre of opponent, when Arsenal sides of the past have been on the end of disappointment, these dead rubber end of season games have been used as an opportunity to lay a marker down. The 7-0 demolition of Everton in 2005, the 6-1 mauling of Southampton in 2003, signs of intent from a team determined to make a statement. What we got in the second half today was a characterless, pathetic meandering.
It wasn't long before Chelsea were 3-0 up, again Ashley Cole was given free reign to maraud down the left from Lampard's pass, his low cross was fumbled comically into his own net by Toure, another sign that Kolo has the composure of a spotty teenager enjoying his first fumble in the bushes. '3-0 down, it's time to go home' chanted the away fans in mocking of the spoiled walkaways from Tuesday evening. Bendtner was introduced from the bench before Adebayor. I think that reveals a lot about where the Togolese striker's future lays next year. Bendtner showed us some long yearned for guts and belief, attacking with intent, closing down defenders, playing with some fucking gutsand belief. He roused the entire team briefly, possibly more out of shame than anything. Players three times more talented than Bendtner in our side were being well and truly shown up by the young, trouser troubled Dane. He helped himself to a deserved goal when Nasri teed up Sagna for a right wing cross, Bendtner attacked with purpose and belief and outleapt Terry to reduce the defecit. Most Arsenal players looked on with their thumbs up their arses, but Bendtner grabbed the ball from the back of the net and urged his team on. Ashow of guts in a sea of gutless wonders. Worth mentioning that Bendtner has as many goals from open play this season as Robin van Persie. Think on that one for a minute.
Arsenal briefly flickered, van Persie headed Bendtner's cross straight at Cech and Bendtner again attacked another looping Sagna cross but the requisite power was not on the balland he could only head straight at the keeper. Adebayor finally came on as Arsene seemed to tweak that playing one upfront at home when two goals down is not a particularly clever idea. Adebayor was loudly booed as he entered, his car was also vandalised by Arsenal fans on the Holloway Road this week. I very much doubt we'll seemuch more of this man in an Arsenal shirt, Wenger's response to Ade's assertion that the teamhad gone backwards this week was given short shrift. Ade's only contribution was to embarrassingly dive for two penalties, both of which Dowd correctly waved away. This man simply does not get this football club one bit and he won't be a part of it much longer, of that you can be sure. I've been vocal to my opposition to the boo boys many times this year but I did not raise an eyebrow when Ade was booed. Perhaps it is about time that supporters let certain individuals know that solicitious characters such as this won't be tolerated.
Chelsea killed the brief Arsenal flurry with a fourth goal. Lampard was given time and space to pickout Malouda in the box,he shot unchallenged against the legs of Fabianski, Anelka latched onto the follow up unchallenged and lashed against the post, but Malouda was unchallenged to knock in another rebound. Three shots in a row in our penalty area, spot the word that appears most in that last sentence. Piss poor really. The final whistle came as merciful relief as the away fans lived up their victory. Arsenal did little to remove the suspicion that they just do not have the nous, the quality or the mentality to cope with opponents of this callibre. The leadership issue will rear its head again, Gallas was sacrificed at the altar of a great deal of supporter frustration but it's becoming clearer just how impossible his job as captain actually was. Arsenal had an awful lot to prove today, to supporters and detractors alike, to show the defeat to United was a one off and that maybe, after a few seasons of losing the big games, that this team could provide us hope that the same mistakes won't be repeated next year. They routinely failed to show character after starting the game so brightly, they just didn't have the intelligence to react to the setback. In the second half it was purely and simply a lack of bollocks, Bendtner looked like the only player with any determination and that is pitiful. Chelsea did not have to play particularly well and yet beat us resoundingly. At 3-0 down at home Arsenal were still playing with one striker. After a miserable week, the players owed it to themselves to prove they were not the lightweights everyone attests that they are, they also had a responsibility to show the paying punters that they were willing to graft for this football club. Today, Arsenal were neither willing nor able. That's really very sad indeed.LD.
Date:Sunday May 10 2009
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