January was always going to be a crucial month for Arsenal—a chance to kick-start their season—but the Gunners have dreadfully disappointed when it's mattered most, falling flat in their performances.
The month kicked off with a dismal, if not undeserved, 1-1 draw at Southampton. The next league match against Manchester City was all but lost after Laurent Koscielny's ninth-minute red card, with the reigning champions of England thumping Arsenal 2-0 on their own turf.
There was still hope that Arsenal could turn their season around today at Stamford Bridge—much like they did in their 5-3 win their last season—but an abysmal first-half performance saw the Gunners down 2-0 at halftime to Chelsea, and that scoreline was flattering.
The second half was, thankfully, much better. It was clear that Arsene Wenger said something in the dressing room at halftime, as the Gunners came out of the gates with real purpose. They seemed to create more chances in the first two minutes of the second half than they did the entire first half.
When the goal finally came in the 59th minute through Theo Walcott, a comeback very much seemed in the cards. After all, Chelsea did give up a two-goal lead at home to 15th-placed Southampton in midweek, and Arsenal were looking much more dangerous in their forays forward.
Despite the spirited second half, Arsenal simply couldn't break down a resolute Chelsea defense a second time, and in the end it's a disappointing result. The first-half performance was one of the worst I've seen from Arsenal in a while, and while the second half was better, it shouldn't take a team 45 minutes to start playing like men—especially in a London derby.
Here are my ratings, out of 10, of the Arsenal players in their loss to Chelsea. All stats are courtesy of Whoscored.com. Keep in mind that when I praise a certain player, I'm probably referring to the second half.
Wojciech Szczesny: 6
At first it may seem like Szczesny is to blame for conceding the penalty, but when you look closer at the replays, you'll see that Ramires seemed to have lost his footing without making much, if any, contact with Arsenal's Polish shot-stopper. Overall, Szczesny made a few decent saves today, but nothing spectacular.
Bacary Sagna: 5
Usually one of Arsenal's most consistent players, Bacary Sagna has been extremely out of form in recent weeks, and that showed today. His attacking endeavors consisted of poor crosses and losing the ball too easily. His defending was even worse—he was in no man's land for Juan Mata's goal, completely out of position.
Something needs to change with Bacary Sagna, or a certain Carl Jenkinson could threaten him for his place.
Per Mertesacker: 6
Per Mertesacker has been Arsenal's best defender so far this season, no doubt about it. That said, Arsenal's first-half defense was atrocious, and although Mertesacker wasn't directly at fault for either of the goals, he didn't have a great game from a defensive standpoint.
The number of tackles (one) and interceptions (two) made by the German weren't high enough, but his saving grace was his passing: Mertesacker completed 89 percent of his passes, the highest of any Arsenal player on the day.
Thomas Vermaelen: 8
Thomas Vermaelen seems to be finally remembering how to defend, as he was, in my opinion, Arsenal's best player against Chelsea. The Blues could have easily scored four or five if it weren't for the Belgian's last ditch tackles, as well as a certain goal-line clearance against Demba Ba late in the game that any top-class goalkeeper would be proud of.
The only fault in his performance was the fact that as captain, Vermaelen should have been the man to rally his team on and wake them up, as Arsenal truly looked without a leader in the first half. Overall though, Vermaelen's last ditch defending was superb, and without him the scoreline could have been embarrassing for the Gunners.
Kieran Gibbs: 7.5
Kieran Gibbs seems to be developing into a top-class left back, and he showed that improvement with a solid display against Chelsea. Gibbs was defensively sound, getting four tackles and four interceptions, but more impressive were his attacking displays. The 23-year-old was Arsenal's main outlet on the left wing during their attacks in the second half, with Santi Cazorla drifting into attacking midfield and late substitute Andrei Arshavin looking lackluster.
It's clear that Gibbs likes to take on a man and is a competent crosser of the ball as well. Surprisingly one of Arsenal's better players this season, Kieran Gibbs has exciting potential and seems to be another gem produced by Arsenal's youth academy.
