One of the comments that sparked my interest in the fallout from Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea was made by Arsene Wenger.
Asked to give his thoughts on the game, as he always is, the manager was quick to shoot down a question suggesting that the manner of the defeat was all too similar to previous games against Chelsea. He responded with the following statement:
“People will say [that it is déjà vu] but I don’t feel that. I feel the two teams are really close. We have to give Chelsea credit today because they took advantage up front. They were much more clinical. But the game should have been over before it had started – we had the first two chances in the first minute and I don’t know how we missed that header from six yards. We had the chances today. But when you have the chances we had you need to score.”
The first instinct to compare Sunday’s defeat with others to Chelsea is understandable: as Michael Cox from Zonal Marking astutely pointed out Didier Drogba was the familiar scorer, Ashley Cole was a familiar provider and our tendency to concede too many dangerous free-kicks late in games in order to break up the opposition counter-attacks was punished again.
Another perspective on the game is that Wenger was outcoached on the day by Carlo Ancelotti, who sent his team out to allow us possession, get behind the ball and hit them on the break. It is a tactic Manchester United have used a lot in recent seasons and is based on the principle that we will eventually run out of ideas and shoot ourselves in our foot defensively, allowing the opposition to score.
In the first instant I don’t believe Chelsea set out specifically to counter-attack Arsenal. I believe they genuinely wanted to have possession, as they usually do at home, but were out-fought and out-passed in the midfield by Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and the more advanced Abou Diaby.
But the problem for Arsenal came when Chelsea identified their predicament, adjusted to the situation and effectively changed the way they played. You don’t end up with a goal difference of +21 after 7 rounds by playing counter-attacking football every week, but the league champions showed that under certain circumstances they are as good as any at making it work.
So while Wenger’s comment about the teams being close is quite correct it is the ability for Chelsea to be flexible with their tactical approach that proved significant.
In saying that I don’t believe that Wenger is tactically inflexible, just that Chelsea and indeed Ancelotti is more flexible.
As I mentioned yesterday I am a firm believer that we do not lack an offensive Plan B, particularly with the signing of Chamakh and the variety of strikers at our disposal. At no point against Chelsea did we run out of ideas to score – we created opportunities evenly throughout the match – and that is a very encouraging sign.
With our next game against Birmingham not until the 16th of October, Wenger has plenty of time to review the Chelsea game and make the appropriate observations as to what went right and what went wrong. Several of the injured players – Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas among them – will be available again and at this early stage of the season seven points is not an insurmountable gap.
Let’s just hope the players who do go out on international duty, including the soon-to-be-capped Wilshere, one of the players who has improved Arsenal’s tactically flexibility this season, come back fighting fit.
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