It was another big game, another massive punch to the guts as Arsenal fell to a 2-0 loss against league leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Didier Drogba predictably got both goals, punishing two pieces of slack defending by Gael Clichy.
The first saw Clichy leave his position on the far post for no apparent reason, allowing Drogba free reign to smack home John Terry’s header. Had the Frenchman stayed put he would have had the relatively comfortable job of pumping the ball clear of danger before Drogba was allowed to arrive on the scene.
The second was even worse as Clichy zig-zagged bizarrely while tracking back on a Chelsea breakaway, confusing Thomas Vermaelen and allowing Drogba space on the right side of the penalty area. In an attempt to make up for the error Clichy was beaten far too easily by the Chelsea man, once again selling the well-positioned Vermaelen short and allowing Drogba the space to hammer the ball home from close range.
It was amateur defending from a usually reliable player that has been in terrible form since his return from injury.
In between those goals Andrey Arshavin had a volley superbly saved from Petr Cech and once it was 2-0 in my mind there was only ever going to be one result. We passed and passed and passed the ball without ever really threatening Cech again from open play, his only other save of note coming from Cesc Fabregas’ low free-kick on 70 minutes.
Drogba was denied a hat-trick at the end when his excellent free-kick hit the bar but it ended 2-0, a scoreline that leaves Arsenal languishing off the top of the table by no less than nine points.
So what to make of another horrible result that has seen us lose twice to both our major title rivals?
Well, for one, I don’t think that Wenger really wanted to win this game. I mean, I’m sure he wanted to win the game but he certainly didn’t do everything in his power to get the three points.
If this was an FA Cup final, a Champions League final or the last game of the season, I am convinced that Nicklas Bendtner would have started. As it was I think Wenger weighed up the difference in quality between Chelsea and our opponents on Wednesday Liverpool, the run-in of the three title rivals and the fact that Bendtner’s groin is not yet at 100% and made a calculated decision to essentially throw the game.
Here is a comment I made following our 3-0 loss to Chelsea in November:
“We could play this Chelsea team ten times without van Persie or Bendtner spearheading the attack and I don’t think we would beat them once. Their defence is just too strong and physical and unfortunately we did not have the right players available to allow a genuine chance of winning the match.”
By not playing Bendtner from the start last night I feel that Wenger took away any realistic chance of winning. He took the safe bet of ensuring arguably our most important player for the run-in, our one out-and-out striker, did not suffer a re-occurrence of his injury in a fixture that on paper looked exceptionally difficult to win. I feel he did that because he backs this team, with Bendtner in it, to beat Liverpool on Wednesday and put together a good enough run of results to pose a real threat in the title race.
Because despite claims to the contrary, we are still well and truly in this title race. Nine points seems a lot – but the fixtures don’t lie. It might not be fashionable to win the league after losing all four games to the other two best sides in the country, conceding ten goals and scoring just two in the process, but all that matters is who sits atop the table at the end of the season. Much as the last two games have hurt our pride, it’s really not over just yet.
Having said that, I’m not kidding myself here, it’s not going to be easy. There are serious problems in the team that need to be addressed if we are to post another good run of results.
Our general crossing is woeful, our runs into the box to get on the end of the crosses are non-existant and our attacking threat from set-pieces has completely deteriorated since we lost Robin van Persie to injury.
Certain players are simply not performing up to scratch and that there are still far too many individual defensive errors being committed.
It’s inexcusable and it has to change. But whether it does or not is the big question.
Liverpool are up next in a game that we simply have to win to retain a realistic hope of winning the title. Best we forget about this one as soon as possible.
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