Chelsea Don’t Just End Our Title Challenge, But Show Us We’re Miles Away

Arsenal (0) – (3) Chelsea
The Emirates Stadium, London

At the start of the season, people were saying that this is the most open title race in years. Everyone of the Top Four could possibly win it, and teams like Tottenham and Manchester City could also threaten at the top.

But after today, it’s clear it’s a two horse race.

Chelsea had too much power, too much class and more importantly the ruthlessness to win football matches that we don’t have.

Credit to Chelsea, they gave us a footballing master-class and showed us exactly where we need to be if we want to even consider winning the title.

And while I was optimistic what a win would do for our title hopes, the performance from Chelsea clearly showed a gaping chasm in the level both teams are at. Chelsea are on another level, while Arsenal are simply miles behind.

The gap is now 11 points, and while Chelsea and Manchester United are going from strength to strength and their performances are getting better and better, Arsenal have hit a slump at a vital time of the season. That’s two defeats, no goals and some terrible defending.

We’re virtually in Liverpool territory now in regards to our title hopes.

Before the game, the biggest worry was that Chelsea would pick us apart. This game played into their hands – Arsenal will always be open and attacking at home, so all they had to do was sit back and catch us on the break. And their superiority in class showed at the end of the day.

Arsenal, as usual, had a lot of attacking possession but Cech literally had nothing to do. The frustrating thing was that instead of pulling the trigger, Arsenal wanted to play that one extra pass that would inevitably be intercepted by Chelsea or wasted by Arsenal. I can’t believe now many times Arsenal had half a yard of pace and could have taken the shot on, and Eduardo was particularly guilty of wasting the ball in key areas.

I realise that Denilson has been out injured, but he was extremely poor today. He lost the ball so many times, and took too many touches instead of releasing the ball early. I couldn’t believe it when Song was replaced instead of him at half time.

Chelsea’s goals were just typical Chelsea – classy, incisive and yet simple in execution. All the worry was the left side of our defence with our third-choice fullback Armand Traore replacing Clichy and Gibbs but it was from the other side where we were punished. Both of Chelsea’s goals in the first half came from simple crosses from Ashley Cole. The first was turned in expertly by Drogba (which always seems to happen against Arsenal) and the second was inadvertently scored in similar fashion by Vermaelen.

After that the game was pretty much over, barring an early goal from Arsenal. As time ticked away, Arsenal once again looked for that perfect goal instead of just putting their foot through the ball, and with Chelsea’s defensive power it was straight forward for the league leaders.

Arsenal had a couple of half chances but nothing clear cut, and Drogba hit the final nail in the coffin as he smashed a freekick late on.

Cesc Fabregas looked lost in the middle and as the second half went on his body language summed up how Arsenal supporters felt. In one instance, he lost the ball and then just gave up. Can you blame him? Fabregas has been extremely loyal to Arsenal but you wonder how much disappointment he can take. This was a crushing defeat and we never looked like winning this game.

Arsene told us that our young side has matured and were ready to beat Chelsea, but unfortunately I didn’t see a difference between today and last season’s defeat to Chelsea were we lost 4-1.

There was a massive gulf in class and quality then and it was the same today.

Losing Is Not An Option For Arsenal Against Chelsea

Chelsea (The Emirates Stadium, London)
Premier League Fixture
Sunday 29th November 2009
Kick Off: 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1

The Maths

As it stands, Arsenal are 8 points behind runaway league-leaders Chelsea, having played a game less.

A defeat would leave us 11 points behind, which would be a massive gap even with that game in hand – which incidentally is against Bolton Wanderers at home.

But if we can end the match with a win, it’s amazing the difference it would make. Instead of trailing by 11 points we would be only 5 points behind, which would mean if we did manage to win our game in hand then the deficit would only be 2 points.

Talk about a real 6-pointer.

