Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Arsenal huffed and puffed but couldn't blow Chelsea away

During the build-up up to Monday night’s game at the Emirates between Arsenal and Chelsea, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the game get postponed. The pitch was fine, but the horrendous weather meant travelling to and from the game presented difficulties for fans. The vast majority did make it to the ground, however were hardly rewarded with a good game. This match deserved to be 0-0.
Arsenal were some way off their best performances this season and couldn’t break down a Chelsea team that came for a draw, and would only win if they scored following an Arsenal error.
It was classic Mourinho and wasn’t surprising. After conceding a lot of goals to Sunderland and Stoke recently, the indication from quotes from the Chelsea manager in the media was that he was going to have a defensive focus, and leaving Oscar and Juan Mata on the bench immediately showed that. A sensible tactic considering the wind, rain and form of the Chelsea defence? The 0-0 draw shows that it was, but it made for a terrible game to watch. For it to be a good spectacle for fans to watch, Arsenal had to score the first goal and ideally score it early. They didn’t, and therefore it was a poor game.
Arsenal struggled initially to create dangerous attacking moves forward with Ozil dropping deep to try and influence play in front of the three Chelsea central midfielders. Aaron Ramsey had one of his worst halves of football for a long time and most of the intricate link-up play that Arsenal tried simply wasn’t coming off. The team have clearly been affected by their most difficult run of games, but hopefully they can re-find their mojo against teams outside the top five in the festive period.
The major positive for Arsenal to take from the performance was the clean sheet. Whilst Chelsea only looked to play on the counter attack and didn’t attack with the pace and verve that Manchester City did at the Etihad, it’s encouraging that Arsenal didn’t concede after shipping six in the previous game. Thomas Vermaelen started in place of the injured Laurent Koscielny, and even though he doesn’t have the same understanding with Per Mertesacker that Koscielny has, and that only comes from playing matches together, the Belgian performed well and there were moments where the old Vermaelen was evident. He looked bullish in the tackle and was quick to make interceptions. The captain can be pleased with his return.
Apart from not winning, the biggest negative was Olivier Giroud failing to convert the two best chances Arsenal created in the game. The second one was a good save from the goalkeeper, however he should have hit the target with his first and not screwed the shot wide. The build-up was good, the pass from Ramsey was excellent, but the finish was missing. Giroud is still getting through an incredible amount of work for the team leading the line on his own, but he needs a goal. Any which way it happens, he just needs a goal to get some confidence back. The return of Podolski means that the German is an option for his finishing, but he doesn’t do the all-round centre forward play as well as Giroud. Hopefully the Frenchman can find his scoring touch again over Christmas, but with January looming, it’s a reminder to Arsene Wenger that he should be looking at a striker in the transfer window.
The Gunners weren’t helped by some strange decisions from referee Mike Dean who, as much as ignoring some of the usual Mourinho team tactics and niggly fouls, got two major decisions wrong in the space of 30 seconds. For both, he was well positioned and saw them clearly, but didn’t act appropriately. John Obi Mikel’s tackle on Mikel Arteta was pretty disgraceful and should have been punished with a red card and Theo Walcott, whilst he did exaggerate the contact to try and make it clear that there was a foul, was definitely brought down by Willian in the box.
Considering the FA commission banned Jack Wilshere for two games for a needless gesture towards Manchester City, to have some real credibility in the game I think they should be retrospectively punishing dangerous tackles like Mikel’s on Arteta. Wilshere’s gesture deserved to be punished, but it didn’t hurt anyone in the way that tackle could have done. Hard tackles are fine, late and dangerous ones that are aimed at the opponent rather than the ball aren’t and the FA still needs to sort out their way of dealing with them.
The referee can’t be used an excuse though. He didn’t help, but the Gunners still could have created more chances, or taken the ones they did make, to win the game.  The blustery and soaking conditions weren’t ideal, but as Chelsea sat back, Arsenal couldn’t whip up a storm to break through the visitors’ bus in front of the goal.
Arsenal aren’t quite top at Christmas, but are level on points with the leaders with the harder run of games out the way. Having not taken advantage of a chance against Chelsea, they now must do so over Christmas as other sides around them play each other.