Premier League 2011-2012 / Game 35 / Emirates Stadium
Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw with Chelsea in the midday game yesterday as the quest for third entered it’s final stages. While it was a disappointment not to win the game, a point may yet prove vital for that Champions League spot next season – especially as the Tottanic continues to sink inevitably into the depths of the Europa League ocean.
The Gunners made 4 changes, all of which were predicted by yours truly (ahem…). Koscielny came in for Djourou, Gibbs replaced Santos, Ramsey filled in the Arteta role and Alex Oxlade Chamerlain got a run out in place of the ineligible Yossi Benayoun.
If that seemed like a lot, Chelsea trumped us in the squad rotation stakes, making as many as 8 changes from the side that beat Barcelona three days ago. Only Cech, Terry and Cahill survived from the mid-week game.
Arsenal lined up as expected, in a 4-2-1-3 formation with Ramsey and Song playing deeper and Rosicky in front of them. On paper, Chelsea seemed to have fielded a side with attacking focus with three forwards starting up front. In truth, only Fernando Torres played up top with both Sturridge and Kalou invariably dropping deep to help out in defense, giving the visitors a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Romeu almost playing as a centre-half at times.
It was not the most entertaining of games. This was largely down to Chelsea continuing their recent defensive tactics and preferring to shut shop and hope for something on the counter.
It was a surprising move as a draw was more acceptable to Arsenal than Chelsea. Maybe Roberto Di Matteo felt this was the best way to get a result at the Grove, having seen Wigan score two quick goals on the counter.
It shows the Blues mindset at present, content to defend tight and nick something rather force the issue, even in a must-win game. I can’t imagine Arsene Wenger adopting this tactic if the roles were reversed though.
The Gunners started rather nervously in the opening minutes. The passing was neither fluent nor accurate and players were dwelling on the ball far too long. Chelsea looked threatening on the counter for most of the game especially in the first few minutes when Kalou, Malouda and Sturridge were quick to support Torres everytime Arsenal lost the ball in midfield. We created a couple of good opportunties with Rosicky shooting over and Robin van Persie toe-poking the ball onto the post from a free kick.
We came into the game much more in the last 15 minutes of the half, controlling possession and moving the ball with more assurance. There was another glorious opportunity when RvP’s free kick found Koscielny completely unmarked in the penalty box but the Frenchman’s flicked header hit the bar and was subsequently cleared.
The sceond half began with Arsenal showing more energy, but settled down into a more even contest as the half wore on. Theo Walcott was replaced on the hour mark after pulling a hamtring, Gervinho coming on instead. This was followed quickly by the introduction of Abou Diaby in place of Tomas Rosicky. Five minutes later, the Ox made way for Andre Santos to come on at the left wing position.
Diaby and Santos started impacting the game from an attacking perspective in the latter stages. Santos was making runs on the inside left channel and linking well with Gibbs. Diaby looked assured after the first few minutes although he did not create all that much, it has to be said.
Chelsea introduced Mata and Cole, hoping to add some quality to maybe steal a late goal. Towards the end, RvP had a fantastic opportunity to win it for Arsenal, after good work by Santos and Gervinho saw the Dutchman pick up the ball on the left side on the penalty area. He twisted onto his right foot and should have got a shot away but preferred to turn back onto his left and the shot was eventually blocked. At the other end, Koscielny made a diving block in front of Sturridge to prevent a shot on goal.
Overall, it was not our best performance and a point is definitely not a bad result. The fact that choking cokerels lost at Loftus Road last night means we very much stll have control of third place, with Newcastle having tough games to come against Wigan, Chelsea and Manchester City.
The Polish keeper had a good game, making a couple of saves when required. He did have one dodgy moment when he stepped out of the area but couldn’t get to the ball. Luckily, Koscielny managed to poke the ball away from Kalou.
Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen
Both the central defenders had a good match, making vital blocks in the penalty area. The Frenchman did misplace a number of passes, especially in the first half, which gifted possession to Chelsea. But overall, the central partnership looked switched on throughout the match. Men Of The Match for me.
