Arsenal v Chelsea: Arsenal lack leadership as Chelsea secure third
10 May 2009 06:04
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Not since the Sex Pistols were at their blaspheming peak in the Seventies have Arsenal been this embarrassed. Never mind the ball-users, here's why they need ball-winners.
Forget the Beautiful Game, Arsenal must acquire some ugly traits: tracking back, closing down, not being turned, marking tighter, making tackles, making the loose ball theirs, defending more doggedly. Arsene Wenger is famous for not seeing his players' mistakes or misdemeanours but he must surely now detect the flaws bedevilling Arsenal.
No leadership; his captain, Cesc Fabregas, could have been dismissed. No toughness at centre-half; Kolo Toure and Mikael Silvestre were constantly outmanoeuvred. No defensive nous in midfield; Samir Nasri, in alarmingly polite "after you Claude'' mood, failed to stick with Nicolas Anelka who was presented with the freedom of the Emirates to score. If Wenger is going to win a trophy with his promising collection of players, and the potential of individuals like Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie is there, Arsenal's manager must make his side harder to beat. He must think Keown not Kaka.
The three teams above Arsenal in the Premier League all possess a better balance between defence and attack. In thumping Arsenal, Chelsea rubbed in the importance of power and resolve, bouncing back from their Champions League distress against Barcelona with real character.
Having turned the air blue on their last outing, Chelsea focused brilliantly on having the blue flag flying proudly again. John Terry dominated at the back, Anelka, Frank Lampard and the excellent Florent Malouda raided forward persistently while Drogba was on his best behaviour, minding his Ps and Qs and most definitely his Fs. Disciplined and dynamic, Chelsea swept into the group stage of next season's Champions League, leaving fourth-placed Arsenal to battle through a qualifier first.
The only swearing flowed from Chelsea fans eager to voice their verdict on last Wednesday's contentious Champions League exit. "**** Uefa; we should be in Rome,'' was chorused for much of the second half. Uefa's president, Michel Platini, certainly did not escape with a ribald re-working of The Clash's Rock the Kasbah. Nearby, an Arsenal banner declaring "Keep The Faith'' hung rather limply by the end.
Wenger is an accomplished manager who has some serious decisions to make, not only in the transfer market. The Frenchman must establish whether he is going to switch Theo Walcott into the centre. The England flier started on the right of Wenger's 4-2-3-1 system but was swiftly cutting inside. During a recent meeting, Walcott is believed to have discussed with Wenger his desire to operate more centrally. He deserves to be unleashed.
Walcott was certainly lively early on, even imposing himself physically on defenders, bowling Ashley Cole over to the delight of the Arsenal fans. He also tested Petr Cech with a flicked, near-post shot that the Chelsea keeper pushed away.
Arrowing into the box, Walcott then cut the ball back but Abou Diaby sliced the ball woefully wide.
Walcott's pace is a strength Arsenal do not exploit enough; a couple of Fabregas balls over the top released the whippet-like No 14 down the channels and, although the threat dissipated, the lesson was clear. Walcott can do damage through the middle.
These early moments brought smiles to Arsenal faces, particularly when Kolo Toure went through the back of Drogba. When Fabregas caught Drogba on the left foot, the muscular striker went down a little too cheaply. As Phil Dowd brandished a yellow card at Fabregas, Arsenal's captain delivered his own verdict, indicating diving. Arsenal fans also responded, "same old Drogba always cheating''.
Drogba ignored all this, lifting in a free-kick and suddenly all Arsenal's flaws were highlighted. Alex outjumped Mikael Silvestre, steering a header past Lukasz Fabianski, who almost waved it into the net like a lollipop lady ushering kids across a road.
Arsenal sympathisers will point out that this was the first league goal conceded at home in 13 hours and 16 minutes, an impressive streak of obduracy obliterated yesterday. Arsenal's fragility was seen again. Fabregas was dicing with oblivion, lunging in on Malouda, grateful to Dowd's largesse. "The referee's from Norway,'' speculated the Chelsea fans.
Arsenal went back to their passing football, Van Persie denied by Jose Bosingwa's goal-line clearance, before Chelsea went through the gears again, exposing Arsenal's soft centre when Anelka turned away from Nasri, raced through the middle and fired past Fabianski as Silvestre debated whether to challenge.
Arsenal's back-four was a mess. Anelka accelerated past Silvestre again. Drogba held the ball up well, taking another clattering without demur, this time from Toure. Arsenal's pain deepened after the break. The defence was in such tatters that Toure, sliding in a vainful attempt to intercept Ashley Cole's cross, merely diverted it past Fabianski. Confidence is always an issue with Toure's and his self-belief was now shot to pieces; he even conceded a corner under no pressure.
Facing a rout, Wenger had to send for the cavalry, however disgraced. Nicklas Bendtner dashed on, exuding an eagerness to atone for letting the side, and his trousers down on a recent night out. He delivered more than a belts-and-braces performance, hard work spiced with a good goal, heading in Bacara Sagna's fine cross.
Emmanuel Adebayor, missing against Manchester United in the Champions League, had arrived by then, to a flurry of boos. Arsenal briefly perked up, Van Persie testing Cech but worse was to come, Malouda poaching a fourth. Wenger has a lot of work to do.