View From The North Bank: Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0
Much has been written about Saturday’s draw with Chelsea so I’ll spare you the forensic analysis. The long and the short of it is that it was a pretty dull game and we didn’t play anywhere near our best. Many of the players looked tired and there was an anxiety that was missing in our recent run of good form.
There was an anxiety in the stands too. This probably comes from the loss to Wigan and the creeping feeling that we’re stumbling over the line rather than roaring home like we’d threatened to. I’ve written plenty about the improved relationship between players and fans and the fact that the noise we created against Sp*rs, Milan, Newcastle and City were a key factor in those four wins so it’s no surprise to see it work the other way. Both players and fans tried to live up to their side of the bargain but the spark to really set the afternoon alight was never found.
Much of the focus seemed to be on Aaron Ramsey. He’s not at his best lately and there was an air of trepidation when he got the ball. He dwelt on it a few times, like he had done against Wigan, but generally put in a decent shift. To his credit he never hid; he never does. The midfield was disjointed without Arteta but Rambo kept looking for the ball and scrapping to get it back. He’s in a poor run but the way to get out of that is to keep working, trying your passes, having your shots. He has the ability and the rhythm will return.
It’s been a hugely challenging couple of years for Ramsey, both professionally and personally. For a lad of 21 to be thrust into the middle of an expectant Arsenal side, following high profile departures and injuries, takes a lot of doing. He’s played 40+ games this term. By my reckoning he’d have played closer to half that number had Wilshere and Diaby been fit. And that’s without mentioning the psychological and physiological difficulties from having his leg smashed to bits by a cart horse, or having to deal with the death of a highly influential figure on his career. Some Gooners seem to judge him too harshly given the context.
It wasn’t only Rambo who looked laboured. Song wasn’t quite himself and gave the ball away cheaply whilst Rosicky, although as committed as we’ve come to expect, wasn’t quite the whirlwind we’ve seen recently, having to play despite suffering from sickness.
It seems like an easy option to refer back to his absence but I do think that we missed Arteta. We haven’t won a league game without him this year: his presence gives Song and Rosicky freedom to roam, without him Ramsey and Rosicky didn’t look entirely convinced which role they were playing.
Up top, RVP was in the chances but none of them were converted. He has a stunning natural ability to drift into the right spaces but on Saturday he seemed to be snatching at efforts rather than despatching them with the composure of a few moths ago. The knowledge that one goal would do it makes each opportunity harder. In truth, he does look a bit jaded and that’s only to be expected of a man who has played 97% of the time available this season. That’s by far the most he’s ever managed in an Arsenal shirt.
As a side note, as we all know by now, RVP won the PFA Player of the Year Award last night. It’s a well deserved accolade and I don’t think many would argue that he deserves it. We’d be a lot worse off than looking over our shoulders in third if it wasn’t for him. The award is proof, along with all the goals, that he is the world class player we all thought he’d be if only he could stay fit – I seem to remember some bloggers writing him off when Chamakh was banging in the goals in his absence at the start of last season…
Back to Saturday and whilst it’s only right to focus on what we didn’t do right I still think it’s worth taking the opponent into account. Sure, we weren’t as dynamic as we’d have hoped, the pressing was limited and the passing was too slow but Chelsea only came for a point. To be honest, I was pretty surprised that they were so intent on avoiding defeat. A draw is surely of little use to them. Even less so in hindsight, given Newcastle’s comfortable win. I know they have a big game in midweek but you’d like to think that a side of internationals, spearheaded by a £50m striker – albeit a severely out of form one – would make more of a game of it considering they are off the pace for Champions League qualification next season.
Whilst we needed to win it was perhaps even more important not to lose. Had we over committed too early, pressed their centre halves time and again, played with a higher line, we might have been picked off by their counter attacking tactics. It’s happened so many times before, not least last Monday night!
A point is a disappointment but we’re still in the driving seat for third place. We have Stoke, Norwich and West Brom. Three winnable games. All three will be tough, especially our mates in The Potteries, but they are winnable. Looking at our competitors run ins and form, I still think seven points would see us third. Newcastle are going like a train but I still don’t think they’ll clock up four more maximum’s in games against Wigan, Chelsea, City and Everton. Sp*rs have a reasonably comfortable run in but they’re making hard work of everything at the moment so the possibility of them suddenly turning it round to get the points required are slim.
It’s funny how the mood changes. We were playing so well up until recently and we seem to have stuttered again but let’s be honest, we’d have taken this position a few months ago. We are third with our destiny in our own hands, things could be a lot worse. Ask Harry Redknapp.
Keep the faith.