Arsenal fell to Chelsea in a fairly comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, a result that surely ends the title hopes of even the most optimistic Gunners. It was a game that highlighted faults in Arsene Wenger’s side that he just can’t seem to recognise or address.
Some of the more vocally irate Gooner-contingent have been calling for the Frenchman’s head of late but even the most conservative Wengerites will have been scratching their heads when today’s team were announced.
Chelsea are running away with the league, a juggernaut built on power, stamina, pace in the right areas, work ethic and a heightened sense of the game’s tactical nuisances. Antonio Conte’s team is a near-perfect machine, each player a cog fulfilling his role efficiently allowing the team to function in mechanical, devastating fashion. Stamford Bridge is their fortress. Wenger sent out a team incapable of competing with Chelsea in the areas they’re so strong in.
One look at the substitutions Wenger made backs this argument up. He was forced to withdraw Hector Bellerin after the Spaniard was sent unceremoniously hurtling to the deck by Marcos Alonso for Chelsea’s opener.
Alonso on the left and Victor Moses on right have been a revelation in the wing back positions for Conte this season, their industrious running and physicality sets the tone. Bellerin may have given Alonso something to think about while Arsenal were on the front foot but he was always going to struggle against his power, particularly if isolated. Add to this the fact tackle-shy Theo Walcott was selected in front of him and Bellerin stood little chance.
Bellerin was replaced by Gabriel Paulista with Walcott later making way for Danny Welbeck arguably a more capable right-sided pairing given the physicality of the opposition. Welbeck certainly offers more cover to his full back than Walcott.
Once again Arsenal were sloppy on the ball with Walcott and Mesut Ozil, in particular, giving the ball away needlessly. Five to ten yard passes surrendered due to lack of concentration, too often the wrong option chosen in possession. The defending that allowed Eden Hazard to run from the halfway line to score Chelsea’s second was infuriatingly laughable. From Francis Coquelin turning his back-side to the Belgian before falling over like a drunk infant to Laurent Koscielny backing off Hazard as if he was engulfed in flames it was a shambles. Credit to Hazard, running from the half-way line to score is no mean feat but even a journeyman midfielder with decent game intelligence could have stopped him in the centre circle by fair or foul means.
Perhaps the main bone of contention for Arsenal fans will be the omission of Olivier Giroud from the starting line-up. Chelsea’s only clearly definable weakness over the last couple months has been from crosses, in particular crosses from deep areas.
It cost them in their last game against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and twice their last defeat at the hands of Spurs. Giroud is clearly Arsenal’s most potent attacking threat from crosses as well as their most capable at holding the ball up. Leaving him out made no sense, his impact from the bench made that quite clear.
Increasingly over the last ten years it seems there is a blind spot in Wenger’s football philosophy. A black hole into which the ‘ugly’ side of the game has been sucked. It’s repeatedly cost Arsenal in the past and looks like it will continue to do so while Wenger is at the helm.