Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea
It was the least surprising outcome. Chelsea, entirely in control of their own destiny, had no incentive to make this an entertaining spectacle. Successive wins in the next seven days will see them crowned champions. Nothing was going to jeopardise that outcome and they set out their stall accordingly.
Arsenal meanwhile had to avoid defeat. They needed a win but could not afford to lose. Attacking instincts were curbed to ensure that first and foremost, that didn’t happen. That’s the generous interpretation of the performance. The reality is that we lacked both the guile and width necessary to breach the well-organised visitors defence.
The most damning statistic was Chelsea managing three shots on target to Arsenal’s one. This from a side which began the day without a recognised striker on the pitch. It was in this spell that the visitors could and probably should, have won the game. Bellerin cleared off the line but David Ospina Schumachered Oscar in the process and was lucky to be on the pitch. A more orthodox save and one that justified his continued selection, was from Ramires shortly before half-time.
A paragraph which underlines the flaws in Arsenal’s performance yesterday. The player talked about is David Ospina, not how unlucky Giroud, Alexis and Santi were with their efforts but the goalkeeper. This is the type of game where one moment of genius or flash of good fortune settles matters. Arsenal couldn’t find either, even in the 90th minute when Monreal’s pull back ached for a finish to be applied, something beyond Özil on this occasion.
Olivier Giroud had tried and failed to make the difference. He toiled but against a back four which matches him physically, he needed better support and service; he got neither. Wenger replaced him with Welbeck to no avail, leaving heads scratching from where the inspiration would arrive. Thierry Henry had no doubts: new signings this summer, four of them,
I think they need to buy four players – they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a centre back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I’m afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again.
Whether they need a replacement for Giroud is debatable; someone to compete with him, offer an alternative outlet for goals is the most likely answer. I’m not sure you can read too much into Giroud’s failure to score against Chelsea since signing for Arsenal. A lot of strikers, some of them very good, had blind spots against teams. Ian Rush, for example, scored his first goal against Manchester United twelve years after his Liverpool début. It’s not one team which decides a fate but the overall record and as with the whole squad, the flat track bullies are just emerging from their shells.
It depends on whether Arsène wants flexibility or if he is going to stick with his current formation which in games like yesterday, was unbalanced. As with last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, Ramsey on the right side is undermined by the Welshman’s habit of drifting inside, leaving Bellerin with a lot of ground to cover to offer an attacking outlet. The Spaniard is a willing running but faced with a gnarled central midfield, Arsenal cried out for width. Walcott starting might have made that difference.
Wenger felt the team was inhibited,
We lacked a bit of freedom of mind today. Maybe we were too conscious of their counterattacking. We didn’t play with enough freedom in the final third, didn’t make the right decisions. In the dangerous situations we create the decisions we usually take are quick and sharp. But today they weren’t always right. The final ball wasn’t there.
If the players were overthinking situations, it’s because a message has been overplayed to them in the build-up to the match. The failing also rests on the manager’s shoulders. To bring on Walcott for Coquelin was refreshing but it signalled that his creative centre had been stifled successfully and expecting the wide man to make a difference in fifteen minutes was too much. Had he thrown Mourinho a curve ball by selecting Walcott from the start, it might have been more testing for the Chelsea defence, who have thrown chances to opponents when under pressure.
That underlines Arsenal’s shortfall yesterday.
After the match, Mourinho was able to return the “Boring, boring, Chelsea” taunts with interest. It will be eleven years next May and counting, between Arsenal titles, beginning to get uncomfortably closer to the eighteen years which haunted the club from 1953 to ’71 to ’89. Football is nothing if not cyclical.
The result left Arsenal level with City, three goals behind. United lagging in fourth, almost certainly condemned to the Champions League qualifiers with Arsenal’s game in hand the insurance policy against defeat at Old Trafford. In that context, a point is not a bad result. Just a bad game.