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Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1

Ordinarily, Chelsea away constitutes a whole day out, with plenty of pre and post match beverages. But a mixture of the weather, the lunchtime kickoff and my feeling a tad under the weather, we forewent pre match festivities to trudge through the snow to the game. Whilst Southwest London was blanketed in continuing snowfall, public transport actually seemed to be working (if only the Northern Line had shown such fortitude this past week) and it was very much a case of game on! Gloves, hats and jackets the size of wardrobes were very much the order of the day.

Once we had seen the Arsenal away contingent lay waste to the condiments tray in the Shed End upper during a very raucous rendition of "ten Tottenham points in the gap" we made our way to our £59 seats hoping the team were as enthused as we were. They weren`t really. Not at first anyway. This Arsenal team just doesn`t know how to play a first half and so it proved on this occasion. The Chelsea fans early chorus of "Champions of Europe we know what we are" was cheekily countered with the riposte "Champions of Europe, on ITV4" by the away contingent.

The home side might have had a penalty in the opening minutes when Abou Diaby performed his usual Scarecrow impression (#If I only had a braaaaain#) by bear hugging Oscar in the area. Thankfully Martin Atkinson was n forgiving mood and didn`t penalise. The Gunners had a beautiful chance to take an early lead as Walcott slipped Giroud through on goal with just Cech to beat. But Giroud lamentably flashed the ball wide when it was easier to score. I like Giroud; I think he adds a lot to the team with his endeavour and his hold up play, which is exceptional. But he`s just not clinical enough in front of goal. Thierry Henry is training with us for another fortnight, I`d suggest Olivier stays behind for a few sessions over that time and works with a master.

That piece of profligacy was punished within seconds. Azpilicueta swung a diagonal ball into Arsenal`s area and Juan Mata pulled the ball out of the sky and showed the difference of having a clinical player in such a position. He controlled and lashed past Szczesny with the minimum of fuss. There were some complaints from the Arsenal bench that Coquelin had been fouled in the build up to the goal, in truth, I don`t remember the incident that caused him to go down, so I can`t really comment. But to concede such a soft goal was rather criminal in any case. Missing easy chances and defending so poorly against this level of opposition will always invite punishment.

Santi Cazorla briefly caused Chelsea hearts to flutter with a long range drive which Cech did well to parry, but the home side were well on top. Arsenal appeared to stand a good yard off of any Chelsea player with the ball. In his many injury spells, Abou Diaby is talked up as some kind of cross between Vieira, Keane and Scholes "when fit." But he still has a capacity for brainlessness that would leave the common street pigeon chortling into its monocle. He mindlessly dithered on the ball in central midfield and allowed Ramires to dispossess him, leaving Arsenal exposed on the counter attack. Oscar played a through ball to Ramires. From the Shed End he looked offside (I accept the Shed End is hardly the best angle to judge and that he probably wasn`t). The Brazilian looked to skip past Szczesny before hitting the floor. From where I was, it looked like there had been no contact on Ramires but that Szczesny hadn`t got the ball. All that matters is that Martin Atkinson gave the penalty. Frank Lampard stepped up and rolled it into the bottom corner for 2-0.

At this stage, I turned to Lord Lowe and opined "I think this could be 4-0 by half time." Arsenal stood off Chelsea, Cazorla and Walcott offered no protection or offensive support to Sagna and Gibbs, Diaby looked like he needed an A-Z and Chelsea were being allowed all the time on the ball they wanted. Fortunately, Benitez opted to put the hilariously useless Fernando Torres upfront. With a proper striker, Chelsea might have been out of sight by the break. So for all their possession, it was only when Ramires skipped past Gibbs but wildly hacked his shot over the bar that Chelsea threatened a clear cut opportunity.

Arsenal`s complete inability to turn in any kind of first half performance had left me thankful that we were only 2-0 down. But there was a different attitude and performance in the second half. On 48 minutes, Arsenal fired a warning shot as a corner fell to Per Mertesacker, who dug out a shot with his left foot, but could only fire straight at Cech. The Diaby set Walcott away in the channel, but his shot across goal was well saved by Cech. Kieran Gibbs, more ably supported by Cazorla, became increasingly involved in the second half and his flighted cross seemed to have found Giroud in the area, but Ivanovic did just enough to put him off mid air and make his header a tame one.

