Arsenal went into their Premier League game at home to Chelsea unbeaten so far this season. They were fifth in the table, but Chelsea were unbeaten in all but the European Super Cup too. It promised to be a very tough test for both teams.
Arsene Wenger made only one change from the team which played so well in the 1-1 draw away to Manchester City last week. Thomas Vermaelen returned to take his place in the team after recovering from the virus which kept him out last week. The player to drop to the bench was Per Mertesacker, and I was more than surprised with the decision.
Mertesacker has been Arsenal's best defender so far this season, and the decision to drop him was a wrong one in my opinion. I don't think Laurent Koscielny was at his best in his first game of the season last week despite scoring Arsenal's goal. Mertesacker 's reading of the game and timely interceptions were features if the Arsenal performance against City, and I worried about how Koscielny and Vermaelen would play together.
From the start, Chelsea looked to pressure Arsenal, and the tactic worked. Arsenal were disjointed and struggled to find any rhythm to their game.
After only 17 minutes, Arsenal lost the services of Abou Duaby after he injured himself having a shot at the Chelsea goal. With his injury record over the past six years, it's a worry that he will be out for longer than the projected three weeks. It meant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on, with Aaron Ramsey moving into a central role and Chamberlain playing wide on the right.
Soon afterwards, Chelsea took the lead from a set piece. Vermaelen gave away a free outside the Arsenal box, and the free kick was swung in by Juan Mata. Fernando Torres reached around Koscielny at the far post to stroke the ball home past a helpless Vito Mannone.
Was it a mistake for Arsenal to Leave Mertesacker out against Chelsea?
The defending of the free kick was awful from Arsenal, with Koscielny choosing to look at the man he was marking rather than the ball. Torres took the goal very well, but no Arsenal defender attempted to attack the ball when it came in from the free kick.
Arsenal rarely threatened for the rest of the first half with Chelsea's pressing tactics paying dividend. It was strange to see how often Arsenal tried to cross the ball into the Chelsea box considering Olivier Giroud was on the bench. Towards the end of the first half, it was noticeable how much space Arsenal were getting on Chelsea's left-hand side.
When they did manage to equalise a few minutes before halftime, the goal came from that side. Chamberlain passed it to the feet of Gervinho 10 yards out, and he turned and lashed it into the roof of the net as the defenders backed off him. It was a very well-taken goal, but it was the only good thing Gervinho did in the game.
Arsenal had their tails up, and the crowd eventually got behind the team. They tried to push forward and take a lead before halftime, but it was to no avail. Halftime arrived with the teams level and Arsenal needing to play a whole lot better after the break.
They started the second half brightly, but Chelsea took the lead again on their first real attack. Vermaelen took Torres down outside the box in a very similar position to the one which led to the first goal. Mata took the free kick again, and he put it into an area which was very difficult for both the keeper and the defenders.
The ball went right through and finished up just inside the post to put Chelsea 2-1 up. The replay showed Koscielny got a slight touch, and that possibly was the factor which decided its destination. Again, he was not looking at the ball as he ran towards his own goal to try to stop the cross.
Arsenal tried to push forward, but Chelsea kept the pressure on their midfield and they could not find any fluency. Lukas Podolski almost equalised with a header, which Peter Cech did very well to keep out. With 20 minutes to go, Wenger made his last two substitutions with Ramsey and Podolski making way for Theo Walcott and Giroud.
I was amazed to see Gervinho stay on the pitch at that stage, as his contribution at that stage was minimal. Podolski wasn't great in the first half, but he was playing well in the second. He was finding space to run into between the Chelsea defenders and looked the Arsenal player most likely to score to me.
Cazorla had a couple of decent chances to score in that second half, but he clearly didn't have his shooting boots on. Giroud hit the post with a header towards the end of the game and the whistle went for a free kick before anyone could get to the rebound. There were four minutes added at the end of the game and it was now or never for Arsenal.
The chance they wanted arrived in the first added minute, and it fell at the feet of Giroud. He was played in on the left by Chamberlain, and he did his best to round the keeper and get a shot off. Unfortunately he was slightly off-balance when he shot and he only found the side netting.
That was Arsenal's last chance and the final whistle went to give Chelsea all three points. They had played the better football throughout the game and deserved their victory. They had a game plan, and they stuck to it to give them the victory.
It was a very disappointing performance from Arsenal, and very few of their players did anything of real note. They struggled in the second half of the Champions League win at Montpellier when the midfield were pressed hard, and Chelsea did the same thing yesterday. If Arsenal can't find a way through the middle of the pitch, it seems they struggle to find a way at all.
The omission of Mertesacker was a big mistake from Wenger, and the centre of Arsenal's defence suffered as a result. Both Vermaelen and Koscielny were too quick to dive in to tackles and were beaten far too often when they did. They didn't seem to have any understanding, and he must see that Mertesacker has to be his first-choice central defender.
I know Vermaelen is the club captain, and that means he will be an automatic choice for the team, but Wenger has to make the best decision for the team. If that means Koscielny misses out, that's what has to happen, or else he will have to leave his captain on the bench. He cannot afford to leave players who are playing as well as Mertesacker out of the team.
It's very frustrating to watch Gervinho play for Arsenal, as he is so unpredictable. Unfortunately it's not a good unpredictability, as he makes a mess of things far too often. Somehow or other he is Arsenal's current top scorer, but he rarely looks good enough to play in the team.
There's still a long way to go this season, but Arsenal are already seven points behind the league leaders. They need to string some wins together in their next few games to make sure they can challenge at the top. Their solid defence before this game was found wanting from set pieces yet again, and three of the four goals they have conceded in the league have come from set pieces.
They play a home game in the Champions League on Tuesday night against Olympiacos, and it's a must-win game for them. After that game, they make the short trip to play West Ham next Saturday evening in the league, and it's a game they have to win too. Despite all the good play, they have only two wins in six league games and a few wins in a row are needed.
Here are the highlights from yesterday's game.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.