Despite our topsy-turvy away form (which will need to be addressed if we are to be considered worthy challengers), wins against Portsmouth, Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham and Tottenham mean that our home form has literally been perfect in the Premier League, giving us five wins out of five.

It’s also interesting to note that in four home European ties (Celtic, Olympiacos, AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege) and two Carling Cup games (W.B.A. and Liverpool) we’ve won all six. So in all competitions, Arsenal have won every home game.

And as if you weren’t sick enough of all the maths, in those 11 games Arsenal have scored 35 goals and conceded only 7.

Impressive statistics.

A lot of you will rightly mention the opposition we’ve faced in those home fixtures, but I’m not completely decided either way whether that is important in terms of the game against Chelsea. Yes, our home form is hugely impressive but in a game of this level, for me, none of that really matters. You could even argue that recent form isn’t even that relevant – look how Liverpool beat Manchester United at home, despite having the worst run in 1,205 years. In their last 10 matches (excluding the win over Debrecen midweek) Liverpool’s only win in that time was against United – and they drew 3 and lost the other 6.

So if the scousers have taught us anything (except it takes more than two decent players to win football matches) it’s that Arsenal versus Chelsea is anyone’s game.

I firmly believe that as is the case with many games between the Top Four, what makes the difference in the end is the performance on the day and which team takes their chances.

And at The Emirates with the home crowd behind them, Arsenal are capable of beating anyone.

The Injuries

The bad news is that the man who has proved to be the difference against Arsenal on more than one occasion, Didier Drogba, is back in the Chelsea squad after playing against Porto on Wednesday. And it looks like Frank Lampard is set to return early from his injury scare. So Chelsea look pretty much full strength.

Arsenal on the other hand aren’t exactly down to the bare bones, but missing big players.

Arsenal’s biggest goal threat this season Robin Van Persie is obviously out, as well as Gael Clichy and Kieran Gibbs meaning third-choice left back Armand Traore will deputise in their absence. That position will be something I’m sure Chelsea will try to exploit, and the alternative (which could actually be used) of Silvestre playing there really would put the shivers down my spine. And even worse news is that Silvestre might even play at centre back after Williams Gallas was only declared “50-50″ after he still couldn’t get his contact lens into his eye yesterday. If that happens then Eboue will have to switch sides and play at left back.

A defensive back line including both Eboue and Silvestre would re-define the phrase “patched up” and unfortunately all I could see from that scenario would be a hell of a lot of leaks. And bad ones at that.

Van Persie Update: Just read the latest news that according to the Arsenal medical staff “Van Persie will now be out for between four to five months” and will require surgery on his ankle.

You can read more on this devastating news on the official Arsenal website.

Andrei Arshavin

I’m very interested, and excited, to see what Arshavin can do against a top quality side like Chelsea.

We’ve seen what he can do against Liverpool, and we’ve seen what he could do against Manchester United. He is a special talent and as both of those sides found out, give him even half a second and a bit of space he can hurt you to devastating effect. So I hope he has a lot of the ball and a big game on Sunday.

I’m sure a lot of you will still be confused to as why the Russian didn’t play against Chelsea last season when we played them in the semi-final of the FA Cup but that’s over now and we have to look forward. The only concern is that I’m not sure Arshavin is at his happiest playing in our new 4-3-3 formation. He’s managed to score 5 goals in this campaign but I haven’t really seen that same spark he had last season.

Hopefully tomorrow will be he’ll be able to mark his arrival to the new season.

Tactics & Style of Play

We all know Arsenal will come out and play their own brand of attacking football, but how about Chelsea?

I’ve only seen them a couple of times this season, against Liverpool and Manchester United, although both of those games were at Stamford Bridge.

If I remember correctly, those games were cagey and hardly entertaining. In the most recent, despite having a decent amount of play and playing a very compact formation with 5 in midfield and one up top Manchester United could feel unlucky not to get anything from that game. And when Liverpool travelled to London they were compact and defensive as well, but unlike United were never really in that game.