The screw was slowly turning. Walcott and Giroud had had a number of close offside calls go against them as they attempted to play on the shoulder of the Chelsea defence. (Again, from my vantage point behind the goal, I`m in no position to question the validity of the calls). But the Gunners finally got one right as Cazorla slipped a pass into Theo Walcott, who held off the challenge of Ivanovic to sweep past Cech. Game on. Arsenal pushed and pushed and Chelsea looked rattled, having let a two goal lead slip on Wednesday night. Ashley Cole had to cynically take down Theo Walcott on the edge of the area after Wilshere had tackled Lampard and the ball squirmed back into the Chelsea area.

The Gunners forced a succession of free kicks and corners but couldn`t make good enough use of them. With Arsenal pressing, Chelsea did have chances on the break. Fortunately the best of them fell to Fernando Torres, who bore down on Arsenal`s goal but stayed true to form by tripping over his own feet and allowing Szczesny to collect. What a relief that Chelsea did not start with Demba Ba. Arsene threw the dice by throwing Arshavin on for Diaby. I say he threw him on. He`d have had better luck rolling him on. I haven`t seen Arshavin for a while and now I think we all know why he`s not getting a look in. He looks like he`s about to give birth. What appalling shape for a £60k a week professional athlete to be in. What a poor indictment on the attacking options in our squad that this tubster was allowed anywhere near the pitch. He looks like a weeble. He should be ashamed of himself.

Chelsea ought to have wrapped the game up when Demba Ba sprung the offside trap and rounded Szczesny. As the Senegalese moved towards the goal, Thomas Vermaelen stood strong on the line and made an excellent last ditch block. Arsenal tried to break through and a last ditch equaliser briefly looked on the cards when Giroud`s flick on nearly reached Walcott, but Cole hooked away at the last minute. Giroud had a header that just drifted over too with virtually the last touch of the game. It had been a spirited second half display, but Arsenal`s season long habit of pretending the first half exists only as a concept in an alternate universe hit them hard. You can very rarely start a game 45 minutes too late and get away with it. Doing so away at Chelsea is never, ever going to see you rewarded. LD.

CHELSEA: 1.CECH, 28.AZPILICUETA, 24.CAHILL, 2.IVANOVIC, 3.A.COLE, 7.RAMIRES, 8.LAMPARD (c), 17.HAZARD (21.Marin `88), 10.MATA, 11.OSCAR (34.Bertrand `71), 9.TORRES (29.Ba `81). Unused: 19.Ferriera, 22.Turnbull, 26.Terry, 57.Eke.

ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 22.COQUELIN (16.Ramsey `58), 2.DIABY (23.Arshavin `75), 14.WALCOTT, 19.S.CAZORLA, 10.WILSHERE, 12.GIROUD. Unused: 6.Koscielny, 11.A.Santos, 24.Mannone, 25.Jenkinson, 26.Frimpong.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 20 2013
Time: 8:53PM


A balanced coverage of what transpired at the Bridge LD and pretty timely too. Winger has got to get the players playing better from the start; he admits the problem and thinks it is psychological so, at least, we are getting somewhere. How about starting with a clear plan for the players to rehearse and come on to perform from the start? It looks like the side can't handle if games when something (points) is at stake and just go into hiding till when they can be sure that whatever they do in the second half can appear heroic, even if they end up losing.
20/01/2013 21:43:00
We do need big game players (Jack, Coquelin, Gibbs have it in degrees) who can be relied upon to keep a level head and fight back, when it calls for it. We are also naive at times; the replays showed that Ramires stamped on Coquelin's shin, thus getting an advantage of a free run into our half for their first goal. While the ref should have stopped play for that infringement, it wasn't an excuse for the team to also stop playing and lose their men; we need to be tuned on always and play smart. In this area, we miss Arteta who seems to be well schooled in the tricks of the trade and is usually very alert to the wiles of teams like Chelsea. I feel he would have seen the danger in such a situation and called attention to it or done something about it himself.

