Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Didier who? Chelsea match report and thoughts.

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1

This is the blog post which I've wanted to write for so long. To painfully rip off Barack Obama, based on Monday's match, change has come to Arsenal.

It's very hard to say if this match will be the turning-point in the development of this team. But it's the first time we've really outplayed United or Chelsea in a long time. Sure, we beat both of them in November 2008. And we actually played well both times. But nonetheless, they were very much in the match. Truth be told, Chelsea were never really in this match. Giving a performance such as this one obviously lays down a massive marker of showing what we can do. It suggests we can win the League, and hey, if we play like this we can beat Barcelona.

I wrote in my preview that Arsene needed to get things right tactically and boy did he earn his money for this match. Djourou for Squillaci was an obvious change to many fans but he had shied away from it before this season. To make the change before a big game took balls; what's more, what was tacitly clear from Arsene's post-match interview was that he clearly rates Djourou, and for all he won't say it explicitly, the Swiss has risen above Squillaci in the pecking order. Quite right too though - clearly Drogba has been laid low by malaria just like Kolo Toure was but he's still a big, strong player and the way he was kept quiet was highly impressive.

The rest of his changes were also justified. Dropping Arshavin was a big call which paid off; but moving Nasri away from the right midfield position which he has made his own this season was a massive gamble which clearly paid off. And picking RVP to start in this match was another statement of intent. He went for the big guns and they delivered.

A word, too, about Theo Walcott. Seeing as I have been his chief detractor, these words do stick in my mouth somewhat, but he was excellent. Sure he didn't really do anything in the first half which was actively good, but by keeping Cashley quiet he made things an awful lot easier for us. Lest we forget, it was two crosses from the left flank by Cole last season which cost us this match. And more importantly, Cashley is a truly hateful man who deserves to lose every week - I think our fans did quite a good job of pointing out how much of a c*nt he is.

On this occasion, he was barely able to cross the half-way line. And couple that with Theo's all-round incisiveness, his well-taken goal, and his superb assist for Cesc, and it capped an exceptional performance.

Nonetheless, Cesc's post-match comments that the strength was in the team performance - rather than what him, Theo, Song or Djourou did - was very true. The key to this performance was pushing Chelsea back with a high-tempo pressing game. By not allowing Chelsea any time on the ball, it was much harder for them to build from the back. The pressing got an even more direct reward when Michael Essien gave the ball away for the second goal.

But it was the first goal, Alex Song's goal, which lit the touchpaper for a sensational evening. So often this season I've critcised him for a lack of positional discipline. On this occasion, he defended when he needed to but he also popped up at just the right time to angle a shot past Petr Cech and give us the lead. It was right on the stroke of half-time and considering how we'd dominated and how Cech had made an exceptional save from Nasri, it was no less than we deserved.

I was interested to see how Chelsea would come out for the second half having been so outplayed in the first 45. Aside from introducing the woeful Ramires for the hapless Mikel, nothing really changed. There was no statement of intent. Instead, it was Arsenal with most of the ball, and we got our reward when Essien gave the ball away and Walcott raced in and squared to Cesc to double the lead. While we were still celebrating that second goal, Malouda gave the ball away to Walcott who found Cesc, who returned the ball to Walcott for 3-0. I'm unconvinced I've ever seen such delirium amongst our fans, certainly not since we came from behind to beat United in Jan '07. I hugged an old man who didn't seem to take it too well, but it really was hug a stranger time.

The celebrations were cut short by Ivanovic getting a goal back but this time we weren't going to mess it up. When Chelsea brought on a teenage winger and right-back, we introduced Diaby and Chamakh, the Moroccan holding the ball up well to negate any threat of Chelsea getting back into the game.

I can't remember Chelsea playing so badly against us, but more importantly, I can't remember us playing so well against them. As Carlo Ancelotti is wont to say:
"Football is about results".

This was one hell of a result, a team performance which should inspire them for the second half of the season.

And yet, haven't we been here before. One of our most impressive performances of recent seasons was winning 2-0 in the San Siro in 2008. But we followed that up with a 0-0 draw at Wigan. It's vital we don't make the same mistake today, not least because I don't have enough days in my life to travel to Wigan twice for 0-0 draws. If we don't win today, it certainly won't make the Chelsea result meaningless. But this is a great chance to build some momentum, and even without Cesc, we should aim to do just that.

Keep the faith.

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