You know it’s bad when you try and think of the ‘good’ moments of a match and the most prominent element is the fact that Man United lost a totally seperate game.
Arsenal lost its way and its first match of the season, coming undone against a thoroughly professional Chelsea side at the Emirates. Fernando Torres’s neat finish compounded some poor defending by Laurent Koscielny, before Gervinho’s tidy work in the box saw us level just before the break. But despite looking an improved side after the break, Arsenal conceded for a second time, again from a free kick, when Juan Mata’s free kick went unchallenged in the box as Koscielny helped it in on its way.
The first goal came after one of many fouls in dangerous areas from Thomas Vermaelen, allowing Mata the chance to size up our defence, which came up seriously short. Koscielny had a nightmare all game, and it started with the total mismanagement of Torres. The defender looked to be in a wrestling match with the forward, but made the crucial mistake of turning his back on the goal, allowing the Spaniard to get a leg around him and toe poke home. Clever stuff from the striker and amateurish from Koscielny.
It was nearly 2-0 to Chelsea when Koscielny again lost out to Torres, who raced into the box, only to trip over his own feet allowing the defence to clear.
Arsenal never found a rhythm, yet somehow found itself level just before the break as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got forward, had time to look up, and belt a good cross at Gervinho in the box. The Ivorian, his back to goal, did well to control the ball, spin and shoot in one movement to lash the ball past Cech and equalise on half-time.
Our most fluid moments seemed to follow the half-time whistle for a period of eight minutes, but again we found ourselves behind after a Mata free kick. The ball evaded everyone, bounced in front of the keeper, and Koscielny could do little but try and flick it away, and instead helped it home.
It was a deflating moment. Though they were playing well before the second goal, taking the lead just confirmed the level of control both Mata and bazillionaire Eden Hazard had over the game. The two forwards were running the show, making our much hyped Santi Cazorla anonymous in comparison.
The game had started badly enough when Abou Diaby limped off after just 10 minutes with what looked like another innocuous injury. Having to immediately reshuffle the line-up so soon did us no favours, but the passing throughout the side was bad yesterday. First touches were heavy and the pass to no-one was frequently deployed at the most inopportune times.
Failing that, the amount of space we afforded Chelsea was really irritating. Surely this team knows how much impetus it gets from closing down and hassling opponents, allowing us to break high up the pitch. On Saturday, no such thing could be seen, neutering the influence Lukas Podolski and Cazorla have been having lately. Mikel Arteta had a rare bad game, with the aforementioned Mata and Hazard constantly speeding past him when he wasn’t able to foul them. Furthermore, his passing was also pretty questionable throughout.
The usual substitute duo of Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud came on in the vain hope of grabbing an equaliser, but it never came. Three minutes from full-time, we finally managed to string together a typical Arsenal moment where Giroud was put through into the box.
Yet again, it was another difficult chance for him, but he did the first bit well of getting past Petr Cech, showing some good technique. But there would be no finish from a tight angle, made even more difficult by an alert Ashley Cole who was on the line to stop any shot. The ball hit nothing but side-netting.
So our first loss of the season sees us fall seven points behind the league-leaders, while Man City also edge ahead. Early days, but the warning signs have finally emerged after a promising start.
Mannone – 6: Strangely not the busiest shift he’ll ever have but when called upon, there were no saves to be made. Let down by a poor defence in front of him but he didn’t cover himself in glory, either.
Jenkinson – 7: Another decent performance from the right back. His chasing of lost causes was stood him apart from his team-mates.
Koscielny – 5: Some complain that he was being man-handled by Torres for the first goal but both had arms on each other and it takes two to tango in that regard. At fault for the first goal and was all over the place at times. Lucky not to concede a second soon after the first when Torres muscled past him.
Vernaelen- 6: No command of the back line today. The defensive unit really struggled and he was forced into a number of strategic fouls throughout.
Gibbs – 6.5: Was beaten on the overlap once or twice but generally was okay. His crossing still needs a lot of serious work.
Arteta – 6: No command of midfield and one of his poorer showings, I thought. First touch was off and passes were misplaced.
Diaby – 6: Injury issues might be cropping up yet again. Hardly any time to make an impression before limping off.
Cazorla – 6: Anonymous for the most part as his Chelsea compatriots dominated. One shot from distance tested Cech.
Podolski – 5.5: A few games in a row now where he’s been notable by his absence on the left wing. I’m seriously hoping this isn’t becoming a pattern with the German.
Ramsey – 5.5: Shuffled across the park throughout the match, which didn’t help him much. Misplaced many a pass which saw some of the crowd start to get on his back again.
Gervinho- 6.5: The most un-Gervinho finish seen for a long time with his turn-and-shoot in one motion for the goal. But otherwise ineffective. Tried running at the full backs but was mostly contained.
SUBS: Chamberlain – 6: Came on for Diaby, huffed and puffed, tried a few things, but was mostly contained by Ashley Cole. Best moment came with his cross to set up Gervinho, but otherwise quiet.
Walcott – 5: Another substitute appearance, and largely made up the numbers during his time on the pitch. Added next to nothing of note.
Giroud – 5: Crucial chance late on as Arsenal concocted the best moment of the match, but the Frenchman couldn’t finish, on his stronger boot, when past the keeper. It was a tight angle and a defender was on the post, but I’m asking my first real questions about his finishing composure. Never really imposed himself physically on the Chelsea defence during his time in play.
Again with the Hype Meter and we’ve had our first dip since the slow start to the season, though if we had followed predictions over both the Man City and Chelsea games (i.e, losing to City but drawing with Chelsea) we’d be in the same spot we are now.
While the frustrations I had with yesterday’s performance should be levelled at all and sundry and not one particular player, I am also starting to get impatient for a properly good game from new signing Giroud. I think it’s about time the boss started playing him in the first XI more often, to allow him to get into the groove a bit more. He’s constantly being forced to fish off difficult chances and it just isn’t doing him any good.
In a brief chat with Arsenal FC Blog’s Andrew Weber after the game, he suggested to me that losses were overemphasised, and that perhaps draws were more painful. Ultimately, we both agree on the fact that this side still very much remains a work in progress.
The loss will perhaps get any ‘the next Invincibles????’ monkey that may have developed off our back. But it will also hopefully wake up the side, especially first teamers like Cazorla and Arteta who have done so well up to this point, in case any complacency crept in.
A disappointing match all round. Here’s hoping we can pick ourselves up and move on from this.