Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: Observations And Analysis
It’s difficult writing an analysis for a game which went so poorly for Arsenal. And the difficulty comes not from the disappointment of the scoreline but the manner of the defeat, a surprisingly nervous and lacklustre display after solid performances in the first five games.
As predicted, Arsene Wenger started the more mobile centre-back pairing of Vermaelen and Koscielny. At the front, Ramsey again took his place on the right with Gervinho playing through the middle, although the Ivorian swapped positions fairly regularly with Podolski on the left. While one decision worked well as the Ivorian netted Arsenal’s only goal, the other gamble of leaving Mertesacker on the bench backfired quite spectacularly.
Chelsea named a line-up that showed attacking intent with Oscar starting behind Torres flanked by Hazard and Mata while Ramires’ energy was preferred in midfield alongside Mikel. It was a brave decision by Roberto Di Matteo, not many managers come to the Emirates and attempt to take Arsenal on at their own game. In the end, Oscar’s inclusion proved decisive as the Brazilian kept Mikel Arteta quite for most of the match.
In a match where neither team played their best football, Arsenal scored one very good goal and conceded two very sloppy ones. This tweet from last night points out the similarities in Arsenal’s concession of both goals.
Eerie similarities for both goals conceded today: Vermalen foul, free-kick from the right, Mata delivery, Luiz movement, Koscielny mistake—
Arsenal Depot (@ArsenalDepot) September 29, 2012
Here are a few observations on the major talking points.
Chelsea’s early dominance sets the tone
In the first ten minutes, the Blues succeeded in disrupting Arsenal’s passing game and it’s fair to say the Gunners never really found their rhythm for the rest of the match. Chelsea dominated in this opening period as Arsenal’s midfield found it difficult to play around the pressing of the visitors. Mikel Arteta, who’s been so crucial in controlling possession from his deeper position found it difficult to get into the game. Oscar worked hard to close down the Spaniard and with Ramires and Mata shutting out passing avenues as well, Arsenal failed to exercise any control. This is borne out by the fact that Arteta made just 4 passes in the first ten minutes of play as the Gunners were outplayed at the start.
A lot of credit for this must go to Oscar. While the Brazilian didn’t do anything spectacular going forward, his energy in midfield and no-nonsense passing ensured that the Arsenal midfield never got into the game. The youngster posted a very decent 92% pass completion rate and in a game where no Chelsea player really excelled, Oscar was the stand-out performer with his disciplined and determined performance.
Chelsea’s first goal – who’s to blame?
When Abou Diaby went off injured after 17 minutes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on in his place and went to the right flank with Ramsey moving into midfield. However, the immediate impact of that change was felt negatively, as Arsenal found themselves behind from a Mata free kick which was turned in by Torres. At first glance, it looks like an obvious mistake by Koscielny but there were other contributing factors.
Firstly, Vermaelen’s challenge to give away the free kick was quite needless – and very late. Arsenal were just coming into ascendancy and while Chelsea had more of the ball prior to that, the visitors hadn’t troubled the Arsenal goal too much.
Secondly, just as Mata was about to take the free-kick, Koscielny was rightly concerned with the presence of David Luiz in front of him. The French defender is seen asking AOC to stay goal-side of the Brazilian when the kick is being taken and with one eye on Luiz and with Torres pushing him back, Koscielny gets turned around and has no idea where the ball is landing. When we look at the replays, it’s clear that if the cross was slightly lower, Luiz would have scored himself, completely unmarked as he was in the box.
While this does not absolve Koscielny completely, the manner in which Luiz was allowed to run free is worth discussion. If AOC had done a better job of sticking to the Chelsea defender, it would have allowed Koscielny to concentrate on containing Torres. On the other hand, it’s also true that AOC on Luiz is a mismatch. From that aspect, there was a lack of organisation and leadership from Arsenal at the back – an area where Per Mertesacker was missed the most.
Amidst the recriminations, we must also note that it was an excellent finish by Torres.
Arsenal’s equalizer – Plan B?
If AOC was partly responsible for the goal conceded, he was majorly responsible for Arsenal’s equalizer. After Arteta slid him in down the right flank, the youngster did well to drill a low cross towards the penalty spot. For once, Gervinho’s first touch, composure and finish were of the highest quality and Arsenal were level just before half-time.
While Arsenal’s game plan is always to try and build pressure with good link-up play, in games like these where the team struggles to find their rhythm, crossing can be an important weapon. To be fair, Arsenal tried to utilise this avenue a lot during the game – as many as 36 times. However, the delivery wasn’t good enough as only 6 out of those 36 attempted crosses reached their target.
If Arsenal want to grind out results in matches where we don’t play well, then some work is required on the training pitch to make our crossing more effective, both in terms of sharpening the accuracy of balls into the box and also to have enough players making themselves available for the direct ball.
Chelsea’s second – Mannone’s role
The unfortunate Koscielny was involved in Chelsea’s second goal as well. Once again, it was a Mata free-kick towards the far post. Again, it was a well measured cross and with David Luiz behind him, the French defender struck a leg out and the ball deflected off his knee and into the net.
While Koscielny’s body-shape can be questioned, a finger must be pointed at Mannone too. The free-kick came from a long way out and the goal-keeper saw it all the way. The Italian also had the benefit of seeing how the Chelsea players were lined up in front of him. A simple shout to Koscielny to leave the ball would have sufficed.
What is not clear is whether the ball would have gone wide if Koscielny hadn’t got a foot to it. In my opinion, it was heading into the corner even if the French defender hadn’t intervened. In that case, Mannone’s flat-footedness would still have allowed the goal to be conceded.
It highlights once again an area where Arsenal’s young keeper needs massive improvement. While his shot-stopping is impressive, Mannone’s judgement and decision-making haven’t been the best. The goal conceded against City last week was also because of an error of judgement and here too, Mannone seemed unsure about the flight and trajectory of the ball from the free-kick.
All four goals conceded by Arsenal in the Premier League have resulted from set-pieces.
Last week, Arsene Wenger had said that the matches against Manchester City and Chelsea would give an indication of how strong this Gunners’ team is at present. While the City game provided a glimpse of the team’s potential, yesterday’s match indicates that there’s plenty of work still to be done.
Looking forward, Arsenal’s fixture list in the Premier League gets easier from here on. Our next two games are away to West Ham and Norwich. After yesterday’s result, it could be a blessing in disguise to play away from the pressurized atmosphere of the Emirates stadium. Away games will also allow Arsenal to play more on the counter attack, something which has proved productive for the Gunners so far.
Before that though, Arsenal host Olympiacos in midweek. It’ll be a very different game from the Chelsea one so Arsene Wenger will want to reassert the team’s dominance before going on the road next weekend.