Chelsea do engage in some sinister acts which usually go unnoticed by refs because they are crafty enough to make such acts look normal or unintentional. Take the dive by Ramires for the pen and the many niggly fouls which Ivanovich and Terry are renowned for; Ivanovich leaned into Giroud to put him off his header, as you reported. There were serial fouls on first Coquelin, Jack then Theo and they took care to share the fouling responsibilities so as to avoid retribution to any one player. It is all good that you have suggested Giroud learn from the master in Henry; in the same vein, Per Mertesacker has to remain behind to hone his leaping and heading skills as he doesn't offer enough in aerial battles in the opponents' area when he is asked to go forward when we are chasing games. He needs to be more aggressive and assertive in such situations. I am not sure how much we can take away from this game as we did know January and February posed some daunting fixtures for us. We have already dropped 6 points to key rivals for the CL spots. Things have to change!
20/01/2013 22:21:00
Sure it won't come as much consolation, but really thought Arsenal emerged from that game with a lot of credit. You looked like you were on course for an absolute pasting in the first half, but your second half fight back deserved at least a point.
21/01/2013 01:15:00
A lot of doomers lashing our first half tactics. If had to say tactics were an issue, rather than just not being up to the necessary standard of executing the ones we had it would be that Jack seemed to want to press and Diaby and Coq wanted to sit back. This is the only explanation I can see for the standing off of Chelsea's midfield and Jack's repeated call to arms. Ultimately, the first half was won by Chelsea, the old fashioned way. Win the centre. Ramires owned Diaby and Coq. Lampard mopped up and distributed. Mata, Hazard and Oscar tore us a new one. Our inability to hold onto the ball in the middle was constantly exploited out wide because Santi and Theo play narrow and turnovers left them well out of position. Sagna and Gibbs had also often push up for width and were out of position as well. All around very poor in the first half. Oh for Giround to have nailed that early chance...
21/01/2013 02:35:00
The game was pretty even in retrospect. I mean compared to Tottenham - Man U. Chelsea destroyed us first half but we were pretty conclusively on top for the entirety of the 2nd. We probably do still need to strengthen if we want anything positive to come out of this season.
Arsenales F.C
21/01/2013 03:33:00
Whilst I accept the concept that Sagna had to cover too much ground by himself for much of that first half it should have been apparent to him what was going on early in the game and he should have kept his forrays to a minimum until Wenger/Walcott sorted it out. His prime directive is to be a defender, if he's not going to be able to get his arse back into position in time then he's got to sit back a little bit. There were times when he didn't even bother to try and get back. I think Jenkinson should really get a run out, Bac has been out of form of late.

Tim, I don't know if you've seen the highlights yet but it was a definate foul by Ramierez on The Coq in the build up to the goal, and it was never a penalty. But that still doesn't excuse the defending.
21/01/2013 06:27:00
Agree with Deadwood. System was fine. Execution was poor. Physically and psychologically, the players were just not up for that first half
21/01/2013 06:56:00
Much as I like Jenks potential and energy I think he'd have been crucified in this game. Sagna getting forward is a quite defensive tactic. Inviting them onto us by sitting back wouldn't have helped us greatly. The problem wouldn't have been solved had Sagna sat back. It was solved when others did their job properly. Sagna is one of the positives in the team at present but he's going to need a rest before too long as he's having to put a great deal into every game.
21/01/2013 06:56:00
I think the over-all being defensive by getting foward tatic can work if implemented properly, but the way it worked out yesterday would have been the same as Giroud trying to score goals by playing centre back (which admittedly would have probably produced the same result yesterday). It might have invited them onto us, but you've got more chance of defending a move when a player is actually there. At one point yesterday Chelsea broke forward andit wasn't until Ramierez took the shot that Sagna appeared back on the screen when a Chelsea player had been at the far post for the best part of 10 seconds by himself. Of course something may have happened off screen that stopped him from getting back, but judging by the rest of the game I think it was just tieredness. Jenkinson can only improve (and has improved) with game time. The more he players, the better he will get, and if Bac is truly tiered then he will benefit from the rest. I certainly don't think he would have done any worse yesterday.
21/01/2013 07:47:00
If Sagna was trying to cover Ramires then he was trying to do someone else's job for them. It would be easy to pick out some positive moments in Sagna's game yesterday as well those he didn't get it right. The overall balance of his game was good and especially so once the team got it right. Sagna then didn't have to do anything differently than he was doing in the first half. What we need is a captain on the pitch that can put it right before we get back to the dressing room.
21/01/2013 08:18:00
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