Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Defeat Entirely of our Own Making: Thoughts on Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2

After two enjoyable goal-fests, a horrible result against a horrible team. Thoughts as follows:

* Let's get straight to it - the decision to drop Mertesacker was absurd. Utterly, utterly absurd. I don't want to try and paint Per as some Baresi-esque defensive titan, but he has been our best centre-back this season. The argument can be made, and I'm sure it partly lay behind Arsene's decision, that Koscielny and Vermaelen were more tactically suited to Chelsea's collection of smaller, technical players, especially now the nightmare of having to face Didier Drogba is thankfully a thing of the past. This argument is, frankly, rubbish. If you have a player who's on the absolute top of his game, you play him. It reminded me a little of two incidents in Wenger's reign. Firstly, when Arshavin was dropped for the semi-final of the FA Cup in 2009, and secondly, when Senderos was dropped for the champions league tie against AC Milan. The first was a supposedly tactical decision (Diaby was the beneficiary); the second simply seemed to be a case of dropping an in-form player, as soon as Wenger's preferred player became available. Both incidents send out the troubling message that Arsene has preferred personnel within the squad, regardless of current form. And neither decision led to a positive result.

We saw repeatedly when Gallas and Toure played together in defence that having two similar centre-backs, who both rely on recovery pace, doesn't work. You need to have players who compliment each other, in order to make a team that is fully whole. Instead, Wenger has made Vermaelen captain, despite the fact he should not be an automatic starter. This leaves AW with the choice of either Koscielny and Mertesacker, and I simply feel that Arsene will always favour a Koscielny-style player. Let's hope today was a wake-up call, because I don't think we would have lost the game if Per had played (or at least not have lost it in the manner we did). I think Arsene tinkered our defence to destruction today, in short.

* Both Vermaelen and Koscielny had very poor games. Koscielny, owing to the fact he was "marking" Torres for the first goal, and essentially scored an own goal for the second, will legitimately come in for criticism. But Vermalen was equally as poor. He did his usual running around like a headless chicken routine, giving away needless free-kicks in dangerous positions - which led directly to the second goal. I also thought he struggled with Torres throughout the game. For me, Vermaelen is our third-best centre-back, and has been for sometime. I've always loved his spirit and penchant for getting vital goals, but he is simply not as good at defending as Koscielny and Mertesacker, who should be our first choice partnership in central defence. Arsene now has genuine dilemma over who to pick, but it is one of his own making.

* Here's a thought - it's probably not a great idea to make a player that suffers from multiple, chronic injuries the lynchpin of your midfield. I've had it with Diaby. In fact, I'd had it with him last year, before his 'blistering start' to this season in which he's already been injured twice, and it's not even October. That is ludicrous. He is not a proper football player. Get rid of him, and buy someone we can actually rely on to play on  a regular basis. 

* Mannone had very little to do today, but he should have done better on both goals. For the first, he actually backs away from the shot - I really can't work out what he was doing. For the second, yes he was unsighted by Koscielny, but in those situations you need a dominate goalkeeper who come and claim the ball when it's pinging around the box. Instead, he remained rooted to his line, doing his best "jazz hands" impression. I was struck today, while watching the Spurs vs Man Utd game, that the four goalkeepers involved in that match are arguably better than all of the keepers we currently have at the club. Better goalkeeping could have turned today's game into a draw, and last week's match into a win. We should have invested in this position over the summer. Instead we have a selection of dubious reserve keepers, with Szcz still at this stage only an unproven talent. By my calculations, we haven't had a goalkeeper that I've fully tusted since Jens in 2006-07. That is unforgivable.

* Gervinho scored a brilliant goal. That cannot be denied. He controlled a pass that was fizzed in at speed, and smashed it past Cech. But did he do much else? I'm not sure. He also showed a horrible penchant for being caught offside, which he needs to cut out of his game.

* Still, once Gervinho had scored, the spirit of the team, and the crowd, was palpably lifted, and I felt confident that we would score again. We started brightly in the second half, but were quickly deflated by the ridiculous second goal that we conceded. After that, much of the rest of the performance was thoroughly, and perhaps shamefully, underwhelming.

* Something happened today that I've been worried about since the first game of the season - Cazorla was nullified by Chelsea, and, with it, so were we, by and large. Cazorla has been given such an important role in the team that I worry teams will focus on trying to stop him in the coming weeks. In short, i wouldn't be surprised to see him go through a little dip in form, after his blazing start to the season. I also thought that Ramsey, after such a strong performance in Manchester, disappointed.

* Our three best players were Arteta, Jenkinson, and Gibbs. Praising Arteta has become almost a cliche by now, but he really seemed to be one of the few players trying to inject some urgency into proceedings during the later stages of the game. Our full-backs have perhaps been the revelation of this season. Neither of the goals were due to their errors, and both looked strong coming forward as well. At this stage, Gibbs is rightly keeping Santos on the bench. And with contract renewal discussions also apparently beginning with Sagna, it may be interesting to see if Jenkinson keeps his place in the team, given Sagna's imminent return. A small word for Chamberlain, who had his strongest league performance of the season. He provided an excellent assist, even if, by the end, it didn't seem if he really knew where he was meant to be playing on the pitch.

