Chelsea 1 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Flamini (79)
1 – 1 Essien (84)
<slurp, munch>Oh sorry, you’ve turned up rather earlier than anticipated. Just finishing off the Humble Pie, sent courtesy of a Madame Flamini apparently. Not sure who you are but jolly nice it was too. Cannot argue with a point from the match, particularly when so little was expected. Tinged with a little disappointment too, taking the lead so late on I had hoped we could hold on for all three but as Steve Marriott so eloquently put it, “Mustn’t Grumble“.
Overall, a satisfying performance. Not at the level one has come to expect from the team in terms of possession and dominance but given we were the underdogs that was never going to happen. However, not one player could be faulted for their effort despite some ever so dodgy defending on occasion. Yet that was hardly surprising given the tender age of the back four. What should be praised though is that despite their nerves, lack of confidence or experience even after making a mistake, none of them were afraid to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get back on with the job in hand. On previous occasions, you could see the team drift apart after one defensive lapse. Yesterday afternoon, they did not; they fought for every ball that they could to the extent that yet again Shevchenko was rendered ineffective (what is it with him and Rebrov – they looked so good a decade ago: set foot in London for their football and they are frankly hopeless. OK Shevchenko has achieved something inbetween but its an interesting point) and Drogba reverted to type because frankly there was no other way he was going to score. As he is finding out, it is easy to look good against lesser teams but the truly great players produce in the big matches as well.
It has to be said that Gilberto was superb in the defensive midfield role today. He gave the back four as much protection as could be asked, relishing the role of Captain to such an extent that I for one will be sorry to see it return to Henry when he is fit again. Since being given the armband, he has grown in stature. Whether the two are linked is not certain but he is definitely thriving on the responsibility. Time and again, he covered the defence. Without this level of performance, the result could so easily have been different. His positional play today was superb; giving the fullbacks the extra cover that they needed. Fabregas worked hard as well, incentivised no doubt by Cole’s dismissal of him as a lightweight. If that is the case, bring more of them on. Quite willing to put and leave a boot in where others were more reticent, his passing was as usual excellent. Hleb meanwhile justified his selection with diligent work, protecting Eboue whereever possible.
Up front, I thought Adebayour had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt. His workrate was superb, closing defenders down and making them look clumsy or slow (or both) on more than occasion. van Persie meanwhile provided good width on the left. He is showing greater maturity and understanding of team play as the season goes on, developing his overall game into a fine wide player / supporting striker role rather than the centre forward role he craved on joining the club.
Effort wise the team cannot be faulted; there were however areas of concern. Eboue is showing more frequent lapses in concentration which makes my earlier view on Lauren’s return somewhat premature. If the young Ivorian carries on with his cavalier displays he may find himself with a little spell on the sidelines. He “got away” with it today due to Chelsea’s formation for the first hour or so but had Robben been on the pitch from the start, there is little doubt that he would have been in considerably more trouble. And what of Lehmann? There is a nervousness about his recent displays that has not been seen before. Whether it is a confidence problem on his part or that the four players in front of him are regularly changing, I know not. However, his command of the penalty area in yesterday’s match was very suspect. On balance, I think he was probably trying to give them confidence by coming for the ball, allowing them breathing space. Perhaps it was a bad day at the office but he flapped at the ball several times and may well have increased their nervousness. That said, he also produced several good saves to gain the point on the day.
To the match itself and it was a throwback to twenty years ago for the first hour. Typically before Wenger’s reign these matches were, well, umm, what’s a good word? I know, crap. Lots of huffing and puffing and nothing much to show for it. Lampard hit the post, the rebound falling kindly to Lehmann via the back of his head, Ballack shot wide from twenty yards (to give him his due, I thought Jens had it covered) and that was just about the whole of the goalmouth incident in the first half. Arsenal had a few good positions but never really produced the threat. The second forty five started better for the visitors with Adebayour and van Persie having reasonable chances in the early stages. However the game opened up when Chelsea sent on Wright-Phillips and Robben, the latter bringing a good save from Lehmann shortly after coming on.
The opening goal was a typical Arsenal move. Lots of neat short passes before the ball came to Hleb on the right whose ball into the area found an unmarked Flamini to put the ball into the net. Cue a frantic finish: the lead last just five minutes with Essien striking one of those “once a season” shots, totally unstoppable from thirty or so yards out with the outside of his boot. Forget about the talk of a foul in the build up; the challenge was typical of those made and unpunished throughout the afternoon. What is infuriating though is the wasted opportunity minutes later when Hleb skied a shot with a glorious chance to win the game. I’ve said before, if he could finish Alex Hleb would be one of the most feared midfielders in the world. The final pressure was all one way with Essien rattling the underside of the bar from four yards out and Fat Frank’s last minute shot deflected onto the post by Flamini’s studs.
An equitable result? Chelsea will think not and had the woodwork been half an inch higher or wider then they would have had all three points. But it was not and they have just one point. Meanwhile, Arsenal trek into the North West in midweek for a match against Wigan. Lets hope that they can repeat the effort and gain three vital points.