Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned from Gunners' Defeat
Things went from bad to worse early on, as Olivier Giroud missed a marvelous chance in the fifth minute and Juan Mata smashed the ball over Wojciech Szczesny a few seconds later to give the Blues an early lead.
Ten minutes later, after some defensive confusion, Ramires was slipped through on goal. When Szczesny tried to make himself big, the Brazilian tripped over his leg and went down. A specious penalty was given, and "Super Frankie Lampard" made no mistake.
From that point, Arsenal had a sharply uphill battle to get anything from the game. Despite a Theo Walcott goal just before the hour mark and a more spirited second half showing, Chelsea's resolve was too much.
Here are six things we learned from the Blues' win.
Arsenal Couldn't Keep Pace with Chelsea
Perhaps Arsenal's first half malaise was due to their exertions against Swansea on Wednesday. Perhaps they were just stunned by Chelsea's up-tempo passing and movement.
Whatever the reason, the Gunners just could not keep up in the early stages of the game.
It always seemed as if Arsenal were one killer pass, missed tackle or good cross away from being completely unzipped at the back. Chelsea zipped the ball around and through the Gunners' defense like the proverbial hot knife through butter.
That inability to win the ball and beat the Blues' press caused the dismal performance that ultimately cost Arsenal the game.
It's Carl Jenkinson Time
Formerly one of Arsenal's most consistent players, Bacary Sagna has seen a real dip in form recently.
An easy explanation for the Frenchman's sudden loss of quality is fatigue. Sagna has played every minute of every Arsenal match since their meaningless Champions League game against Olympiakos on Dec 4.
Think about how taxing that is for a man who plays one of the most physically exhaustive positions on the pitch.
That tiredness might be the reason why Sagna left Juan Mata in acres of space on the left wing, allowing the Spaniard to latch onto Branislav Ivanovic's long ball and smash the game's first goal past Wojciech Szczesny.
Regardless of the reason, the quality of his performances have dropped to the point that it's time to consider fresher legs. Carl Jenkinson impressed when Sagna was injured at the beginning of the season, and deserves to be given another shot.
Refereeing Shouldn't Be Blamed
Sure Martin Atkinson was terrible today. He failed to call a blatant foul on Francis Coquelin that led to Mata's opener, wrongly called Ramires' trip over Szczesny a penalty and got several other calls wrong.
But Arsenal cannot use that as an excuse for their enervated, spiritless first half performance.
The simple fact is Atkinson was not responsible for the Gunners' inability to be incisive when they had the ball, nor did he somehow help Chelsea to play better.
Once Juan Mata rifled home the first goal, the task of closing the gaping holes in Arsenal's defense was squarely on the shoulders of the players on the pitch.
Bar Thomas Vermaelen, who put in one of his most exhausting performances of the season, they did not do so.
You Have to Play the First Half, Too
Arsenal's recent inability to come out of the blocks playing their best is a real worry. Putting yourself at an immediate disadvantage, especially against some of the best teams in the country, will inevitably cost you precious points.
On New Year's Day, the Gunners came out sputtering against Southampton, and never looked like they would take control of the game.
Against Manchester City, Laurent Koscielny's early red card led to two first half goals for the Citizens. Despite a spirited second half, Arsenal never really had a chance of coming back.
And the two times they played Swansea in the FA Cup recently, the Gunners were alarmingly poor early on, compensating later to earn a draw the first time and a victory the second.
This is simply not good enough for a team that wants to play in the Champions League next season.
Arsenal Need a Striker
When it became clear that Fernando Torres was performing like Fernando Torres, Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez turned to his bench and replaced the misfiring striker with his newest signing.
Who has scored 14 Premier League goals this season.
And cost £7 million.
Who did Arsenal turn to when they needed an attacking spark?
Arshavin: The man who has bee so frozen out of Arsene Wenger's plans this season that he had not played a single minute of Premier League football since November.
I acknowledge that Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were sick, but come on. The absence of a mere two players cannot leave a team with only one decrepit attacker on the bench.
I guess Ba was too much like Olivier Giroud to merit spending any money.
The Top Four Is Slipping Away
I loathe Piers Morgan. I really, really do. But I can't decry numbers. Math always wins. And the bloviating Brit provided some at the end of Arsenal's loss.
11pts behind THIRD place - at this rate, Wenger won't win his annual 'trophy'. #Arsenal— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) Jan. 20, 2013
Of course, Arsenal merely have to nudge their way to fourth place to hold up the glimmering phantom of Champions League qualification as the attained goal of a successful season.
But the Gunners finished third last season. This is how far they've fallen from their already unsatisfactory position.
Arsenal have even more crucial games coming up. West Ham in three days, Brighton three days after that (the Gunners' only shot at a trophy this year), and Liverpool the next week.
The club has one solitary point so far in the month of January. If that isn't a signal that change needs to come from from somewhere, and soon, I'm not exactly sure what is.
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