Exactly one month and one day after Arsenal‘s humiliation at Old Trafford, they faced another major test in the form of fellow Londoners Chelsea. Pundits and fans alike were expecting a draw at best for the Gunners, but after a rather forgettable first half, Arsene Wenger‘s boys ran riot in the second, and put the Pensioners to the sword, with Robin van Persie putting paid to the game, notching a hat trick which made Petr Cech look like a schoolboy goalkeeper.
So, now that the dust has settled (to some extent) on Arsenal‘s 5-3 win at the Bridge, what exactly led the Gunners to run rampant over Andre Villas-Boas’ team?
• Fernando Torres’ profligacy in front of goal:
Fernando Torres may have scored one goal against Manchester United, another against Swansea and a brace against Genk, but those were just baby steps in the right direction. Any good striker needs a good goalscoring vein to really give him that confidence, and while Torres may be finding his feet in the Blue of Chelsea, he hasn’t quite gone on a purple patch this season. Had he put away that gilt-edged opportunity in the first few minutes of the game, and had Daniel Sturridge made his pass a bit more accurate, Torres could’ve put the Blues 2-0 up, and setting a quite different tone to the one that was experienced at the Bridge.
• Arsenal stepping up their defending in the second half:
While the first half saw several lapses in defending that are simply criminal in the top flight of English football, Arsenal defended more collectively as a unit in the second half. Laurent Koscielny time and again forced the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Romelu Lukaku and Florent Malouda wider than they would’ve liked, while Per Mertesacker was on hand to mop up any lobbed balls that Frank Lampard and Co. sent into the box. Andre Santos’ goal seemed to give him a modicum of confidence – his defending in the first half was dreadful – and the introduction of Carl Jenkinson – credit to Djourou for holding the fort at right back, but he isn’t a natural in that position – shored up Arsenal’s defence. The only Chelsea goal that came in the second half was struck from distance, and while it was spectacular, Chelsea just couldn’t find a way to penetrate the back four. Arsenal’s solid defensive foundation gave their midfielders and attackers license to drive forward and the rest was there for all to be seen.
• Chelsea’s attacking policy:
The fault for the Blues’ attacking system cannot be laid at the feet of Villas-Boas, but it played straight into Arsenal’s style of play. Gervinho and Theo Walcott had acres of space to run into and with the fullbacks being caught upfield, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic were stretched, which meant Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Tomasz Rosicky had plenty of space and time on the ball to feed Robin van Persie.
After the game, Villas-Boas blasted his team for the manner in which they played, but said that they wouldn’t abandon their attacking style of football.
• The absence of The Drog:
Chelsea have won against Arsenal every time Didier Drogba has started against them at Stamford Bridge and a few times at the Emirates Stadium as well. The reason is because Drogba has scored or assisted against Arsenal every time he is on the pitch, and the Gunners defenders are terrified against him. He terrorised Kolo Toure and William Gallas, and went toe-to-toe with Sol Campbell, Tony Adams and Martin Keown. It is fair to say that – especially in the first half – he would’ve run Koscielny and Mertesacker ragged. In seasons past, Drogba was a constant fixture on the Chelsea teamsheet, only missing Carling Cup games or sitting on the bench due to rotation. The Ivorian has scored hatfuls of goals since his arrival from Marseille, but this season, he has looked a shadow of his former self. Chelsea know that Drogba is a potential weapon that can be unleashed against Arsenal with devastating results – he would’ve done so this time around too – but that weapon was sorely lacking in Chelsea’s armory, and they paid for it dearly.
• Arsene Wenger‘s experience in the Premier League:
Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avraham Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, and now Andre Villas-Boas. Arsene Wenger has faced a total of eight Chelsea managers when his team have entertained Chelsea and in that time, the shrewd Alsatian has accrued more than fifteen years of Premier League experience. He knows the workings of the English game inside out. He’s been there, and he’s done that before. He knows what to do and when to do it.
I’m not saying that AVB isn’t Chelsea material, but the former FC Porto manager doesn’t have a lot of experience in the top flight. He will, in time, be a fantastic Premier League manager, but maybe this game came a little too early for him. The silver lining is that he can now learn from this game and be prepared the next time around.
• Sheer dumb luck:
I sympathise with many Chelsea fans when they say they were cruelly unlucky to lose this game, and I also agree with other football fans who say Arsenal were lucky to win this game, because the fact of the matter is that they were. On another day, Torres would’ve buried that early chance, Dan Sturridge’s pass would’ve not been intercepted by Wojceich Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey’s through ball wouldn’t have found van Persie and Gervinho with only Petr Cech to beat, John Terry wouldn’t have slipped in that one on one situation, and Cech would’ve cleared the ball from under van Persie with that sliding tackle.
Maybe luck will side with Chelsea the next time round, but for now, whenever I Cech my watch, it will always be 5 to 3.