So if Chelsea are cautious at home against the Top Four, then you can bet they will be tomorrow against an attacking side like Arsenal.

But because they know how Arsenal play it almost makes the job easy for Chelsea. The basic game-plan is to sit deep, withstand some pressure in the final third and then hit Arsenal on the counter attack – and when you do get chances to get forward you need to make them count. And that is almost perfect for a solid, powerful and quick team like Chelsea – who have Anelka and Drogba in top form. Added to that, they have a deadly threat in the air, which is something that has cost us dear in the past.

It’s a cliché, but the team that wins here will be the one that takes their chances.

And unfortunately when it comes to a straight fight between Almunia and Cech to keep a clean sheet, the smart money wouldn’t be on the Spaniard.

Perversely, away from home Arsenal have really impressed against the Top Four. There was that 4-4 win at Anfield (which we should have won) and then the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge. But at home Arsenal will be more open and Chelsea will have their chances to punish us.

The Title Race

Ordinarily, a game this early against one of the Top Four wouldn’t be so important, but make no mistake about it, this game is massive.

Even though there’s 6 months of the season left, losing tomorrow and going 11 points behind would really put us in Liverpool territory. We’ve racked up 3 defeats already and last seasons Champions only lost 4, while the Champions for the 4 seasons previous to that all lost only 5 games – so another defeat at this stage doesn’t leave us with much wiggle room for the rest of the campaign.

But a win against Chelsea, who are seemingly cruising at the top of the league, would give them their 3rd defeat of the season, and show the rest of the Premier League that they can be beaten. With their lead at the top of the table there’s almost an aura that this Chelsea team are impossible to beat. Manchester United used to have that when they had Ronaldo but the team to beat this season is undoubtedly Chelsea.

And all 3 points should give us the impetus to push on strong over the winter period. With that disappointing defeat at Sunderland and the injury to Van Persie we need something to kick start our season.

I Thought This Was The Biggest Game Of The Season So Far… And So Did Arsene Wenger

In my preview for the Sunderland game yesterday I emphasised how much of a massive test this was for us.

With our usual form after International breaks, Sunderland’s improvement this season and their ability to take on the biggest sides (as Liverpool and Manchester United will testify) I firmly believed that for us to be considered true title contenders, this was a game we had to win.

And as I said in the preview, I would have been more than happy with a smash-and-grab as long as we took home all 3 points.

The reason for this was because to be title challengers a team needs to know how to win ugly. When Arsenal are on top form then we can beat anybody. But you just knew that with the International break, the injuries to key players like Van Persie and the cold and wet away day we were up against it. And the sad thing was if we had managed to overcome all these obstacles then it really would have answered all those questions and given us a massive lift. A win at Sunderland would have pushed the side forwards and onto greater things.

But unfortunately, we weren’t good enough and lost another away game.

People laughed when I said this was a massive game but it appears Arsene Wenger feels the same too. The great Arsenal sides that won titles found great strength through adversity. The team would grind out results no matter the circumstances, and for our current squad Sunderland was that test. You didn’t hear excuses about International breaks or injuries when we went the entire Premier League campaign unbeaten did you?

After the game, Arsene Wenger said:

“It was very harsh to lose the game because Sunderland did not create a lot. But we did not create enough chances either and there was a lack of penetration.

“They were organised and defended very well and we lacked the sharpness to make a difference. In some positions we were not strong enough.

“It is a massive setback because you need consistency to win a title. And today we were not capable of doing that and it raises question marks.”

If you ever listen to Arsene Wenger interviews then that last sentence is damning. We might be third in the table, and we might be doing better than Liverpool or Manchester City but right now it’s a two-horse race, and unfortunately for us it’s between Chelsea and Manchester United – just like Alex Ferguson said earlier this week.

Arsene knows how big a setback this defeat is.

