Arsenal’s performance hints at a corner turned, but is offset by Chelsea’s slump starting to look serious.
This was, in fact, the second time this season that Arsenal have put three goals past a title-chasing rival, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this feat makes the Gunners the clear-cut favourites for the title. But their 3-0 demolition of a Manchester City side at a one-man disadvantage for the best part of 85 minutes in October told us little about Arsenal’s title credentials.
You could pass a similar, if perhaps harsh, indictment on the Gunner’s performance yesterday evening when a Chelsea side far removed from the double-winning powerhouse of last season capitulated under sustained pressure from sprightly opposition. Carlo Ancelotti’s team looked as good as it ever does on paper, with the vital vertebrae of Frank Lampard slotting back in to the tough spine of the team and Didier Drogba seemingly up for tormenting Arsenal’s backline once more, but despite the deep reserves of experience possessed, Chelsea’s well of mental fortitude remains dry.
Mainstays John Terry and Ashley Cole performed solidly, but Chelsea lacked confidence in all areas of the pitch, with the physical presence of both Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel being nothing more than ghostly. That they were outplayed by an immensely talented but ultimately lightweight midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song is telling. Arsenal dominated possession in the midfield, but were gifted the ball as often as they won it.
With their best team not up for the task, Chelsea’s plan B, or C for that matter, was never forthcoming. For all of the club’s past riches, Chelsea’s bench was a sorry sight, consisting of four yet-unproven academy players and no recognised striker down to both Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge picking up late injuries.
Whilst Ancelotti may yet get Chelsea’s season back on to a stable trajectory with some shrewd man-management and a purchase or two, it seems safe to say that Chelsea are no longer the best team in the country. They are now merely amongst a small handful of the country’s best teams, which includes but is certainly not topped, not yet anyway, by Arsenal.
Despite Chelsea’s failings, it should be remembered that Arsenal still had work to do in beating tough and hardened opposition so effortlessly. This was perhaps Arsenal’s most Barcelona-like demonstration yet; Chelsea were pushed and pressured into unforced errors and sloppy passing in every area of the pitch, mistakes on which Arsenal swiftly capitalised. Dropping the lackadaisical Andrey Arshavin to the bench paid great dividends as Theo Walcott stepped up and justified his selection from a starting berth, using his threat and pace to pin back Ashley Cole and put him under constant duress. The dynamism and work rate of the entire side was maintained to the final whistle, where it seemed a possibility that they may crumble after conceding.
The challenge, though, that Arsenal now face is to foster their new found swagger so that it may still be present on April 30th 2011 when Manchester United visit the Emirates, and going on Arsenal’s recent history, the challenge they face may be just as monumental as the one faced by Chelsea.
- Ciarán McManus
The Premier League champions seem under-prepared in what looks a difficult season to be attempting to retain the title.
What a difference a summer makes. Just three months ago Chelsea steam-rolled their way to the Premier League title with an emphatic 8-0 demolition of Wigan on the final day of the league season but now a cloud of doubt is hanging over Stamford Bridge following a disappointing pre-season and a squad which has done little to remind us why they are backed by so many to retain the title. TCR turns its gaze towards the reigning Premier League champions, speculating as to why a second year at the top may be a bridge too far for the West Londoners.
Throughout the 2009/2010 Premier League campaign Carlo Ancelotti’s side boasted an invaluable habit of winning games whilst thumping their opponents into submission in the process. Notching seven goals on three separate occasions last season, not forgetting eight against Wigan, demonstrated a gulf in class which intimated that Chelsea were a cut above some of their supposed equals within the division. This season however, the signs of blue domination are less apparent. Pre-season warm up matches are difficult to analyse with the same scrutinising intensity as a competitive fixture, largely for the reason that every manger reels off the same stock response about fitness being the priority, an act which causes the final score line to be somewhat of an irrelevance. Surely though, Chelsea fans would have looked at the pre-season fixture list, which included Crystal Palace, Wycombe and Eintracht Frankfurt, and thought they would win more than just one of them as convincingly as they had done only a few months ago. As it happened only Palace fell to the might of the Blues in a cagey affair which ended a meagre 1-0 at Selhurst Park.
It may be slightly harsh to criticise Chelsea for failing to impose themselves on a series of games which will, quite frankly, become a redundant footnote at the bottom of the page if they annihilate West Brom in their opening Premier League fixture, but the early loss to Manchester United in the Community Shield could be more damaging than most would think. Although this match is often dismissed as ‘just another friendly’, it is still the first teams of the best two sides in the top tier of English football competing for psychological dominance to take into the new season. On Sunday, Manchester United proved many of their doubters wrong with an opportunist display which capitalised on and highlighted the defensive frailties in the Chelsea team. Chelsea were reliant upon an exquisite record against the ‘big four’ last season in accumulating the points which took them to the title so a loss to their closest challengers of last term could take a toll on confidence levels in a side which already seems to be struggling to sustain any momentum as it is.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Chelsea’s Community Shield performance was the ease in which Manchester United pulled apart their once impenetrable defence. A Chelsea team not too dissimilar to the one fielded by Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday once played an entire Premier League season conceding just fifteen times under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Based on Saturday’s performance, Chelsea’s once colossal defence must improve drastically if they want to operate with such efficiency in the coming season.
Unfortunately for Chelsea the tools at their disposal hardly seem well acquitted to the job which is required of them in the coming season. A fine defender in Ricardo Carvalho will be imminently joining Real Madrid and he leaves behind a limited group of defenders at the club who will be granted the task of shutting out Chelsea’s Premier League opponents. Ashley Cole and John Terry’s private lives have exploded in front of the nation and the consequential pressure seems to be having an effect on both players’ performances. Two figures who were once integral to the Chelsea backline now seem capable of a calamitous mistake at any moment. The remaining spots in the Chelsea defence will be filled by any of Branislav Ivanovic, Paulo Ferreira, Alex, Yuri Zhirkov and Jose Bosingwa, a list of players who are playing out of position, suffering injuries or just not very good. With these defensive inadequacies in mind, it would appear that Chelsea will be reliant upon the tidy possession football instigated by their exquisitely talented midfield players to keep the pressure away from their defence. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that this side scored over one hundred goals last season and almost all of the players who were responsible for this purple patch remain at the club.
Using these attack minded tactics, Chelsea will always be able to dismantle the less talented of sides in the league and wrack up a hefty goal difference tally whilst doing so. However, losing their edge over their title rivals through an ill disciplined defence could ultimately be detrimental in their bid to retain the Premier League title. Interest persists from the Chelsea camp in the Brazilian attacking talents Ramires and Neymar but not even a whisper is to be heard of a defensive player bound for Stamford Bridge. Perhaps Ancelotti needs reminding that all great sides are built from the back.
- Paul Richards