View From The North Bank: Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2
Our unbeaten start to the season came to end on Saturday as we were left to rue mistakes we thought we’d seen the back of.
Post-match I couldn’t work out if I was frustrated or strangely reassured. There was obvious frustration that we conceded such soft goals, yet the very fact that they were the result of basic errors we’d shown we could eliminate earlier in the season offered at least a crumb of comfort. The mood afterwards could have been justifiably more downcast had the goals suggested a gulf in quality. As it happens, for all their trickery, Chelsea offered little else to test Mannone.
There is no excusing the first goal. As Mata lined up to deliver the free kick Vermaelen and Koscielny were still looking to organise the defensive line. The ball came in, clearing the unmarked Luiz, and found Torres. Koscielny took up a horrible position and afforded a simple chance for Chelsea to take the lead. It hardly needs analysing to uncover what went wrong there.
The second was just as bad in its own way. Nobody took charge of the situation as an admittedly awkward ball flew into that tricky space between keeper and defence. Those goals can beat the best of defences, but again Koscielny did his keeper no favours by taking up a poor position – facing his own goal – and unconvincingly poking at the ball as it drifted in.
Allowing preventable goals is a bit of a recurring nightmare for Arsenal but coming weeks will confirm whether this sort of concession is a trait we can’t stamp out or the product of a bad day at the office. We had looked far more assured earlier in the season which might suggest that these goals owed something to a change in the middle of the defence as much as anything else.
I wrote at the end of last season that Mertesacker would be my first choice centre half. He took some stick early in his Arsenal career – partly because he doesn’t look very mobile, partly because of the 2+2 approach to assessing our defensive shortcomings – but he always looked like our most intelligent defender. There is a tough decision for Wenger to make.
Koscielny was outstanding last year (further reason not to rush to judgment after Saturday’s aberrations) and Vermaelen is a first class defender on his day, as well as being Captain, but has been rash in the challenge of late. A choice of players back there is useful to have and Wenger has suggested he would look to rotate his pairing depending on the opponent. As much as rotation must be a tempting ploy when you have the options I think it pays to maintain continuity in defence. It’s now over to Wenger to see whether he continues shuffling his pack or decides to stick on a first choice partnership.
Just to draw a line under the defence for the time being I think it’s worth highlighting the performance of the full backs. Despite getting caught on the ball a couple of times in the second half Kieran Gibbs put in another assured display, as did Jenkinson on the other side. Jenkinson has been in outstanding form so far this season and he put in his best all round display here. His defending is solid yet he did enough going forward to keep Cole on the back foot. He delivered a series of testing balls into the box, most notably a gem in the second half which none of our forwards chose to gamble on.
Up front we were unable to take advantage of our possession or the chances we created. Chamberlain improved when moved into the centre. He’s always keen to run at people and is powerful on the ball. There are times when he could be a bit more measured and not attempt to make something happen every time he has it but there is no denying what he can do when he hits his stride. The chance that Giroud put wide came from his fine pass.
I still think it’s too early to make any definitive statements but the pattern of well made but poorly executed opportunities keeps him in the spotlight. He keeps finding the spaces, which at least suggests he has the intelligence to be a good striker, he just needs to display the ruthlessness.
There is definitely something in the theory that Giroud will continue to find acclimatisation difficult when coming off the bench for 20 minutes here and there with the pattern already established. The other option is of course to start him although that is a big decision to make when Gervinho is amongst the goals. Like the defensive pairing I suspect well see rotation dependant on the opponent. It’s easier to rotate forwards but again, a lack of continuity for Giroud may slow his integration.
We were always going to lose a game eventually and, if we’re honest, most of us will have looked at the first six games and expected at least one defeat amongst a string of tough games. A win over Chelsea might have cemented our place in the early season reckoning, however win or lose, six games is still too soon to be picking winners. There is no outstanding contender in this league so far, everyone has looked vulnerable in one way or another. Chelsea remain unbeaten yet a minor improvement from us would have threatened that record. It’s often said that this is a league of fine margins; Saturday did nothing to disprove that.
Keep The Faith