An excellent game of football, and largely what I expected bar the individual genius of Robin van Persie. If Arsenal fans and their manager are to be honest, it must be admitted that this is precisely a role-reversal of several games Arsenal have lost this year, in which the technically superior side which dominates possession and creates more chances loses out due to individual moments of greatness or insanity. One thing football is not is fair. Some bullet-point observations:
– Time will tell if the team is honestly inspired by Cesc Fabregas or not, but the energy level today was better than in many matches, especially in the second half. Arsenal have been guilty of showing up only for headline games in the past, so the real test will be whether this can be continued on to Wigan in the next league game. I’m hopeful.
– RVP is going to have games like this. You pay for them with things like his witless straight red earlier this year and all the times when his contributions are limited to left foot blasts over the bar, but he can be invaluable in this sort of game where he was 70% of the attack by himself. He never links with another striker, yet isn’t big enough or skilled enough in the right ways to play up top alone, so it remains a bit of a mystery on how best to take advantage of what he can provide. When he does provide it though- a living highlight reel.
– His value comes through all the more when Adebayor has a(nother) game like this. I’ve defended this man before, but at this point, good God y’all. It’s the same thing from him week by week- offsides for no reason, iffy control, whining about calls that go the other way, etc. When he was at his best his workrate was unparalleled in the side and he used his speed to slash down the flank, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen that from him. Will we ever see it again? Some of this is him being played as a lone striker at times, some is that Cesc is having trouble providing the diagonal long balls he used to run onto, but still.
– Denilson. Still not very good, starting to learn diving from Eboue, was part of….
– Chelsea’s midfield domination. Not a total shocker when 4-5-1 meets 4-4-2, but Arsenal were positively overrun for roughly 30 minutes of the first half. Most of Chelsea’s attacks at that time came down the Arsenal left flank, as Clichy and Nasri could not deal with Bosingwa at all. Djourou conceded the own goal, but there was probably one coming from that position at some point by that means or other. However, this was not nearly so evident after halftime; some of that was because Chelsea changed tactics when they fell behind, but a large amount of credit must also be given to Chichy, Nasri and the manager for addressing it.
– That back four. I thought that was the best they’d looked in a good while when you take into account the quality of opposition, and no one should be too angry about the own goal. Djourou may have cocked that up, but he also failed to produce the partade of clownishness that Silvestre has at times this year, and Gallas seemed to trust him to do his job which allowed William to put on one of his better displays in this campaign. I love Kolo Toure to death, and it bothers me that he’s being forced out of the club, but if he is then this is the pairing to go with.
The big question for Arsenal now is- what does this mean? Obviously it’s a wonderful win which breathes new life into the league campaign and brings them back into the top 4. But at the same time, we’ve seen games like this be a false dawn more than once, and beating fellow top 4 sides is only half of the puzzle. My fear is that nothing will be learned from this- that the manager who claims Arsenal are unlucky to lose when they’re in the position Chelsea were today will claim that this proves Arsenal are clearly as great as any team in Europe. But they’re not. They’re a team which is built and suited to play one style against one or two types of opponents, and while Chelsea were often better today, Arsenal will still beat them as often as not because that’s the style Arsenal play well against. The trouble comes against the cloggers, the shit-kickers, or the teams which on the day are playing Arsenal’s style better than Arsenal are that day.
This team is so close, so very close, to being amazing. What they need is belief, consistancy, depth, stylistic variability, and some help at the back. If they get that, and some of the pieces are there, they can dominate as Arsene keeps saying they will. The spirit seems better with Cesc as captain; the back four look better with Djourou in there; but they need help in January. They still need a midfielder, they still need some depth, and they need a striker (who may be Eduardo, though it’s hard to ask for too much from him too soon). Arsene has the opportunity to push this team over the top, this season or next, with the proper augmentations to the squad. If he grasps the opportunity, he’ll make himself even more legendary; if he counts on Robin Van Persie doing this every week…well…remember the Manchester United game.
Quick prediction is Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal for tomorrow. I’ll have more to say after the match.