Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 22 2012
Matches with Chelsea always seem to bring out the worst in me. My dislike for them is so intense that the thought of defeat turns my stomach. Nevertheless, the end of the season is bringing some intriguing plotlines. After Easter so many other factors begin to come into play that games are even more difficult to predict than ever. For Chelsea, this game was sandwiched between a couple f Champions League semi finals with an increasingly jaded looking Barcelona side. As such, their starting line up showed eight changes from Wednesday night`s slender win over the Catalonians. Arsenal meanwhile brought Ramsey in for the injured Arteta, whilst Chamberlain started in place of the ineligible Benayoun. Gibbs came in for Santos at left back.
Chelsea set their stall out from the first minute to get large numbers behind the ball. It took quite a long time for anything remotely interesting to happen with Chelsea happy to camp and Arsenal lacking the guile to break through the wall of blue. Rosicky spun into space in the final third and arrowed a low shot which Cech dealt with comfortably. Uncharacteristically, Arsenal carried their biggest threat from set pieces. Walcott swung a delivery in from the left which found van Persie on the back post, he stabbed onto the outside of the post with his left foot when his right foot would surely have been the better option. Certainly signs of mental fatigue are showing with the Dutchman, this piece tells you defenders are dealing with him better, but his decision making shows signs of ring rust.
But the Dutchman`s set piece delivery saw the best chance of the match go begging. Van Persie lifted a free kick into the Chelsea area, Bosingwa stood stone still as Koscielny ghosted away from him, but his measured header crashed against the face of Cech`s crossbar with nobody following in. With van Persie outside the area having taken the free kick, no other Arsenal player looks to take up positions in the eighteen yard area. Chelsea looked happy to play on the counter and there looked to be some change for them there. If they had had Drogba upfront as opposed to the lumbering Torres, I fear the affair would have been very different. A long ball from Cahill sliced the Arsenal defence, Sturridge toe ended past the onrushing Szczesny at the lip of the penalty area, but Koscielny got back to intercept.
Chelsea`s threatening moments were fleeting, but enough to ensure anxiety for the Gunners faithful. Malouda`s corner saw John Terry arrive in the area completely unmarked, but he headed well wide. Possibly still feeling the effects of a beautiful Vermaelen barge. After Sagna`s cross was half cleared, Song collected the ball on the edge of the Chelsea area, clipped a diagonal pass to van Persie in the area, he chest trapped the ball but could only smash his volley straight at Cech. At half time the lingering sense that the game was flat and required a spark was pervasive. I`m not sure I ever recall such a lifeless game between the two sides. Chelsea probably needed points more than Arsenal, however, you got the sense they wanted to stay their game plan to stay in mould for Tuesday night`s test in the Nou Camp.
The second half continued to be a war of attrition. Ramsey clipped a lovely diagonal ball to van Persie in his favourite left hand pocked in the area, but he screwed his volley high, wide and not very handsome. I felt there was more in the chance for him had he brought it down and controlled it. But his sharpness is always likely to fall given that it was his 50th game of the season. Mind you, the whole team lacked sharpness and the signs of fatigue have been there for the last two games. Koscielny was playing his 39th game of the season, Ramsey his 40th, Walcott his 45th (and probably last), Song his 41st, Sagna has started every game since February 11th and is carrying a knock anyway. Fact is, we just don`t have the squad to rotate in many positions and it will be on ongoing concern for the final 3 games for me, because we look shot.
The game was given a slight injection of menace on both sides. Mata came on for Chelsea and produced more threat than his teammates had managed put together. Santos came on on the left wing for Arsenal and his style of snappy interception looked dangerous 40 yards higher up the pitch. But still, van Persie was left rather isolated in the chances department. Song found him with a lovely curved through ball, but van Persie blasted wide with a hurried right foot finish from an acute angle. Santos then put in two excellent tackles, one on Essien then one on Mata, to push Arsenal forward. The Brazilian found Gervinho who tucked a reverse pass to van Persie. Robin turned Gary Cahill but just hesitated to shoot on his right foot, tucked back onto his left, giving Cech time to block his eventual effort. Chelsea threatened a late winner when Mata`s diagonal ball evaded Vermaelen and found Sturridge on the back post, Sturridge was ready to pull the trigger from close range only to find himself denied by an acrobatic block tackle from Koscielny which has summed up his season.
In the end, 0-0 was probably a fair result. Chelsea came thinking 0-0 was a good basis and if they could pick up anything more it`d be a bonus. Arsenal lacked the imagination and energy to break down the blue Maginot line. The build up play was often too slow and van Persie wasn`t afforded close to enough support. That said, the big chances went our way and Szczesny scarcely had a save to make. The value of the result was found in Spurs` 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road later in the day. That said, we do really have to beat Stoke next week after a return of 1 point from 2 games and the squad looks to be crawling over the finishing line to me. We may have three teams left with little to play for, but that didn`t stop Norwich winning at White Hart Lane or Everton clawing back a two goal deficit at Old Trafford this weekend. We`re a bit nearer, but we`re not there yet. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG, 16.RAMSEY, 7.ROSICKY (2.Diaby `65), 14.WALCOTT (27.Gervinho `60), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (11.A.Santos `67), 10.v.PERSIE (c). Unused: 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 29.Chamakh, 39.Coquelin.
1.CECH, 17.BOSINGWA, 24.CAHILL, 26.TERRY(c), 34.BERTRAND (3.A.Cole `77), 6.ROMEU (12.Mikel `66), 5.ESSIEN, 15.MALOUDA, 23.STURRIDGE, 21.KALOU (10.Mata `74), 9.TORRES. Unused: 8.Lampard, 16.R.Meireles, 19.Ferreira, 22.Turnbull.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday April 22 2012
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