Arsenal went to Chelsea yesterday afternoon to play a game which they really had to take something from. They had taken only one point in the two Premier League games they had played so far this year. With the race for fourth place picking up pace it was vital that Arsenal got something to keep pace with Spurs and Everton.
The chances were that Arsene Wenger was going to keep faith with the same team which beat Swansea 1-0 in their FA Cup replay on Wednesday night. News came through that both Lukas Podolski and Alex Oclade-Chamberlain were ill which more or less guaranteed the team remained unchanged. It also meant the team's options from the bench were very limited.
The game was very open from the first minute and Chelsea had a good appeal for a penalty turned down. Abou Diaby appeared to have both arms around a Chelsea player in the Arsenal penalty area and it wasn't too far off a similar incident involving Laurent Koscielny last week. The difference was last weeks holding was more obvious and prevented a goal scoring chance and the referee chose to ignore it yesterday.
Soon after that Arsenal should have taken the lead when Theo Walcott played Olivier Giroud in on the left and he put his effort wide of the far post. He really should have done better and Arsenal paid the price less than a minute later.
Arsenal cut out a Chelsea move and the players pushed up as Francis Coquelin brought the ball out. Coquelin played the ball a little too far in front of himself and stretched to knock it away from the advancing Ramires. The Chelsea player went in on Coquelin's foot with his studs and left Coquelin on the grounding agony as Chelsea broke forward.
A quick ball was played over the Arsenal defence to Juan Mata who was in acres of space with Bacary Sagna caught going forward. Mata took the ball down and crashed it into the roof of the net past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny before Sagna could block his effort. I thought Per Mertesacker could have got back quicker to cover for Sagna when he was caught out of position, but he didn't and Chelsea had the lead after only six minutes.
Chelsea were now in the ascendancy and they closed Arsenal down very quickly in midfield. Arsenal were unable to cope with Chelsea's pressure and they lost the ball in midfield time after time. Despite this Santi Cazorla still managed to come close with a shot from outside the box which Peter Cech pushed around the post for a corner.
Jack Wilshere was again deployed in an advanced midfield role, but he was never in the game in the first half. It was obvious that he needed to drop back and become more involved, but Arsenal continued to play as they had been set up from the start. They paid the price after only 16 minutes when Chelsea added their second goal of the game.
There was even more controversy about the second goal after the referee awarded a penalty when that man Ramires went down in the Arsenal penalty area. First of all Abou Diaby was caught in possession in midfield and a quick ball was played to Mata who passed to Ramires who had only Szczesny to beat. As Szczesny advanced he tried to go around him and went over for what looked like a certain penalty.
When the replays were shown it was pretty clear that Ramires foot went from under him or he dived, but he certainly wasn't taken down by Szczesny. I feared the referee would give the Arsenal keeper a red card, but thankfully he only got a yellow one. Frank Lampard stepped up and dispatched the penalty with relative ease to make it 2-0 to Chelsea.
The game went by very quickly and Chelsea completely bossed almost all of the rest of the first half. There were a few encouraging signs for Arsenal before the break as they managed to involve Wilshere a little more in the game. Santi Cazorla was out on the left though and his influence in that first half was minimal at best.
The second half started an awful lot better for Arsenal as they were the ones putting the pressure on Chelsea when they were on the ball. Chelsea were the ones finding it hard to cope and Arsenal were making chances. The first of them fell to the feet of Mertesacker when a ball dropped to his feet from an Arsenal corner, but his effort from 15 yards was straight at Cech.
In the first half Chelsea worked their offside trap very well and caught Walcott at least three times when he had tried to run in behind them. He timed his runs a lot better in the second half though and almost took advantage shortly after that effort from Mertesacker. He was played in on the right hand side, but his effort from a fairly tight angle was straight at the Chelsea keeper.
After 58 minutes Arsenal got themselves back in the game with a very well taken goal from Walcott. Thomas Vermaelen beat Fernando Torres to a ball just inside the Arsenal half and the ball fell to the feet of Cazorla. He played it in behind the Chelsea defence for Walcott to run on to and finish expertly past Cech.
