Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThoughts on Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Thoughts on Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Thoughts on Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal

Saturday’s London derby provided us with another stunning game in a season that keeps throwing up exceptional results. For the neutral, this was the probably the best of the lot: a match that swung one way and then the other from start to finish; that could have been 2-2 before a goal was actually scored; that contained eight goals and several candidates for miss of the season. It was another in a string of bizarre results and showed the changing fortunes of these rivals.

One conclusion that is very easy to draw is that Arsenal’s defence still hasn’t learnt how to deal with set pieces. Their deficiencies from open play are, to some extent, explained by the absences of Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs from the backline. But a team containing three centre-backs with an average height of 6ft 4in should never allow a corner to drop to knee-level on the edge of the six-yard box. Per Mertesacker was caught on his heels by John Terry, a positional fault that totally negated the German’s height advantage and allowed the Chelsea captain to prod the ball home. The imminent return of Vermaelen should give Mertesacker a much-needed rest and remove the pressure that has hampered his adaptation to the Premier League, but Arsenal need to attack the ball more aggressively as a unit from set plays.

Arsenal’s profligacy in the first half may also have concerned Arsène Wenger, at least until their clinical second half display saw them claim the spoils. Robin van Persie’s miss was understandable, but Gervinho had no excuses for putting Theo Walcott’s excellent cross wide. Likewise, Daniel Sturridge’s failure to convert when through on goal was not only a dreadful miss, but also a key moment in the game. Would the Gunners have come back from a two goal deficit?

Regardless, Arsenal did come from behind. Indeed, they did it twice, and then retook the lead following a late setback after Juan Mata’s scorching strike. Comparisons with the nadir of their season so far, the 4-3 loss at Blackburn where they twice surrendered the lead and scored two own-goals to condemn themselves to defeat, are obvious and show the presence of some previously absent belief and character. Phrases like “turned the corner” were already being muttered by Arsenal fans, but no one has dared to make such claims public until now. Still, their revival has been borne out of humility and building confidence on a game-by-game basis. To alter this would be a dangerous step, and arguably Wenger’s biggest challenge now is to ensure that confidence does not turn into arrogance.

Wenger knows from experience that overconfidence, like pride, often comes before a fall, particularly when you are reliant on one factor, as Arsenal are on Robin van Persie. The Dutchman’s hat-trick was box-office and would, to the casual observer, support the theory that Arsenal are a one-man team. Yet that was not the case at Stamford Bridge. Theo Walcott scored a terrific goal and should have had two assists in the opening fifteen minutes, Aaron Ramsey’s pass to Gervinho for Arsenal’s first showed the sort of penetration they have lacked at times this season and Laurent Koscielny looked a class act at the back. More than that, Koscielny and Ramsey along with Alex Song and Mikel Arteta gave them real authority along the spine of the team. Confident, resilient and threatening – Arsenal looked a different side to the sham of a club who barely turned up in Manchester and shot themselves in both feet at Ewood Park.

Chelsea, on the other hand, had their problems highlighted by the match. In the past they have terrorised Arsenal with an impregnable defence, dynamic midfield play and…well…Didier Drogba. Robbed of the latter due to the Ivorian’s red card at QPR, you could have been forgiven for wondering whether the defence was also absent. Lucky to only have conceded one goal in the first half, they were torn to shreds in the second by a combination of pace, opportunism and, ironically given the opposition, some suicidal defensive mistakes. Quite what José Bosingwa thought he was doing when Alex Song’s exquisite turn and pass found André Santos in acres of space is anyone’s guess, and Daniel Sturridge’s belated realisation that he should have been covering his full-back failed to stop the Brazilian from equalising. Then, fatally, John Terry’s lack of pace was exposed by Florent Malouda’s careless pass, allowing van Persie to give Arsenal a lead they would not relinquish. Meanwhile, Petr Cech’s concession of two goals at his near post will be a cause of concern for André Villas-Boas, as will his failure to deal with the power of Arsenal’s fifth goal. Fifteen goals conceded in ten games may be a significantly better defensive record than their London rivals, but it remains a serious regression from previous years.

This is partly a result of Chelsea’s more attacking tactics, and the Blues created a host of chances early on, particularly when they attacked down the wings where Johan Djourou and Santos looked shaky to say the least. Juan Mata was superb, creating the opener with an inviting cross before hitting a beautifully struck equaliser with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately for Chelsea their other Spaniard, Fernando Torres, had another afternoon to forget, producing almost nothing of note and failing to trouble the Arsenal defence. Compared to the destructive and efficient performances by Drogba that have given Arsenal nightmares in recent years, the striker simply made life too easy for his opponents. Sturridge also had a quiet game, and it was no surprise that he was replaced as his team went in search of an equaliser, but it is Torres’ continuing inconsistent form that will worry his manager.

The biggest question surrounding Chelsea at the moment is how their manager will deal with twin disappointments against their London rivals. A man of little experience, Villas-Boas must prove his worth in the coming weeks if his side are to compete with the Manchester clubs. With the accusations levelled at John Terry keeping the media glare on the club, the Portuguese will need a great deal of character to come through the challenges currently facing him. He could also do with the experienced heads in the Chelsea dressing room pulling their weight. The likes of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba were the spine of José Mourinho’s successful team and know the kind of solidarity needed to win titles. Whether the ageing process has diminished their ability to stamp their authority on games in quite the same way is another matter.

Just three points now separate the two London sides, while Tottenham and Newcastle are level with Chelsea on nineteen points having played a game fewer. Add Liverpool to the mixture and you have five clubs fighting for two Champions League places. The Mancunian power struggle will dominate the headlines, but the more competitive battle is taking place just beneath that.

Oli Moody

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