Didier Drogba was in inspired form once again for Chelsea against Arsenal but despite monopolising possessesion, the Gunners will have been disappointed not to have created more clear-cut opportunities.
When Arsenal decided to go down the youth policy route, Arsène Wenger was aware his side were going to be behind in terms of mentality. It may seem intangible but that know-how, tactical understanding and resilience is the missing ingredient and Wenger, in private and in the post-match interview grudgingly admits that. “They [Chelsea] are more experienced. They are 29, we are 23,” he said after the 2-0 defeat. And before the game he added: “We have really top quality. What we want to add is that fraction of belief. It is a lack of experience because when you have never won you make it more difficult and bigger than it is. And that’s the problem of this team at the moment.”
That gulf was exercised yesterday as Chelsea displayed a stoic determination to stay compact and lent some of that experience to drawing and conceding fouls while on the attack, looked to get numbers forward to exploit Arsenal’s gaps with Didier Drogba particularly in potent form. Indeed the Ivorian even sought fit to drop deep on a number of occasions so his side could retain possession and relieve the pressure that Arsenal were building. “Today I give credit to Chelsea for their defending,” Wenger said. “They had always the guy who came back in the box. They didn’t make silly mistakes. They have fantastic defenders and I believe many times they were out of position and managed to get back, especially one situation with Nasri in the second half and another with Bendtner.”
“Exceptional talent” it is hoped will carry Arsenal to the next level and for much of the defeat to Chelsea, that talent found itself moving left and right in front of the opposition’s penalty area. Arsenal lacked bite and despite monopolising possession, the second half was always going to be difficult with Chelsea defending deep. The key, it seemed, was whether Arsenal could score first otherwise the later proceedings was likely to be a repeat of the Manchester United game where openings would be hard to come by. But, the statistics were against them with the Gunners having only scored once in the first fifteen minutes in the league thus far (Burnley 1-1) and after Didier Drogba’s header gave them an early lead, it always looked a tough ask. “We were still a bit uncertain at the start of the game. When you went into it [the game] we were completely dominant. That’s how I explain that we conceded the first corner.”
Realistically, there was only one starter that was missing for Arsenal – Robin van Persie – and ever since his injury, it seems the team is trying to recreate the same dynamics he provided. Andrey Arshavin could not provide the same movement and with his natural instincts telling him to drop short, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were able to snuff that out. Theo Walcott was subdued although on one part he did minimise Ashley Cole’s forward forays and was a willing worker. Arsenal’s best threat seemingly comes from Cesc Fabregas and Wenger will do well to incorporate the Spaniard’s creativity higher up the pitch. Maybe a 4-2-1-3 is a more sustainable alternative? as Abou Diaby looked inhibited from getting in the box despite being one of Arsenal’s strongest runners although it seemed Wenger told him to take a more cautious approach. Emmanuel Eboue did breathe life back into Arsenal’s attack with his runs inside from right-back and Samir Nasri stationed wide to stretch play. Nicklas Bendtner gave the side a direct outlet when he came on but to complement his presence, Arsenal needed crosses and willing movement in the box – but that was at a premium despite having oceans of ball in wide areas. The performance wasn’t bad – just the end product was missing.
Wenger will be right to see his side grow but in the meantime the two constants from his post-match analysis are effectiveness and organisation. The side must compress space better when not in possession as the style means defence will be disorientated. And in attack, the mentality needs to change to create more urgency. Bendtner may just be the key to click things in to place again but with only one point gained from a possible nine, in the league at least, it seems a little too late.
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||2|
|7||Shots off Target||8|