Our season had started with a solid defensive foundation. The chief engineer, Steve Bould, trained our men to create a fortress in front of our goal, ensuring we made a decent start to the season. Unfortunately against Chelsea, we got all our measurements wrong and the wall collapsed in a heap. The solid foundation we’d worked so hard to build, looked like a thin sheet of paper as Mata and Torres breached it with such ease, it was embarassing. Two steps forward, and one step back, this was not the result we needed.
I think the selection of Koscielny over Mertesacker was one that raised eyebrows. Unlike the manager we do have the help of Captain Hindsight, however, even with this, it is hard to understand why this change was made. The manager later stated that he believed the combination of Koscielny and Vermaelen would best counteract Chelsea. It was purely a tactical decision. Maybe the manager felt that Mertesacker couldn’t cope with the pace of Chelsea’s young midfield.
Koscielny, while one of our best players last season had a shocker in this game. Mertesacker, who has far and away been our best defender, one who brought a calmness to the back four was given the worst birthday present, a place on the bench. It is harsh, Koscielny has done some great things for us and the manager should expect more from him, but if you analyse both goals, Mertesacker would have easily dealt with both with his height and ability to read the game. Mertesacker probably should have started the game based on form alone. I don’t understand the decision to rest a player who’s in form, whatever the tactical situation may be, it is difficult to justify this change. Although the manager won’t admit it publically, privately I think he knows he got this one wrong.
Stand out performer
As Chelsea packed the midfield, Cazorla, Ramsey and co weren’t allowed to make a big impact. It was both our wingbacks, Gibbs and Jenkinson who shone once again. As frustrating a result this is, this is a major positive to see these guys bomb forward, link up with our forwards and create chances and add another dimension to our game. A few late chances from Podolski and Giroud, as well as the goal from Gervinho were all directly or indirectly as a result of our wingbacks. Jenkinson seemed to link well with Oxlade-Chamberlain on a consistent basis and the same could be said for Gibbs and Podolski. When Cazorla isn’t weaving his magic, we need to make other routes to goal, and given our wingback problems of last season, these boys performance in this game was the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.
Areas of concern
Oh dear. All of Steve Bould’s great work undone. Before I state the obvious I’d like to highlight that it was Vermaelen that conceded the two unnecessary free kicks that led to the goals. Both free kicks were conceded from dangerous positions. It is harsh, but it is these little things that count, the challenges were unnecessary, there was no real threat at the time. This is not what we should expect from the captain.
Mannone for the second premier league game in a row left wanting, although to be fair Koscielny did put him off for the second goal. Koscielny’s performance does not need to be emphasised further, after his strong showing last season he needs to do better, the second goal was an awkward one, however it has to be dealt with. More decisiveness and leadership is required in defence. Mertesacker must slot back into the team asap. Koscielny will be back, but right now he isn’t our best centre back at the moment.
Giroud after his great work against Coventry couldn’t slot the ball home after rounding the keeper against Chelsea. He was off balance, but he really needed to score. Very frustrating.
The opposition/Wenger’s Wisdom
At the risk of sounding like a sore loser they really weren’t that great. They didn’t produce any more clear cut chances than us, probably produced less now that I think about it. Wenger sums it up pretty well:
“We played against a good side but they had three shots on goal and the two goals they scored, with my best will I cannot say they were fantastic goals. They are goals you have to stop.”
It was just us conceding two silly goals that gifted them the game. Juan Mata did have a great game though to his credit, and also full credit to Petr Cech, produced a couple of world class saves to deny us an equaliser in the second half.
The numbers game
Chelsea had 3 shots on goal. We had 17. Two of Chelsea’s went in, but only one of ours did.
Our wingbacks really got into the game, with 91 touches by Gibbs and 81 by Jenkinson.
With the solid defensive foundation at the start of the season I really thought these sort of comical defensive days were behind us. I really hope this is a one off. It really deflates the team, not to mention the supporters to play well and be positive about the future, only for us to shoot ourselves in the foot.