Francis Coquelin: 5.5
Speaking of young Arsenal players, Francis Coquelin is another who looks like he could have a bright career ahead of him, putting in an impressive performance against Swansea in midweek. Unfortunately, he didn't have the best of games against Chelsea, and it was in part his failure to close down the Blues in the first half that led to them having so much time and space on the ball.
Three tackles and six interceptions are certainly respectable numbers for a defensive midfielder, but overall Coquelin's performance against Chelsea shows that he might not be ready for big games like this one just yet.
Abou Diaby: 5
Diaby's performance was no better than the one against Manchester City. His passing was clearly off, he looks half as fast as he usually is, the way he moves looks lethargic and sluggish and he doesn't look as aggressive going into tackles. He almost looks like a player who hasn't played competitive football since September who has been thrown on the team in their toughest scheduling period and expected to anchor the midfield against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Really, I can't blame Diaby for having a bad game against Chelsea, in fact, I'm blaming Arsene Wenger and the board. Seriously, the fact that Arsenal are relying on a player who's been injured for four months just goes to show how terrible their squad depth is.
Jack Wilshere: 7
Another spirited performance from Jack Wilshere, but then again, does he ever not put in a spirited performance?
His stats against Chelsea speak for themselves: four key passes, three successful dribbles, three tackles and three interceptions show that the 21-year-old can do just about anything. More determined than anyone in the team to lead his beloved Arsenal to glory and always giving 110 percent, Wilshere has been the man that drives the team forward since returning from injury.
We can only hope more of Arsenal's players start acting and playing like Wilshere does.
Santi Cazorla: 7.5
Santi Cazorla was one of the main men behind Arsenal's resurgent second half, playing the inch-perfect through ball to set up Theo Walcott's goal. If the Gunners were to get a second, I'd bet that Santi would have been involved.
Nonetheless, Cazorla does seemed to have faded a bit since his dazzling start to the season, and the only explanation for that can be fatigue. A rest would really do him and the team good, and that leads us right back to squad depth.
Theo Walcott: 7
Coming fresh off of signing a contract extension, Walcott scored what was, really, a classic Theo Walcott goal. He timed his run to perfection, using his pace to beat the offsides trap, get himself one-on-one with the keeper and finish with composure. He does it time and time again, so much so that it seems like it's the only way he's capable of scoring. Fifteen goals in all competitions speak for themselves, though.
Olivier Giroud: 6
With Arsene Wenger stubborn in his ways of playing one-striker formations, it looks like it'll either be Giroud starting up front with Walcott on the wing, or Walcott starting up front with Giroud on the bench.
It was the former today, and Olivier Giroud's performance wasn't convincing anyone that he should be Arsenal's main man up top. He missed a good chance early on that, had he taken it, could have changed the game. He had the same amount of shots (four) and shots on target (two) as Theo Walcott, but he didn't look nearly as dangerous, failing to test the Chelsea defense besides a few headers.
Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott offer two very different options; Giroud is the more physical presence while Walcott's game is based on his pace. Wenger should select his strikeforce game by game, starting with West Ham on Wednesday where Giroud should be played up front to counter West Ham's physical play style.
Andrei Arshavin: 5
Looked like he came out from hibernation as he stepped onto the pitch. He failed to make any real impact, completing a few passes but also running the ball out of play.
Aaron Ramsey: 6
Despite the criticism he receives, Ramsey remains a promising young player, as long as he's played in midfield rather than at right wing like Wenger's done often this season. Although he didn't have a great game today after coming on for Coquelin, some consistent playing time in the correct position should see his form improve.
After yet another disappointing performance, it's clear that the current Arsenal side simply won't finish in the top four—something needs to change. There's 10 days left in the transfer market, and Arsene Wenger must make it count—Arsenal's season absolutely depend on it.
Come on, you Gunners.
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