The Arsenal Review: Chelsea

Arsenal Football Canon

I can’t say I was surprised that Arsenal lost to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Nor was I surprised at the manner of the defeat. Since the power in London shifted from North to West, Stamford Bridge, once one of Arsenal’s favourite grounds, has become a nightmare place to visit. Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink, Roberto Di Matteo and now Antonio Conte have all had their way with Wenger in the last decade. The odd win here or there doesn’t change the fact that our record there is awful.

There are several common elements in these defeats. By some coincidence, we always come up against a Chelsea team that are stronger, quicker, hungrier and far more well prepared to deal with our threat than we are to deal with them. Chelsea tend to recognise whatever danger we carry and adjust to deal with it. Arsenal, on the other hand, failed to find a solution to Drogba for years, and now struggle to get to grips with Hazard and Costa. Suffice to say, Wenger has been found wanting in coming up with special Chelsea plans.

So I don’t think it was unreasonable to go into Saturday’s game with no hope nor expectation of a positive result. Putting our poor record aside, we suffered a dreadful defeat at home to Watford just days before and lost Aaron Ramsey to yet another injury. That meant that Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain would be up against the sturdy duo of Matic and Kante. That meant that Arsenal were going to try and control the game with a limited ball-winner and a player who’s only appeared in midfield during emergencies. It was never going to end well.

In fairness, Wenger did, at least, try and compensate for missing players. Iwobi played alongside Chamberlain while Coquelin dropped deep to screen the back four. This trio were tidy in possession but didn’t carry much threat against Chelsea’s compact defence. I was already having flashbacks to previous visits and foreseeing the inevitable counter attacks.

And just like that, a counter arrived. A good start to the game was spoiled by shoddy defending that left Bellerin in a mismatch with Diego Costa. His header crashed against the bar and Alonso was on hand to pick up the pieces. Bellerin was fouled in the process, but Chelsea had their lead in all too predictable fashion.

Arsenal had time to play themselves back into the game, but it was always going to depend on their ability to keep Chelsea out. They rarely looked convincing at the back. Hazard’s goal made a mockery of our defensive efforts; first Koscielny’s limp attempt at nicking the ball off the Belgian before he set off on his run, then Coquelin’s rather pathetic attempt at stopping him that saw him bounce off and tumble to the ground. After that, Koscielny backed off and backed off until Hazard was in the box and couldn’t be fouled. The second goal was duly scored and it was game over.

We struggled to get anything going after that. Chelsea were first to every ball and enjoying the space we were affording them on counters. It wasn’t naivety as Neville and Redknapp were claiming, but desperation. The lingering hopes of a title challenge were dwindling with every minute. Our efforts were, in a way, commendable but ultimately fruitless. Ozil and Alexis, so often the difference makers, were no shows once more in a big away game and nobody else in the team looked likely to pick up the slack.

Fabregas’ goal summed things up nicely. I’ve always found the resentment towards him from our fans to be misplaced. Nobody should begrudge a player from making a move so they continue playing at a top level, and the idea that his move to Chelsea is disrespectful to Arsenal is laughable. So while some saw that goal as rubbing salt in the wounds, I just saw it as indicative of the current Arsenal: a bumbling, hopeless mess of a team not going anywhere under the current leadership.

There was a fan in the Arsenal section who held up a banner telling Wenger to leave. On commentary, Neville labelled him an idiot. He couldn’t understand why any fan would pre-empt his own team’s defeat and come prepared with a protest. But what he doesn’t realise is that these defeats are predictable. Fans turn up with the hope it might be different but, deep down, will know what’s coming. They’ve seen this show so many times.

It’s that predictability that makes it so difficult to feel any sort of anger or disappointment at the result. Arsenal seldom win in big away games, especially when they really need to. You get to a point where complaining about the same thing over and over stops being a worthwhile activity. We’re just labouring the point now.

It goes without saying that Arsenal are not going to win the Premier League. All that’s left now is to finish the season as strongly as possible and do our best in the Champions League and FA Cup. I’d certainly enjoy a good cup run at this point to get me invested in this season again. Who knows, it might even buy Wenger more time, as it did back in 2014. Otherwise, you have to hope that the clock is ticking.