Arsenal Vs Chelsea: Le Professeur Flunked His Own Test
"Our time has come", declared Arsène Wenger, pouring pressure on his team to up the ante and pull out a win against league leaders Chelsea. It was inevitably a quote that would always come back to bite should Arsenal lose. And that they did on Sunday.
Wenger is optimism personified in the public arena but deep down he must have feared that Arsenal's Premier League title aspirations ruptured at the same moment as Robin van Persie's ankle ligaments.
If there was evidence that he was missed at the game against Sunderland, it was blindingly obvious yesterday against Chelsea.
"His first touch is perfect", purred Wenger about the Dutchman who has revelled in his target man role this season. If that was a key criteria Wenger was looking for from his target man, Eduardo was seriously lacking. More on that later.
Wenger likes painting by numbers. When Arsenal lose, the Frenchman always finds some stats somewhere to paint a rosy picture and show that things weren't as bad as they looked. He would have to dig deep this time around. All he has managed so far is "The score is a very unfair reflection of the game". I humbly beg to differ.
Ancelotti, Chelsea's manager, had his tactics perfectly right. Give Arsenal possession and they will not do mundane things like whipping in quick crosses, but they will try to fashion the perfect goal. Without van Persie's first touch and link up play, and against the league's meanest defence, this meant Arsenal were confined to passing the ball around in front of Chelsea's back line.
For all of Arsenal's domination in possession and territory, particularly in the first half, Chelsea had more shots at goal, on and off target.
Chelsea, and Arsenal in their game against Tottenham when they did not dominate possession, learnt a valuable lesson in the benefits of just getting the ball into the danger areas. If Chelsea had pressed for possession, Arsenal may have resorted to such disdainful tactics and might have even scored a goal.
With Drogba and Anelka, Chelsea always knew they would have opportunities on the counter-attack.
Coming back to Eduardo, he was supplied with many good balls but any danger was snuffed out by his own first touch. The Brazilian-born Croatian international has looked far from his best since coming back from his horrific leg break. With van Persie out for the rest of the season, Wenger must now consider his options in the January transfer window.
Eduardo, Vela and Bendtner (two weeks away from full training) are good back-up strikers but they are not lead men. Walcott also looks rusty, returning to his old self of running straight at defenders and losing possession. Perhaps Marouane Chamakh would be back on the cards - a proven goal scorer with height, good work rate and link up play. The Moroccan's contract with Bordeaux runs out this summer with the player openly stating that he would love to play for Arsenal.
Arsenal's title hopes are not over by any means, but it would require a collapse by Chelsea for them to be in the mix again. Many people point to January's African Cup of Nations when Chelsea lose key players, but the fixtures could not be kinder for them and one would think that they have the depth to cope.
Le Professeur set his charges a gruelling examination on Sunday, but it would seem that tactically he failed his own test. His commendable but inflexible philosophy on winning pretty whatever the situation may prove to be the blinkers on the search for that elusive silverware.
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