Why Arsenal's Premier League Title Hopes Are Hurt by Defeat Against Chelsea

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2016

Arsenal fans must be wondering whether they’ll ever score against Chelsea again. The Gunners have now failed to find the net against the west London club in their last six league encounters. 

In the most recent clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, Arsene Wenger’s men barely even tested Thibaut Courtois. A solitary goal from Diego Costa was enough. 

It’s not just about the three points lost. This is a result that will cut Arsenal deep. Hopes and expectations were high ahead of the game thatwith Jose Mourinho now gone—the Gunners would finally put their bad record against Chelsea to bed.

Fans hoped things would be different this time, that the Gunners would have the mental fortitude to assert themselves against an ailing Chelsea.

Instead, they suffered a dispiriting defeat. The Stamford Bridge club only has 28 points this season—that Arsenal gave up six of those really rankles.

However, it doesn’t really surprise. Chelsea seem to always have the upper hand in this fixture.

For years, that was down to the awesome forward play of Didier Drogba. The Ivorian may have left Stamford Bridge, but Arsenal supporters have a new nemesis in Diego Costa, who seems just as effective when it comes to disrupting their defence—by any means necessary. 

After the match, Wenger was eager to downplay the significance of this result. He told Arsenal's website this was an anomalous encounter, saying:

Today was a special game. We were down to 10 men and we were 1-0 down straight away. Normally you lose a game like that 3-0 or 4-0 when you have to chase itthere is nothing more dangerous when you are down to 10 men. Overall we come out with a lot of regrets because we couldn’t play with our team and looking at Chelsea today there was a lot of room to beat them if we had 11 players.

The problem for Wenger is this wasn’t a “special” game. Arsenal have imploded against Chelsea in this fashion many times before. A red card against the Blues is no freak occurrence—it’s a troubling regularity.

There’s no exact science to determine why Arsenal’s players get sent off against Chelsea, but a bit of deduction would suggest nerves play a part.

For whatever reason, this opponent makes them anxious. This match was a glorious opportunity to exorcise some ghosts against a weakened Chelsea. That chance has been emphatically missed. 

Morale and confidence will now be sapped from Arsenal. In the space of one weekend, they have fallen from first to third in the Premier League. Neighbours Tottenham Hotspur are snapping at their heels, a mere two points behind.

In the last few weeks, Arsenal had a chance to cement their place as the foremost title challenger. Instead, they’ve slipped up, opening up what looks like being a four-horse race.

With one win in their last four league games, the Gunners are in danger of falling behind. A sharp upturn in form is required if they're to keep their title hopes alive.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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