Team Selection: A Wenger Masterstroke
The so-called over-paid and over-rated pundits were busy salivating at the prospect of Didier Drogba making a “Senderos” out of Koscielny and Squillaci and Ashley Cole setting the left flank on fire; however, in a true testament to the famous saying “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”, Wenger pulled a golden rabbit out of the hat. He replaced Arshavin with Walcott, shifted Nasri to the left, and drafted Djourou in the heart of the defence.
Walcott not only kept Cole busy the whole night with his break-neck pace, but also tracked back deep into his own half to harry the Englishman into surrendering possession. He beautifully set up Cesc for Arsenal’s second goal, before sending a trademark bullet into the far corner. It was only after Theo was substituted with Diaby that Cole breathed a sigh of relief and started to venture into dangerous areas; but after Rosicky came on, even that brief spell came to an end.
Djourou didn’t do anything spectacular, as Chelsea collectively failed to present Drogba opportunities in areas where it would have mattered. Drogba of now is a shadow of his former intimidating self, and the Swiss defender was more than capable of handling the ‘new’ Drogba.
Substitution: An Ancelotti Blunder
For the first 40 minutes, Chelsea had maintained their shape, and the match was balanced on the knife edge. Even though Song scored just before half-time to put Arsenal ahead, Chelsea had been decent defensively. As the teams headed back into their dressing rooms, what was needed was a reassuring speech from the Italian and a couple of game-changing substitutions. He should have brought on Gael Kakuta, who would have been eager to impress after a contract extension, in place of the disillusioned Kalou and Jose Bosingwa in place of Ferreira. However, we saw the back of Mikel, who was replaced by Ramires.
Although Mikel had been far from his best, he had managed to keep a tight leash on Fabregas. As a result of been tightly marked, the Arsenal captain had to drop deeper into midfield to influence the proceedings. Once he was withdrawn, Cesc has the freedom to push forward and link up with Walcott. Arsenal scored twice within the space of two minutes to put the match beyond Chelsea, after the Blues had lost possession in an area where one would have otherwise found the Nigerian roaming in.
Walcott – Chelsea’s wrecker-in-chief
Arsenal’s Work Ethics
Arsenal had not beaten Chelsea in their last four meetings in the Premiership. Last night, they were better prepared and more determined than their rivals, and it was for all to see that the North London side wanted this win at any cost. At the Emirates, one witnessed a Red n’ White machine – a collective unit that attacked and defended together. Chelsea had planned on deploying a routine strategy, a strategy of soaking up pressure and then hitting Arsenal on the counter. Arsenal were well prepared this time, and turned the scales in their favor with their off-the-ball tactics. When the Gunners lost possession, they ran, pressed, and closed down the visitors until they got the ball back. The home side played further up field instead of dropping deep, and ran their hearts out to deny Chelsea any room to build up attacks.
Fabregas’ return proved to be a bigger inspiration than Lampard’s
Arsenal and Chelsea had been sorely missing their most influential midfielders up till this game. Cesc and Frank returned to the starting line-up to the delight of both sets of fans, but it was the Spaniard who made a more memorable comeback. Cesc took longer to settle into the match, misplacing a few passes; but he grew in confidence as the game progressed. Had Song not scored, Arsenal would have got a penalty courtesy Ferreira’s foul on the Arsenal captain. He would probably be indebted to Ancelotti for getting Mikel off his back after the half, which gave him more freedom to dictate play, but nothing can be taken away from him for putting in an inspired show.
Lampard – overshadowed by Fabregas
Frank, on the other hand, was returning after a much longer lay-off. For all his qualities, people forget he’s still human and can’t be expected to immediately get back into his groove. Although he lasted the entire match, most of time was spent in dealing with Arsenal’s threat. In between helping out Cole on the left, he did play a delightful ball to Kalou and also tried to link with Drogba on a few occasions, but such moments were scarcely spread out and were not enough.
The reigning champions were pathetic and have no excuses for putting in a disillusioned show
Watching the Chelsea team play week in week out, it is easy to picture them as protagonists from Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece The Inception. It seems the Blues were together killed in a dream and have been hopelessly meandering in limbo, bereft of any purpose or idea. The Tottenham game led football fans to believe that the champions have finally realized who and where they are, but it was only a false alarm; the champions are still lost in time.
What they need is a Leonardo (no, not the Inter coach), who can put his life on the line and bring them back to where they belong. Chelsea fans will hope that someone rises to the occasion soon, as it’s extremely painful for everyone associated with the club to watch the team fade away into oblivion.