Arsenal vs. Chelsea: 8 Things We Learned from Blues' 2-1 Win
Every time the Gunners and Blues meet, there seems to be more at stake than a mere three points. And both sides knew exactly how significant this rivalry match was ahead of their clash at the Emirates Stadium.
As they so often have recently, Chelsea found a way to win. After dominating much of the match with tight marking and slick interplay, they capitalized on Arsenal's old defensive weaknesses to nick the two goals they needed for three points.
There's certainly a lot to look at in hindsight, so let's pick out eight things we learned from Chelsea's 2-1 victory.
Steve Bould Will Be Hoarse This Week
If you were like many optimistic Arsenal supporters, including myself, you believed that all the old defensive issues were behind this team, and Steve Bould's influence had made the back four the new bedrock of the side.
Turns out we were a bit early on that one.
All the old demons reared their ugly heads at the Emirates Stadium Saturday. Both goals the Gunners conceded were from set-pieces, and both easily could have been avoided.
The first was a case of very poor defending from Laurent Koscielny, who turned his back to the ball and let Fernando Torres wrap his foot around him.
The second was even worse. Vito Mannone stood still, as Koscielny couldn't get his leg to the ball fast enough, and an effort that was never meant to threaten went into the back of the net.
Bould still has some work to do, apparently.
Where's All the Mannone Love Now?
Now that Wojciech Szczesny is gone for a significant period of time and we actually have to deal with Vito Mannone on a weekly basis, all of a sudden many are not so pleased with the Italian in goal.
After a couple of assured displays at Stoke and Liverpool, there were some calls for Mannone to keep his place in goal ahead of Szczesny. What people forget is there's a reason he has been frozen out of a first-team place at Arsenal for years.
In reality, he's just not that good.
Perhaps there was nothing he could do on Chelsea's first goal. But on the second, Mannone showed no presence in his penalty box and found himself stranded in no man's land for a ball that he easily could have collected.
He wasn't nearly at the level that one must be on to start regularly for a club such as Arsenal.
A Tactical Change Could Be in Order for Chelsea
I live blogged Chelsea's last game against Stoke, and I had a few problems with Roberto Di Matteo's system of using three attacking midfielders at the same time.
Each player seemed to be more interested in orchestrating an attack himself rather than letting others take the wheel, and the attack lacked a certain shape. But the main problem was that there was always one player who looked out of the game.
And that is inevitable when you have three men trying to essentially play the same position. Someone will necessarily be a bit frozen out.
Against Stoke, it was Eden Hazard. On Saturday, Oscar was that player. Rarely was he seen or heard from, except when he was making irrational challenges that eventually got him booked.
Perhaps Di Matteo might start Victor Moses or even a different type of midfielder such as Frank Lampard.
A Tactical Change Could Be in Order for Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has some tactical errors to correct himself.
First off, I believe Olivier Giroud should start at striker in place of Gervinho, who should move to the right wing.
While this may seem backwards considering that the former has struggled to score while the latter is Arsenal's leading goalscorer this season, it would give the Gunners' attack a different element up front and would prevent Aaron Ramsey from playing out of position.
More importantly, though, Wenger must stress the need to press the other team when dispossessed. Arsenal often found it extremely difficult to counterattack because they were swarmed by multiple blue shirts when they tried to advance the ball, but sat back and invited pressure when Chelsea had it.
That passive mentality indirectly led to Chelsea's second, decisive goal off of a free kick.
Santi Cazorla Couldn't Find the Gas Pedal
So much of Arsenal's success in attack depends on the play of Santi Cazorla. From his position at the tip of the attack, he controls the tempo and creates most of the chances.
For the most part, Chelsea did a good job of marking him and preventing him from pulling the strings, as he normally does.
When Cazorla got the ball, he didn't retain it for that long and mostly distributed it to those in deeper areas—something Arsenal supporters are not used to seeing.
Relying so heavily on one player is a dangerous thing. While the entire team does not revolve around Cazorla, it was apparent that Arsenal have a paucity of back-up plans.
John Terry Can Put the Off-Field Stuff Behind Him
Every time Chelsea plays Arsenal, John Terry seems to be embroiled in scandal of some sort.
And yet, without fail, he plays exceptionally well.
At Stamford Bridge last season, Terry was not only extremely solid at the back, but he got on the scoresheet with a thumping goal.
Terry was almost equally colossal against Arsenal Saturday, popping up at the back with a towering header or intelligent challenge to snuff out many an Arsenal attack, and organizing his men so that it was extremely tough for the Gunners to break through.
Despite all the publicity he is getting due to his four-game ban, huge fine and self-imposed retirement from the England national team, Terry seemed relatively unaffected.
Per Mertesacker Should Have Started
It's really tough to justify leaving out the man who has been your best defender all season when he is fully fit.
Arsene Wenger said after the match that the decision was based on the opposition and that not everyone can play every game.
Well, if he was concerned that Per Mertesacker would not be quick enough, were Chelsea really that much slicker than Manchester City were last weekend? And, after a full week's rest, you really can't make the argument that Mertesacker needed to be rested in this game.
Instead, Wenger put Laurent Koscielny back into the starting XI with disastrous results. The Frenchman was directly culpable for Fernando Torres' opener, had the opportunity to prevent the second and made numerous smaller errors during the course of the game.
Something tells me that this mistake won't be made again.
Both Sides Could Win the Premier League
A big part of this game's draw was the fact that it was supposedly a test of each team's title credentials.
Could Chelsea retain their spot at the top of the table? Could Arsenal make a statement of intent at home?
As it turned out, the former turned out to be true. But it is still way, way too early to be making any declarations about either side's title credentials before the end of September.
What we did see were both sides' weaknesses. Arsenal still have to work out some of the defensive problems that have plagued them for years and sharpen up in attack. Chelsea must make better use of their talent and polish their own boots in front of goal.
At this early juncture, the smart money is on the Blues breaking the Manchester monopoly on the Premier League trophy. But a seven-point gap is easily bridgeable in eight months.