Gibbs was excellent throughout the match, getting into the right positions defensively and marking Sturridge very well on Chelsea’s right wing. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece at EPLindex.com on Andre Santos statistics as a defender. But seeing Kieran’s assured performance yesterday, I am left in no doubt that the young English defender will easily retain the left back spot if he remains fit.
Sagna had another forgettable game going forward. He and Theo Walcott had no joy on the right side, where they were shackled by the hardworking trio of Bertrand, Malouda and Kalou. The Frenchman also misplaced a number of passes, one them in the first half leading to Malouda running into space and towards goal. Although Bacary made the most number of passes and got involved, he was unable to create much and misplaced 10 of the 68 passes he attempted.
The Cameroonian had an average game in my opinion. He did well defensively making a couple of important interceptions in our penalty area but lost the ball with some regularity in midfield. He did try the chipped ball on ocassions and once found RvP with a perfectly weighted ball which the Dutchman volleyed straight at Cech.
Ramsey started nervously and him and Song seemed to be speaking different dialects of braille. Aaron also kept interchanging with Tomas Rosicky in the forward midfield role and lost the ball when he ran into the Chelsea wall. As the game progressed though, he settled into the deeper role next to Song and allowed Rosicky (later Diaby) and the front three to create the opportunities.
I thought the Welshman had a good game yesterday. Yes, he did lose the ball a couple of times in the first half but that was because he was naturally reverting to his more attacking role. Once he settled alongside Song, he passed the ball well and dropped deep to pick the ball up and also to defend when Chelsea had it. His stats bear this out, Aaron made the secnd highest number of passes of any Arsenal player and completed a high 97% of them.
A comparison with his stats from the Wigan game show clearly that the youngster played much deeper in this game. Whereas he was acting as creator against the Latics, he was more of the controller in the Chelsea game and that has improved his passing numbers dramatically.
I personally feel that Arteta’s injury will prove to be a good thing for Aaron Ramsey. The young midfielder is struggling to discover his creative touch and is too good to be left on the sidelines. A more focused approach in the ball retention role will improve his confidence and also develop his defensively capabilities.
The Czech worked hard, as we have come to expect of him lately. He also had a decent opportunity in the first half from which he blazed over but did not have the most influential of games against a disciplined Blues midfield.
Walcott had a poor game. Bertrand never allowed him room to manouver and tracked the Englishman effectively throughout the game. He did look dangerous with his pace on a couple of Arsenal counter attacks but did not contribute much else. To make matters worse, it seems he will miss the last three games of the season, having pulled a hamstring in the 57th minute.
For all those fans clamouring for a regular start for Alex, yesterday’s game proved how much the yougster still has to learn. Tried to take on defenders but kept running inside most times from the left and did not offer width. He also started turning up on the right hand side in the later stages of the first half and only Gibbs and Ramsey covering in his place prevented Chelsea having open space on that side to launch counters.
Robin van Persie
It’s official. Robin van Persie is suffering the inevitable dip in form that comes after a long glorious run. He still managed to get into some fantastic positions. Where a couple of months ago he would have buried the toe poke and lashed a ferocious curler past Cech in at the right post, yesterday he found the post and turned on his left and got his shot blocked. It could be fatigue, playing 50 games in a season is tough task and although he is not scoring presently, the Dutch striker is vital to Arsenal’s threat and Arsene Wenger must be hoping he can last the remaining three games.
Gervinho looked dangerous when he came on, and seemed to play with a directness and purpose not seen in recent games. He linked up well with RvP on a couple of ocassions too.
Abou Diaby looked lively in the 30 minutes he was on the pitch. If he can stay fit, Arsenal could really use his raw ability in the closing stages of the season, although I think next season will be the defining one in the French midfielder’s Arsenal career.
Andre Santos looked much more threatening playing on the left wing than Alex Oxlade. He intercepted and passed the ball quickly, bringing Gibbs into play down the wing. Arsene may give some serious thought to starting both Santos and Gervinho in the next game.
We now look forward to Stoke next week and Arsene will have the unenviable job of working out how to combat Pooless’ rugby tactics.
Until tomorrow. Keep calm.