Goals: Mata (6), Lampard (16, pen), Walcott (58)
Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Koscielny (CB), Gibbs (LB), Wilshere (CM) Diaby (CM), Coquelin (CM), Cazorla (LF), Walcott (RF), Giroud (CF).
Arsenal lost again in the league after a horrendous first half display against Chelsea. The visitors woke up and realized there was a game going on in the second half, but it was too little and too late.
Arsenal vs Ramires (Tackles in the first 20 minutes)
Just like against Manchester City last weekend, Arsenal started the game in a timid and passive fashion allowing Chelsea too much space and time. Yet, they could have been ahead in the 4th minute. Walcott received Cazorla’s ball on the wide right position, drove inside Cole and played Giroud in. The French striker should have scored with his left-footed shot, but he narrowly missed Cech’s far post.
Arsenal were punished immediately after this miss. When Francis Coquelin steamed forward from midfield with the ball, he was clearly fouled by Ramires’ late tackle. The Chelsea right back Azpilicueta picked up the loose ball and played a marvelous pass behind Arsenal’s backline to Mata. Sagna was caught too high up the pitch, and he was also somewhat slow to close down Mata. The Spaniard took one deft touch to control the ball and fired past Szczesny. Arsene Wenger was rightly furious on the touchline, as it was a definite foul on Coquelin, but the ease Arsenal were picked up after a loose ball was depressing.
The most damning statistic of the game from an Arsenal point of view is the relative tackling performances of the whole Arsenal team versus Ramires in the first 20 minutes during which the visitors basically gave the game away. Ramires did attempt the same number of tackles (6) as the whole Arsenal team in the first 20 minutes. This is in no way to give undue credit to a Chelsea player, but just to show how passive Arsenal were off the ball in the early stages. Despite the referee’s mistakes, they well deserved to be behind.
It was again a Ramires tackle that led to Chelsea’s second goal. Shortly after the quarter hour mark, Abou Diaby was caught in possession in Arsenal’s half and lost the ball to Ramires. When Mata received the ball on the edge of the box, he skilfully attracted 4 Arsenal players, and found Ramires’ free run into the box. When the Brazillian cut inside of Szczesny, there was not much contact. In all fairness, Ramires looked to have lost his footing, but the referee Martin Atkinson pointed the penalty spot, and Lampard sent Szczesny the wrong way.
Arsenal have no foothold in the game in the first half
In the first half, Chelsea pressed Arsenal’s slow motion build-up very effectively. They also quickly counterattacked through their creative midfield trio Mata, Hazard and Oscar whose fluent movement was too much to handle for Arsenal. To see how abject Arsenal were going forward in the first half, another statistics speaks more than a thousand words. Against Chelsea, Arsenal made less passes in the final third (39) in the first half than they did in the first half of the Manchester City game when they were playing with 10 men (41 passes)! As can be seen below, most of Arsenal attacks came down the right hand side through Sagna’s overlapping, yet there was not a single instance when his crossing created a danger.
Chelsea exploited a weakness on Arsenal’s right hand side which stems from Walcott drifting inside to run behind (which paid off in the second half) and the right sided centerback Mertesacker’s reluctance to push forward to cover for Sagna (as the German lacks pace if he is caught off position). To exploit this, Chelsea always kept one of their rotating attacking midfield trio (usually Oscar or Mata) wide on their left and stretched Sagna’s positioning. They also hit long diagonal balls into that area when they gained possession in their half. Overall, in the first half, Chelsea’s tempo of passing and movement pulled Arsenal apart too easily. The lateral movement of Oscar, Mata and Hazard between the lines kept Diaby busy and prevented him from joining Wilshere to press higher up the pitch. One solution to this would be one of the two Arsenal centerbacks pushing forward to intercept Chelsea passing between the lines, but neither Vermaalen nor Mertesacker wanted to leave the other alone given the threat of pace of Torres.
The Usual Second Half Revival
Just like they did against Swansea away game in the FA Cup two weeks ago and last weekend against Manchester City, Arsenal were transformed into a completely different team in the second half, and that was not due to a change in players or formation: Arsenal simply started tackling the ball with more conviction and showed some desire to play football.
An important change from first half was Coquelin sitting deeper alone and allowing Diaby to push forward along Wilshere to press further up the pitch. Cazorla was completely anonymous in the first half (see diagram below), as without Arsenal retaining possession, his wide role was reduced to tracking back and forth down the flank. With Arsenal having more possession, Cazorla started drifting inside from his wide left position and Arsenal had an extra midfielder to push Chelsea back. When the Spaniard’s sumptuous through ball released Walcott behind the Chelsea back line, Arsenal reduced the deficit to one with more than half an hour remaining. Yet, it was the visitors’ any lack of serious options from the bench that prevented them to maintain their momentum.
Arsenal’s Depressing Bench
With the comically out of form Gervinho away at African Cup of Nations, Podolski and Oxlade Chamberlain unfit, the only attacking option that Arsenal had on the bench was Arshavin (!), a player completely out of favor for the last 18 months. When Arsenal got back in the game with Walcott’s goal, and needed further momentum (Coquelin was injured and replaced by Ramsey), Arsene Wenger had no choice but to remove Diaby, shift Cazorla to the center and send the Russian. As expected though, Arshavin was not able to produce anything useful during his 15 minutes in the game.
Arsenal continued to push forward leaving gaps behind, but except a chance by Ba cleared off the line by Vermaalen, Chelsea were less interested in breaking forward, instead choosing to defend their lead. There were some stressful moments for the home side when Cahill and Cole had to make some last ditch tackles, but Chelsea were able to hang on.