A 2-1 loss to Chelsea, our first to the season, exposed this Arsenal side as a work in progress. We now sit 7th on the table; behind all of the usual suspects as well as Everton, Spurs and West Brom.
Last week I said I felt confident to conclude that we will fight for the title this season. A week later I’m admitting that we’re a work-in-progress. So which is the truth?
To be frank I was disappointed with our performance in almost all areas against Chelsea. We were out-played tactically, defended poorly and deserved to lose.
Chelsea’s game was based around pressuring Arteta and cutting off the supply to Santi Cazorla and they did that expertly. Chelsea’s job was made simpler by Diaby’s injury after a quarter-hour as Aaron Ramsey, originally starting high on the right, dropped into the midfield. Arteta was ineffective, Cazorla was off-colour and Ramsey was poor as Chelsea looked more dynamic and more likely to create goal-scoring chances in the first half.
The defending on set pieces, an easy target and one that has been talked about by many, was terrible. I don’t, however, hold Vito Mannone accountable. The first goal was not his responsibility and on the second, once Koscielny played at the ball, the goalkeeper had a responsibility to hold his position. That Koscielny’s touch sped the ball up didn’t help.
Arséne Wenger’s decision to play Koscielny and Vermaelen, one I saw coming and was not overly opposed to before the game, proved to be a mistake. Per Mertesacker was missed and as poorly as Koscielny played, Vermaelen was worse: pushing forward at the wrong moments and tackling irresponsibly, giving away the two free-kicks that led to the goals.
Can you drop Vermaelen? Is it the right thing to do? Probably not, but if Arteta was the outright captain I would. It seems harsh but Koscielny is a better defender and Mertesacker’s presence feels necessary. It won’t happen, though.
If there were bright spots in the first-half they came from the wing-backs. I thought Kieran Gibbs had an excellent first half but he was trumped by Carl Jenkinson, who impressed again. He pushed forward with purpose and connected well with substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain, however Chelsea looked more likely to score.
Torres looked a new player and his opportunity, tucked away when he might have expected David Luiz to connect with his header, was the kind that only a sharp striker converts. Koscielny lost his man but Torres’ use of his body (and arms) made defending extremely difficult.
I feared the worst after going behind and while Chelsea scared us a few times, their best chance a penalty appeal for Torres, we scored a wonderful goal to equalise. The Ox and Jenkinson were at the heart of the move and Gervinho, who had been more busy a week ago, finished brilliantly. Erratic players still score goals but this was a sweet moment for The Brain™ who is relentless in his pressure.
We found a groove after scoring and finished the half as the better side. That continued into the second half but was undermined by poor defending to concede another soft goal.
And that’s as far as I got. Unfortunately, I was extremely busy following the game and will be out of town for the next few days. I will endeavor to post a mini-review of the week before Saturday, including some more thoughts on Chelsea, Olympiakos and the upcoming game against West Ham. Cheers all!