Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0

Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season by the hands of the current league leader, Chelsea, but the game was a much closer contention than the last season's corresponding fixture.

Arsene Wenger made just one changes from the side that started in a 4-1 victory over Galatasaray in midweek. Jack Wilshere started at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was dropped to the bench, as the former was fully fit to play for 90 minutes after recovering from an ankle problem he suffered in the north London derby. A fit-again Nacho Monreal made the bench as well as Campbell, Podolski, Rosicky and Coquelin. Damian Martinez was also on the bench in place of David Ospina who had a "slight" thigh problem (the Colombia international only played half an hour on Wednesday night and has already injured himself. Hope he will be fit by the time of the first Anderlecht match).

The omission of the Ox from the starting line-up caused some discontent among the fans. Against Galatasaray, many fans thought Arsenal had found a winning formula, but Wenger couldn't resist to re-introduce Jack Wilshere as soon as the England midfielder was fit enough to start. With the plethora of quality midfielders, whoever Wenger picks or drops, it is bound to raise criticism from some section of fans. In fact, Wilshere turned out to be one of our best players, but it was obvious that this team selection was poorly balanced. In the recent interview, Alexis revealed that his most preferred position is on the left flank so that he can cut inside and run at defenders as he is right-footed. Cazorla shares the same tendency when played on the left flank. Both Wilshere and Ozil are left-footed and prefer playing through the middle and drift towards the left wing. It's difficult to tell in what formation this Arsenal side was set up as they kept interchanging their positions, but it was clear that the starting line-up lacked a right-sided forward/midfielder.

On  Match of the Day 2 Extra prior to the game, Martin Keown confirmed our suspicion that Arsene Wenger does not have tactics tailor-made for the opposition. The Frenchman had a philosophy, but in the former Gunner's days it was the players who tweaked the details of the master gameplan according to whom they were going to face. Keown suggested that Flamini was likely to take initiative of organising the defence for this match, but we thought Per Mertesacker could be the man in charge as the vice-captain suggested that they would approach the game in a different way to the last season's 6-0 defeat.

A Sky Sports pundit, Chris Kamara took a positive view on Arsene Wenger taking into consideration the opposition, but does the Frenchman deserve the credit? We don't know, but it was good to see Arsenal rectify the last season's shortcomings and approached the game more cautiously, tightening up the defence. In fact, the two centre-backs kept Diego Costa quiet for the majority of the game, while Gibbs contained any attack on Chelea's right-hand side very well.

The flash point of the game was arguably Martin Atkinson's decision to not send Gary Cahill off for his challenge on Alexis in the 20th minute. The referee only showed a yellow card to the Chelsea centre-back. Jose Mourinho argues that three Arsenal players should have been sent off in the three incidents: Koscielny on Hazard, which led to a penalty and the Frenchman's booking; Calum Chambers' foul on Schurrle after a yellow card early on and Danny Welbeck's lunge into Fabreagas. However, Martin Atkinson set the tone for the rest of the game by not sending Cahill off. Also, in the Koscielny's case, more and more referees in England tend to opt for a yellow card and a penalty these days rather than the sending off of the offender on top of a penalty.

Besides, the possible sending off of Cahill could have changed the whole complex of the game and none of the aforementioned incidents might have happened at all subsequently. The loss of the centre-back might have led to the all important space Arsenal were craving for.

Arsenal also had a legitimate penalty claim when Fabregas slid in with both arms up to block Wilshere's effort, but the referee only gave the Gunners a corner kick.

The result was disappointing (even though we half expected it) and we are still to beat any of the big teams. On the bright side, there was an improvement from the last season. It was a lot more even game. There was not much between the two sides and it was clear in how much respect Chelsea paid to us. They made every effort to disrupt our rhythm by fouling us. Martin Atkinson failed here too, by allowing Oscar to stop our flow by repeatedly fouling our players for so long without being punished. The difference between the two sides was moments of individual brilliance. Eden Hazard's mazy run led to the penalty. After going down 1-0, there was always a risk of conceding another as we pushed forward for an equaliser. Then Fabregas spotted a chance and his brilliant long pass found Diego Costa. The Brazilian-born Spain striker took his goal superbly. We didn't have the quality in the final third to match these moments on this day.

Now our tough fun of fixtures is over. We had Everton away, Man City, Tottenham, and Chelsea away in the last 7 games. Apart from Everton, none of our rivals has faced as many as four other top-four contenders yet. Hopefully, we can put more points on board after the international break.