Arsenal vs. Chelsea: How Did Arsenal Players Fare in the 2-1 Loss?
On the balance of play, this wasn't a bad performance from Arsenal considering that they were not breached, goal-wise, in open play.
Yes, Fernando Torres did get the better of Laurent Koscielny in the first half on one occasion, an event that could have led to a penalty when Koscielny appeared to have fouled him. What is true and important is that Koscielny and the Arsenal defense did recover, and what looked like a sure goal wasn't scored.
It is also true that Arsenal were not their usual fluid selves in this match, and yet they did score a goal in open play and finished the first half the stronger team. In fact, before Chelsea's second goal, Arsenal were clearly the better side in the second half.
After that goal, Chelsea settled back again.
What Was the Problem with Arsenal?
In the opening 15 minutes, it was clear that Arsenal were set up to play the way they had done at Liverpool—well-organized and tight in two banks of four without the ball and using precise opportunities to break when the ball was recovered.
Set up this way, it was inevitable that Chelsea would see more of the ball since Arsenal were content to let them have the ball in their own area.
When Abou Diaby pulled a muscle early in the first half, Arsenal's tactical plan was put into disarray. Their problems began right after that.
I have said, and I will say, that Aaron Ramsey is not a box-to-box type and does not fare well in that role, and this has nothing to do with his ability as a player.
The fact is, he lacks the awareness and the positional astuteness of a box-to-box. He does better—in fact, he does well—when he plays on the tip of the midfield.
Since Mikel Arteta was the only true box-to-box type last season, whenever he was unable to play, Arsenal suffered as a result of the team's resultant inability to muster cohesive play in the midfield.
(The same happened when Alex Song was out in the away match against Aston Villa; since then, Arsenal have not had a good screen for the defense.)
Here, although Arteta could have reverted to the box-to-box role, the problem would have shifted to the holding role.
As this happened, this responsibility fell on Ramsey's shoulders, and although he did well in the match as an individual player, he wasn't effective in the role of the box-to-box. It is why Chelsea controlled the midfield and prevented Arsenal from mustering sufficient cogent play therein.
What Does This Mean?
The implication of all this is what I have been saying all along since the sale of Song, but unfortunately, a lot of the readers have failed to go beyond the particular person to the principle of my criticism.
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Just last week, I pointed out that the current team is not deep enough, even though there's the appearance of sufficient enough players in reserve. On analysis, however, one finds that what we have is a multiplication of players in one area, resulting in a dearth in other areas.
For example, at holding midfield, we now have Mikel Arteta. But who is his cover there? Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong, the latter of which is not fit enough to make a full debut for Arsenal. Moreover, he was the player that deputized for Song in the aforementioned Villa game and had a torrid time at it.
I said last week that both Frimpong and Coquelin have potential, but that they don't seem to me to be ready for the big matches yet.
If they were, why then didn't Wenger just move Arteta to the box-to-box role and bring on Coquelin in the holding role? That's the switch that would have made complete sense and solved the problem Diaby's injury opened up.
At the box-to-box position, we have Abou Diaby (who now is out, presumably for three weeks), and who is his cover? No one right now. Jack Wilshere would slot in quite snugly here, but the fact is, he isn't ready yet. He isn't available for the here and now.
It is in the attacking midfield role that we have real options: Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere (who can also play the box-to-box) and probably Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, although I don't think he is ready yet for this role, not in the big games anyway. There's also Andre Arshavin.
Therefore, although when we look we see a lot of midfielders, the fact is that we are actually thin in specific areas. Now, imagine that we hadn't sold Song, a sale that was totally unnecessary, then we'd have an extra option for the midfield position.
And this isn't a matter of whether you like Song or not. It is a matter of not selling your players when you don't have to, and if I seem miffed and keep returning to the issue, it is because the principle of this sale totally escapes me. It is because the transition I have been hoping for appears to be a mere illusion.
The effect of this unnecessary sale should be plainer to those who have failed to see my point. I fail to see how or why you would hastily sell one of your most dependable players when the one you are making room for has a horrific history with fitness, a player you can't guarantee will stay fit.
