Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: We Need To Stop Playing Whac-A-Mole

Disappointing. It feels like the sort of result which is going to hang over our heads like a giant pissy cloud, which if you squint at looks a bit like John Terry’s face. Going into the game I was reasonably optimistic, if not quite as confident as others seemed. Now there’s nothing but yellow drizzle, largely because the performance as well as the result felt like a let-down. 

But before I plough on down that line of complaint, a caveat: If Cech failed to tweak Podolski’s header out of the top corner, or if Giroud had managed to shake off his gypsy curse, then the narrative would no doubt be different now. The talk would be of a battling point plucked from adversity against another expensively-assembled rival. None of us need reminding that football is a game in which results swing on fine margins. However…

The truth - at least as I saw it - was that we were second best on the day for much of the match. Our only truly dominant spell came after Gervinho’s smashed equaliser. (God knows he finishes better when he doesn’t really have time to think and just wellies the ball.) In that period our attack finally seemed to click and we looked like causing Chelsea problems all over the park.

After the second half, though, Ramires and Mikel reasserted themselves in midfield and we again struggled to control the play or create much beyond the odd potshot in the final third. It’s true that Chelsea didn’t fashion a vast number of chances in open play either, but the best of the game - even better than the one OG fluffed at the end - saw Torres clean through and bafflingly electing for an air shot. 

(Well, perhaps not bafflingly if you’ve watched him for the last couple of years.)

It should have been 2-0 and a long way back. Still, by that point he had scored and a decent finish it was too. Sandwiching our equaliser were those two Chelsea goals from set-pieces, the defending of which can politely be described as sub-optimal. And that’s without considering the idiocy of continually giving away free kicks on the edge of the box in the first place.

Wenger rightly bemoaned the individual errors, which on top of the corner conceded at Man City have raised question marks about our ability to deal with dead balls. The understandable worry is that having seemingly learned how to deal with the quick breaks that were killing us last year, we now seem to be reverting back to the 2010/11 vintage of being bone china at set pieces. 

It’s probably too early to diagnose whether or not this is going to be a recurring problem, but it’s no surprise people are questioning the decision to drop Per. He brings organisation, calmness, and positional nous, in contrast to the hotheadedness of the Kos/Vermaelen pairing – Arsenal’s own reckless Glimmer Twins. Still, as Gingers4Limpar points out, Wenger has big selection calls to make every game. The fact you notice when one really seems to backfire suggests he gets the majority right.

The real surprise yesterday was our inability to exert much control in the midfield. Cazorla had his quietest game yet, and his shooting was poor, while Chelsea did a clever number on Arteta by briefing Oscar to hassle him constantly. As for Diaby, unfortunately he again demonstrated why it’s fresh madness to create any sort of plan in which his involvement figures heavily, limping off early and likely out for upwards of three weeks. (It certainly won’t be downwards.) 

A vast amount now rests on Wilshere’s return, and without wanting to re-open the Song stuff - especially as it’s clear he forced his exit - it’s obvious why we were chasing Sahin and Cabaye towards the end of the window. Either of those would have made Jack’s return somewhat less mission critical, but we are where we are with the squad now. As for exactly where that is, again it’s probably still too early to call, but comparing results with last season’s fixtures give some indication. To me they say roughly on par:

On an admittedly small sample size of five games, we’re doing about the same. The missing result from the list is Southampton, who we didn’t play last year. But in the previous season against the promoted teams we beat Swansea and QPR at home, and drew with Norwich. So that win also feels like a par result. 

Comparing the equivalent results, rather than the shambles we were at the start of 11/12 to the more stable side we have now, feels more indicative of what progress we might be making. My suspicion is that rather than being a better side, we’re simply a different one. Where we lacked a quality playmaker last time around, now we’re missing a proven finisher. Essentially we’ve removed a problem on one part of the pitch only for another to pop up elsewhere. It’s like Arsenal have been playing a game of Whac-A-Mole in the transfer market for the last few years. 

Still, at least the goalkeeping situation is finally sorted. 

Oh.

Note I’m not trying to say the sky is falling. It absolutely isn’t, and I largely like the way the team is shaping up. But let’s also try to keep cool heads about how good the start to this season has actually been.

Losing to Chelsea isn’t a disgrace, but it is and always should be a disappointment. From what I’ve seen of them so far they’re a side that will challenge for the title. Which is no mean feat given they finished sixth last time. And yes of course they’ve thrown another refinery’s worth of petro dollars at the problem, but with Arsenal’s execs talking up the club’s ambition again this week in the wake of our typically robust financial results, we need to find a way to compete consistently. Or accept more par seasons. Step one should be to stop playing Whac-A-Mole.

– TDC

  1. arse2mouse posted this
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