It was game on now with Arsenal in the ascendancy and Chelsea looking to hit them on the break. Coquelin had to go off with an injury just after the goal and he was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. As the half progressed it was a case of Arsenal trying to prise open the Chelsea defence without leaving themselves too open at the back.
They crossed that line a couple of times and Torres should have done better on at least one occasion. Demba Ba had a great chance late on too, but Thomas Vermaelen blocked his effort after he had gone around Szczesny. Chelsea will feel they should have added to their lead, as Arsenal struggled to make chances at the other end.
In the five added minutes at the end Arsenal piled on the pressure and it took a last ditch tackle from Gary Cahill to stop Walcott equalising. There were also. Couple of fouls by Chelsea players just outside their box to stop Arsenal in very dangerous positions. Arsenal won plenty of corners late on but they couldn't take advantage of any of them.
I thought they lost some momentum when Diaby went off with 15 minutes left and was replaced by Andrey Arshavin. The game passed Arshavin by and he may as well not have been on the pitch. For a squad the manager says has two quality players available in every position he was the only attacking option on the bench.
It might have been better to bring Emmanuel Frimpong on as he would at least have given his all to the cause. I'm sure Arshavin came on to allow Cazorla to move into a more central role where he was having a lot more joy. Arshavin's days at Arsenal are numbered and to include him as a genuine option is unfair to Arsenal fans.
The game finished 2-1 to Chelsea and Arsenal now find themselves seven points off fourth place with a game in hand. That game in hand is at home to West Ham on Wednesday night and it's a game that has to be won. Arsenal have 16 league games left and they will probably have to win 11 or 12 of them to have a chance of finishing in the top four.
It was hard to figure out the difference between Arsenal in the first half and the second half. All too often recently the team have played at a much slower pace in the first half and Chelsea took advantage of that yesterday. Whatever was said at half time had an effect and Arsenal were a completely different animal after the break.
Maybe those half time team talks need to take place before the game to give the team any chance of winning games. It was the same against City last week and in the FA Cup replay against Swansea too. Something has to be one to get the players to play with everything they have from the start before it's too late and all is lost this season.
Besides the team display being so disappointing in the first half the performance of Sagna was absolutely awful. He has played very badly for the last five or six games now and there has to come a time where Carl Jenkinson is given a chance. I don't know if it's anything to do with his contract situation or just that he's going through a bad patch, but he is very far from the player who I consider to be the best right back in the league.
Diaby wasn't at he races either, but he was being asked to p,any for the third time in a week after missing over three months through injury. I'm not exactly sure how that is managing a player who is so injury prone, but obviously the manager felt he was more up to playing the defensive midfield role than Ramsey. He will be needed again on Wednesday night, but surly he must need a rest instead.
I was far from happy with the referee's performance after mistakes from him led to both Chelsea goals. There was also a very good shout for a second half penalty for Arsenal when Branislav Ivanovic turned his back on the ball and ran right into Giroud as he tried to head a great cross. How could he be deemed to be making a fair challenge with his back to the ball and an interest in only playing his man and not the ball.
The referee's performance shouldn't take from Arsenal's abysmal performance in the first half in particular though. It's hard to understand how they got it so wrong in the first half of a really big game for the second week in a row. Can it all be down to the players or are they getting sent out there with the wrong instructions.
Something has to change in their attitudes or the instructions given to them before it's too late. When a game is going away from Arsenal where is the ability to change things on the pitch and why do they have to wait until half time to do so. All too often it seems Arsenal are being out thought before they even step foot on the pitch and that cannot be allowed to continue.
I still think this team has the ability to finish in the top four but it's hard to understand why they can't show it for 90 minutes in a game. The squad certainly needs strengthening as it did on the first of January and eight league points have been dropped in three games since then. There are two league games left this month and six points are an absolute necessity from those two home games.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.