Looking at the result of yesterday after the final whistle and 4 hours later when Sp*rs finished made for 2 contrasting feelings. The first was one of frustration and disappointment, the latter was one of huge relief. For we had the chance to open up a little gap to the chasing pack but we did not take it.
Roberto di Matteo as expected, didn’t field his best eleven. He was saving them for Barcelona, who incidentally lost to Real Madrid for the first time at home yesterday. Out went the trusted old heads of Chelsea and replaced by Ryan Bertrand, Oriol Romeu, Daniel Sturridge and Salomon Kalou. Arsene Wenger perhaps trying to be a little too funny when he said Florent Malouda formed part of a very good trio of defensive midfielders.
We had Laurent Koscielny back in the starting line-up and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being given his first start in recent weeks. Indications are, that we’re going to use the two pacy wide men and drive at them. That never came, they were completely shut out by Jose Bosingwa and Bertrand. Add that to the fact that we couldn’t get the full backs to support the attacks and one of our major threat going forward was nullified. Sturridge and Kalou tucked in diligently and denied Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna respectively.
There was something about this Arsenal yesterday that looked very laboured. We were not shifting the ball fast enough. Playing the ball square down the width of the pitch, it sometimes passes 3 – 4 players from one side to the other, when picking out the longer pass would have open Chelsea up a little bit more. There was a clear lack of creativity within the team yesterday. With AOC constantly coming inside, it made for a very packed midfield and it also made it easier for Chelsea to defend.
Chances were at a premium and the best one in the first half was the Koscielny header which hit the bar while Robin Van Persie went closest in the second half, but really should have squared it for the on-rushing Abou Diaby. Speaking of Diaby, I thought he had a decent game. Moving the ball when necessary and sometimes goes his favoured driving runs. His return to full fitness will have an impact to what is left of our season.
Wojciech Szczesny had a breather for this one. He wasn’t overworked and we only allowed Chelsea to have 2 shots all match long. One of the main reason why he had such an easy time was down to the tactics of RDM as well as the brilliance of Koscielny. You can immediately see that we could’ve used him for Wigan. The Frenchman continues the rich vein of form and consistency that has served us wonderfully this season. Two highlights; the first the recovery in the first half when Kalou was through, the second the kung-fu style block to deny Sturridge.
Our two main star performers since the turn of the year has arguably been RvP and Tomas Rosicky. Neither were at their best yesterday. Their numbers for Arsenal this season reads as 44 games played (starts and subs) and 35 games played respectively. These two men have not been playing consistently every season to have their body conditioned to performed week in week out. Both have been plagued with injuries and are finally showing the fruits of our patience with their performances this season. However, lately they have come off the boil. Perhaps there’s an element of tiredness creeping in. Something which needs to be looked at.
Another one who deserves a mention is Aaron Ramsey. You can sense the trepidation from the crowd whenever Ramsey has the ball. In fairness, he did lose the ball a few times when he didn’t realise that there was an opponent coming from behind. As much as his fault as his team mates who did not warn him. There were also a couple of short passes but credit to the Welshman, he did not wilt away but fought back and worked hard. If there’s one player who was growing with confidence with every passing minute of the game, it’s Ramsey. He knew he wasn’t in the best of form but he did not shirk the responsibility. He still wanted every ball and fought for every ball. Sooner rather than later, we’ll see him firing on all cylinders.
Theo Walcott had to go off injured with a hamstring injury and will miss the rest of the season. He joins Arteta as another we cannot use for the last 3 games. I don’t really care for England’s chances in the European Championships, so I don’t care if he makes it for that. It’s a shame that he’ll miss out. I know he’s not been at his best in the last few games but Walcott has certain qualities that we do not have with any other member in the squad. However, I’m not sure who made the decision for him to stay on the field despite the first hamstring scare when he was treated on the sidelines. That decision cost him the rest of this season.
Chelsea never came with the intention to win the game. They were relying on counter attacks and we negated that. It’s still disappointing that we didn’t win because we were much better than that Chelsea side, literally a Chelsea B team. But on hindsight, we did gain a point on Sp*rs and maintained the gap to Chelsea. Might have to start paying some attention to Newcastle who won again yesterday and have a match in-hand on us. Though, their goal difference is well off ours.
Three more games to release the handbreak.