This rash behavior does not seem to me like one that positions you to challenge for the trophies you so desperately need. You want to have real options in the event of setbacks, such as what happened in this match.
Again, for the discerning, the axe I'm grinding has little do with the persons in question. My critique pertains to the principle of the situation vis-a-vis the actual personnel we have on hand.
What the Real Result of This Match Was
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The foregoing notwithstanding, the story would be different but for the cheap goals Arsenal gave away. Delete those goals (and someone might retort that; sorry, but you can't delete them), and you'd see that Arsenal should have won by a lone goal.
This defeat then was a self-inflicted one.
First, it is a result of Wenger's eternal optimism, which led him to get rid of a player he didn't need to, thus shearing Arsenal of depth in a given area in the midfield. I am supposing that had we a real cover for Diaby, Arsenal's tactical plan would not have suffered in the manner it did here.
Secondly, it was the result of an uncharacteristic schoolboy defending. Schoolboy because what Arsenal have been praised for this season is defensive sturdiness and organization.
And there's a lesson here.
The disproportional criticism the team received last week for using zonal marking seemed to have caused the team to revert to man-marking, a change that brought about a devastating effect.
My reaction last week was that teams concede goals from either kinds of marking, so I didn't see what the fuzz was about.
I am apt to think that that criticism was responsible for these goals since the criticism forced a switch to a different sort of marking, a change the team seemed ill-prepared for.
Call it a stretch of logic, but I don't see that I am far off of in my summation.
Although this wasn't a vintage Arsenal performance, had we not given away cheap goals—preventable goals—we could have won this match.
Despite Chelsea's own organization, we did breach them, and despite their stars, they didn't score against us in open play, and this is important.
We can, of course, celebrate the fact that Manchester United too were beaten at home. But imagine that had we won this match, we'd right now be near the top of the table. As it is, Chelsea have opened up a real gap at the top.
Arsenal's defense lacked its usual calmness, the calmness we've seen in the previous matches. This was the inevitable result of not receiving sufficient screening from the midfield, the result of Diaby's injury, which altered the complexion of the midfield.
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The effect was such that both Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen found themselves often exposed. This led to the fouls that led to the goals.
I wonder, though, whether it was a good idea to remove Per Mertesacker from the heart of the defense, given the fact that this forced a new untried partnership this season.
Koscielny is normally capable; he just had a bad game here.
Vermaelen, of course, has a penchant to "fly" forward, a factor that is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Here, some calming influence was needed, the sort that Mertesacker provided at City.
Here, though, my interest isn't in second-guessing the coaching staff. I am content to let them do their job.
I thought both Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson acquitted themselves rather admirably in the match.
Should Vito Manonne have done better for the two goals? I don't know.
There's little room to blame him, though. The argument seems to lie on the side of him not receiving the cover he needed from his defenders. Do I think he should be our No. 1? I have my doubts.
Arteta was great, but he lacked the link-up player necessary to make his work bear fruit.
Cazorla was his usual self at the tip of the midfield, but the fact that the link between the Arsenal defense and advance midfield wasn't really there, it affected Cazorla's influence in this match.
Last week, Diaby provided this link and this allowed both Cazorla and Ramsey to dictate affairs at the tip of the midfield.
Ramsey did well as a player, but he isn't a box-to-box type. The sooner Wenger realizes this the better. When AOC reverted to the midfield after Theo Walcott came on, I thought the situation became worse.
Arsenal were only able to be influential on the left flank when this happened.
I thought Lukas Podolski really did well. People tend to miss his hard work, but that's important, too.
Gervinho's movement is excellent and almost always causes problem for the opposing defenders. His goal was superb. With a little more discipline and alertness, he could be a great player.
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AOC did well but appeared to lose his influence when he reverted to the midfield. Walcott was peripheral when he came on, but again, he wasn't opportune to play to his strength.
Olivier Giroud should have tied the game. I thought he had a good impact when he came on.
Now that the team has received its first setback, how will it react? A big match is on the horizon, so let's see how the team reacts.
This is also a test for the fans. Let's see what the reactions are.
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