* Theo and Giroud were introduced as subs slightly earlier than last week, which is something, but neither particularly impressed. Theo, according to, only touched the ball nine times after he came on. Not a great advert for a new contract. Giroud seemed to be more involved, but still missed a great chance at the end. On Twitter, Orbinho revealed that Giroud has now had eleven shots on goal in the league, and only one has been on target. That is not good enough. Giroud may well turn into a handy player for us - but he's clearly not a top striker. I can't see him scoring over 20 goals a year.He's fine as a back-up player, but his inability to be clinical in front of goal has now cost us multiple points in the league. Worrying.

* Perhaps just as worrying is Podolski's almost total anonymity in our last two matches. I think he has been great in general so far this season, but he's clearly not comfortable at leading the line in the way that van Persie used to do. At the moment, our striker-less attack can look great on some days, and utterly toothless on others.

* Overall, this was largely a defeat of our own making. Chelsea are, frankly, not a particularly great team at present. They are nowhere near the terrifying outfit that Mourinho put together - they are an eminently beatable side. Today, thanks to poor defending, we more or less handed them the win. The game reminded me a bit of our 2-1 home defeat against Man Utd in January this year, where defensive incompetency and poor tactical decisions also cost us the game.

If we're serious about challenging for the league, this is the type of game you win, or at least draw. Instead, there are areas of concern all over the pitch. At our worst, we still look like a team that struggles to not make stupid mistakes, and has now lost the trump card that was van Persie. With Spurs also looking handy today against Man United, I would say that we're headed towards another battle for fourth place this year, and another season of not seriously challenging for the title.

* Lastly - John Terry is a despicable human being, and the four game ban he received from the FA is an insult to anyone who is serious about removing racism and racial abuse from the game. And yet many Chelsea fans continue to laud him as a hero. It's a sad state of affairs, and the sooner he retires for good, and the game is finally rid of him, the better.



A said...

Like the blog mate, but after one defeat I must say you've gone over the top!

We will lose some games against top teams this year, it's not something that just cannot happen. And in defeats mistakes will be made. It's one match. It will also serve as a wake up call and hopefully the team is better for it.

As far as Mert is concerned, no matter what the team selection, you don't expect any of our top three centerbacks to give those two goals away. It's not as if we could have foreseen Kos defending like that at both goals. Can't blame Wenger for the goals, really. They were individual mistakes that can be made by anyone at any time. Let's just hope that the team doesn't repeat such mistakes.

One defeat to Chelsea and one Spurs win at OT does not suddenly mean we will struggle to finish fourth or that we wont be able to challenge for the title. Let's remain patient and observe this team over 10-15 games!

We've played only 6, and four of them have been tough fixtures! There's a lot of time to go, and I really hope (you should too) that you'll have to eat many of your words soon!

Chin up guys, we can do this!

Anonymous said...

Chelsea fans shouldn't get too excited by today's win. They still haven't played a top side yet this season and when they do they could well get beaten.

Anonymous said...

I think that losing RVP has been a catastrophe and we will find it so hard to score goals.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree about the keepers.Why wont Wenger sign a experienced keeper??
The truth is Wenger has always had a blind spot when it comes to keepers.He has only signed one(Jens) in 16 years
Upfront we have lost the best striker in europe and bought Chamakh mark 2.When will Wenger learn scoring goals in France is the same as the Blue Square.Chamakh Gervinho and Giroud all scrored in that poor league
Its a fight for 4th again sadly.But at least profits are up

Anonymous said...

I am no expert. Football is a game where you try to score asap .Arsenal's goalie is relatively young compared to Chelsea and other top sides.I am not blaming our gk but these are facts.
Arsenal have lapsed into the habit of over pass or pass all day.This gives time for defenders to regroup and stifle the forwards.This was a major test and a golden opportunity for the gunners to prove their credentials.
If the gunners can't get going for the epl after another ten or 25 games,that's it.

Roger Gooner said...

Come defeat and we're suddenly shite. Koscielny was our best defender last year but today he had a very poor game, who could have seen that coming after his performance last week.
Mertsacker has been excellent this season but last season he was being lambasted all over the place so lets not delude ourselves that he is unbeatable.
Re Mannone..i can't say myself that he was to blame for either goal today but lets not forget the save he made last week from Dzeko.
We played the worst we have this season but still Chelski only had three shots on target.lets not follow the media and go crazy with statements after each game we play. We have had a tough start and have done ok i'd say.

Anonymous said...

Today’s game showed exactly why we’ll never win anything again under Wenger. Koscielny was at fault for both their goals, the second just embarrassing schoolboy stuff, and is basically just a faster version of Stepanovs, Cygan, Sylvestre and Sqillaci. And no great team ever won squat with kids and clowns for goalkeepers. Mannone is clearly not good enough. Wenger could sign up George Graham himself to be his defensive coach but as long as you have clowns and journeyman in defence and goal, you’re just a leaky bucket. He will never learn.