Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2: Defensive Frailties Exposed Yet Again
Never in my life have I anticipated an Arsenal-Chelsea derby like yesterday’s game. For starters, Arsenal matched the European Champions pound for pound as both teams had notched up nine goals and also had the joint meanest defense in the Premier League.
There was also the prospect of playing a post-Didier Drogba Chelsea that failed to beat Arsenal in his absence (W0 D9 L13). With the Ivorian beast of a striker in their ranks, the West Londoners had inflicted pain in Arsenal’s backside with a W7 D3 L1…and he had 13 goals in 14 games against Arsene Wenger’s men.
I had suspected that despite the midweek thrashing of Coventry, Wenger would opt for the squad that was hugely impressive against Manchester City. I guessed right as Wenger used the same squad with the only exception being skipper Thomas Vermaelen returning back to the squad, thereby sacrificing Per Mertesacker – a move that haunted Arsenal.
After a few tame efforts, Abou Diaby let one fly that was easy pickings for Petr Cech, which also turned out to be his last contribution, as he picked up another trademark injury for being just Abou Diaby.
He was replaced by the Ox, thereby forcing the manager to bring Aaron Ramsey infield with the young speedster drafted straight to the wings.
With Arsenal dominating the proceedings, Chelsea launched a counter attack causing Vermaelen to break up play with a professional foul – a feat that earned him a booking as well.
Juan Mata swung in the resulting corner and in a somewhat mysterious fashion, Fernando Torres was allowed to side-foot the ball into the net with Vito Mannone rooted to the spot. The usually dependable Laurent Koscielny was caught in No Man’s Land and we hadn’t seen anything yet.
Moments later, Chelsea tore open the Arsenal rearguard with a sumptuous through ball leaving Torres one on one with Mannone. However, with some pressure from Koscielny, the forward miscued his effort and looked to Martin Atkinson to offer him some solace in form of a spot kick, but the ref was having none of it.
With the first half reaching its climax, Carl Jenkinson drifted forward and supplied a back heeled pass to Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard located the Ox with a carefully-weighted ball allowing the winger to send a low drilled cross in. Gervinho controlled the ball superbly and smashed it to the roof of the net on the turn to send the Emirates into raptures.
An equalizer was no less than Arsenal deserved as they controlled the game till that point.
Oscar had an effort that went wide and late on, he connected well with Torres but the Spaniard’s shot hit the side netting.
Chelsea began the second half with a silly booking for David Luiz after he attempted some theatrics in the box, much to Atkinson’s disgust.
Arteta intercepted a throw from Branislav Ivanovic and located Gervinho immediately that wasted no time in teeing up the Ox but the Englishman’s finish was wayward.
Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski did their thing on the left wing and the German’s cutback arrived at Santi Cazorla’s feet. However, the diminutive magician launched his shot into orbit.
Chelsea continued to soak up Arsenal pressure and launched another counter attack that yielded fruit in form of another free kick in a similar position reminiscent of their goal in the first half.
Juan Mata stepped up to swing the dead ball in and it crept into the net, with some help for Koscielny of course.
That second goal changed the outlook of things as the Gunners pushed hard for an equalizer yet again. Gibbs dinked in a cross that was headed goalwards by Podolski but Cech was on hand to make a good save.
Wenger brought in the calvary in the form of Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott with Podolski and a disappointing Ramsey getting the axe.
Giroud almost got the match leveller when his left-footed drive was deflected by Luiz. With Cech clearly wrong-footed, he still managed to make an unorthodox save to keep the lead intact for Chelsea.
Cazorla sent in a dead ball into Chelsea’s danger area and Koscielny’s header hit the cross bar but the assistant referee raised his flag for an offside.
With Arsenal staring at defeat, the Ox produced a moment of immense quality when he evaded a couple of defenders before executing a neat one-two with Santi Cazorla before teeing up Giroud with a defense splitting pass…
Against Sunderland and Liverpool, Giroud hit his efforts with a first timed shot that went wide. This time, Giroud showed some composure to ease past Petr Cech but he slammed his effort to the side netting.
Words can’t explain the reaction to that miss from Arsene Wenger, the dugout, Twitter and even my BlackBerry Messenger. I don’t know how you reacted that miss but I smashed a glass tumbler in my hands to the ground…and went to sweep it up later. Arsenal.
Mannone (6.5) was a spectator all game long, but he somehow picked up the ball two times from his net.
Jenkinson (7.0) attacked the right flank with purpose and did keep Chelsea’s attack from the left at bay.
Gibbs (7.5) was very good with his tackling on the day and his performance exhumed confidence. He almost supplied an assist for Podolski, had that header gone in.
Vermaelen (6.5) wasn’t too impressive with his overall defending and he conceded both free kicks that led to Chelsea’s goals.
Koscielny (6.0) didn’t justify the manager’s decision to play him ahead of Per Mertesacker. This is a game he’ll want to forget quickly.
Arteta (7.0) battled hard in midfield and won several interceptions for his team.
Ramsey (5.5) was back to his frustrating best with countless sloppy passes despite having the game of his life last week at the Etihad. He needs to add some consistency to his game.
Cazorla (6.5) didn’t really stamp his authority on this game, unlike his previous encounters.
Podolski (6.5) worked in tandem with Gibbs on the left, but he didn’t really penetrate the Chelsea defense.
Ox (6.5) was very clumsy all game long but he showed off his quality with his assist as well as that last move that almost resulted in an equalizer.
Gervinho (7.0) scored a well-taken goal but was ineffectual when he was redeployed to the left flank.
Walcott (6.0) failed to influence the game after his introduction.
Giroud (6.0) gave us another reason to feel that he’s a refurbished Marouane Chamakh.
Arsene Wenger believes that his side did enough to salvage a draw but I’d regard this defeat as a wake-up to the Red Army. A trip to West Ham’s Boleyn Ground comes up next and the Gunners will need to prove that this defeat was a minor glitch.
Let me check the region of my sitting room to see if any glass fragments were left over.
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