Arsenal’s excellent start to the season appears to have experienced a couple of stumbles in their last two home games. Although the defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea bookended a battling victory away to Crystal Palace, that will do nothing to diminish the feeling that, at the highest level, the Gunners may be vulnerable.
Bereft of trophies for years too many to count for the Gooners, manager Arsene Wenger had declared that he would ensure a concerted effort was made in the Capital One Cup. It was probably not a bad strategy I that, of all the competitions that the Gunners were involved in at the start of the season, with the penchant of top clubs to rest top players from this competition, it may well have been the least difficult to capture. In fairness to Wenger, it must be said that, the tam sent out was hardly full of ‘wannabes’ and ‘never will bes.’ Although containing a sprinkling of players whose usual aspirations amount to a place on the bench, a midfield engine room of Ramsey, Cazorla and Willshire is hardly second choice. Upfront was probably where the loss of regular quality was felt most, where Nicklas Bendtner remains the very epitome of an enigma. The physical and apparent technical qualities of a top line striker, never really threatened to turn into anything other than frustrating display. Even so, the side put out would surely have been sufficient to overcome many a club also putting out a weakened team.
Unfortunately for Wenger and his aspirations in the competition, the team sent out by Jose Mourinho, containing no less than eight changes from Sunday’s pulsating victory over Manchester City, were still a class above what the Gunners had to offer. Even the prized Arsenal midfield three mentioned above were comfortably subdued by the pair of Mikel and Ramires, and Juan Mata offered another virtuoso display that merely emphasises how good the young Brazilian Oscar must be to keep the little Spaniard out of the Chelsea starting eleven.
The game was decided by a goal in each half with Cesar Azpiliqueta netting his first goal for the club during a counterattack after an Arsenal corner had been cleared, and the excellent Mata adding a second with delicious curling strike from twenty yards with his supposed weaker right foot.
Arsenal now face a daunting trio of games against Liverpool, Dortmund and then Manchester United that will go a long way towards shaping their season. Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of the need to get a ‘big game’ victory over at least one of these clubs, whilst avoiding defeat in the other games to prove that his team has the resilience to strike back and maintain his team’s competitiveness. For Chelsea, a weekend date with the Toon up at St James Park awaits, and the biggest problem for Mourinho at the moment seems to be which of his players he can afford to leave out.