Every team goes through good and bad patches, but the top teams win however they’re playing. Both Chelsea and United have played awful and brilliant this season but they are so consistent. If they play well, they’ll win, and if they play poor, they’ll still win.

Arsenal need to learn how to win ugly and learn fast because that is the only real obstacle in our race for the title. We have improved leaps and bounds over the last 12 months but we’re just that little bit short of being right up there.

And Arsene knows it.

This Is Arsenal’s Biggest Game Of The Season So Far

Sunderland (The Stadium of Light)
Premier League
Saturday 21st November 2009
Kick Off: 3pm

After the boring International break, we can finally concentrate on the Premier League again. It seems like forever since we played a league game (even longer with the Henry-witch hunt) but thankfully we can get back to watching Arsenal in Premiership action.

Unfortunately, Wenger’s declaration that injuries are the reason for our poor form in November only 10 days ago was followed with the ankle injury to Robin Van Persie in an International friendly against Italy. The Dutch striker looks to be out for around 6 weeks which means he will miss some vital games over the winter period. I’ve said many times on this blog how excellent he has been and the way he has adapted his game this season and the way he has improved his team play has been exceptional. Along with Vermaelen, Fabregas and Song, he has been one of our most important players so far this year.

On top of the injury to Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner is also out and would have been the first-choice replacement to lead the line. Theo Walcott is also injured, and with Diaby, Djourou, Clichy and Gibbs all missing today’s game against Sunderland is going to be a massive text.

The International break has been notorious for causing problems for us, and we usually see a poor performance from Arsenal following the disruption to our league campaign.

So this is the biggest game of the season so far.

Because with our injury worries and usual form after the International break, if we manage to get all 3 points then it will be huge. It will answer the questions regarding the strength of the squad, and also give the team a confidence boost and could be the catalyst for greater things.

This Arsenal team relies on momentum and we have been in fine form recently. We are unbeaten in 13 games now (after the double disaster in Manchester) and you sense that a good run of form is essential to any title aspirations we might have.

But another reason why this is such a massive test is because this season, Sunderland have become a formidable outfit.

Steve Bruce has assembled a side which has the ability to take on any team, partly because of the form of new signing Darren Bent. Their home form is excellent, with Chelsea being the only team to win at The Stadium of Light this season. They also have a knack for performing against the bigger sides as well this year, with an impressive win over Liverpool (in a game they dominated) and a draw at Old Trafford, in a game most thought they were very unfortunate not to win.

It has to be mentioned that their form of late has been patchy (with 2 defeats and a draw in their last 3 games) but the fact is the vast majority of Sunderland’s squad have had the best part of 2 weeks to rest and prepare for this game while most of our squad has been scattered across the globe. And a 2 week break could be just what Sunderland need to end their poor run of late.

So Sunderland are going to ask a hell of a lot of questions of Arsenal this afternoon and it’s up to us to step up and grab all 3 points. I believe this game is so big for our season, that I couldn’t care less if we played absolutely crap and scored a scrappy own goal. 3 points is what matters today.

Another problem we are facing is the prospect of starting with Eduardo and Vela upfront together for the first time this season. Arshavin is still doubtful after his excursions for Russia midweek so it’s hugely important they both hit it off if they do partner each other. Form is partly dependant on regular team selections so this is another obstacle Arsenal need to overcome.

Today’s match is going to be such a tough encounter for so many reasons, so if Arsenal can take all 3 points with a smash-and-grab performance then I will be more than happy.

With the league being more open than ever before, we have to make days like today count.

I Love Roy Keane, What A Legend! (Watch Video)

We all know Roy Keane hates the Irish FA, we all know he used to play for United, and we know he’s not exactly the best manager in the world, but the fact of the matter is:

Roy Keane is f*cking hilarious!

But despite the hilarious way he puts his points across, you have to say he makes a lot of sense!

Finally there’s someone in football who isn’t stupid or sad enough to just agree with the extremely biased British media.

Roy Keane, we salute you!