Monday, 7 April 2008

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1 - Title Race Is Over...

After 60 minutes it seemed to be going so well and to plan. I really thought we might have a chance to take Chelsea's unbeaten record at home away from them. The truth of the matter is that Sagna's goal over papered over the cracks that are growing larger by the match. The title has gone for us now; we have no chance of beating Manchester United the way we are playing and a trophyless season seems far more likely.

Our game has got to change if we ar
e going to have any chance of beating Liverpool over two legs. Right now this team plays the ball nicely at times but looks lacking in attacking threat. It is graceful but very far from clinical. The defence is looking a shambles and the squad is looking depleted at exactly the wrong time.

The football being produced is all very pleasing on the eye but the fact of the matter is that a substantial amount of chances are not being created. It has been coming ever since November but only now has the grit that got us so many victories dried up. Today I only remember two real chances that we created from open play. Even those were tame shots that Cudicini stopped easily.

Just take a look at the two men leading the attacks today. Drogba was a class above Adebayor this afternoon and vastly overshadowed his counterpart. Drogba was strong, tricky, clever and deadly. Adebayor was weak, lacklustre, frustrating and blunt. Where Drogba got into Toure and Gallas, Adebayor seemed to refuse to put Terry and Carvalho under pressure that would cause real problems.

Adebayor has looked out of sorts recently. Whether it is the braids that brought him his goals or not, he needs to look at himself right now. He has had a brilliant season but the best players keep going and show quality till the very end. In the other game today, Cristiano was largely ineffective but still came up with a crucial goal when it mattered. If Adebayor wants to be considered as world class, performances like the one today are not going to cut it.

The one player everyone wanted back asap was Van Persie but I had my mind on another player's return. The problem is I do not know when it will be. We are missing Tomas Rosicky so much. His will to make things happen and drive from midfield is lacking right now. He has the creative mind as well and gives that balance. We need him back soon but I am very worried over his injury troubles.

The squad may well need a real shake up this summer. Eboue is not good enough to start for us. He wastes possession far too often and seems to have no brain. First of all what idiot charges a free kick way before the player has started his run up. He was walking a tight rope for 85 minutes and was lucky to stay on the pitch. He got away with a deliberate handball as the ref had the wrong angle. I am not saying he should go as he is a good utility player for us. We do need a proper winger to stretch teams as Hleb is good when he moves inside but at the end we made the game too narrow to open up Chelsea.

I also believe Wenger has made an incorrect decision at a crucial time. While Toure was away Senderos and Gallas formed a partnership that had balance to it. They had an understanding that combined aerial strength with cover on the ground. The lack of pace from Senderos was not such a problem. As soon as Toure came back it all started to go wrong.

Against Boro we were caught flat by a simple ball over the top. This type of long ball was causing us little problem with Senderos there to dominate the aerial ball. With Senderos benched, we have two defenders that are too similar in their game. They both like to take up similar positions and act as the covering defender. They can both play with Senderos as they are a perfect foil to him.

Today was a classic example of why a Toure-Gallas partnership is not as good as it seems on paper. They both have pace, are strong in the tackle and good at getting back at attackers when they are played in. The problem is that neither of them are prepared to attack the ball, get tight to their man and take charge in the defensive area. When Toure and Gallas play together and are up against a quality striker they are often shown up. The striker is able to get the ball down and make things happen.

Berbatov did the same at the Emirates and today Drogba made them look amateur. Toure was looking good on the cover with some good blocks and last ditch tackles. The problem was the fact he had to do this so often. In the first half Drogba played off Gallas and got some joy but Toure was always there. In the second Toure had the job of marking Drogba and here it fell apart. Toure failed to get tight to him and twice allowed him the space to fire Chelsea into the lead.

Senderos may have struggled against Drogba in the past but today could have been the chance to change it. If Wenger had stuck by him against Villa - he had every reason to - and given him the chance to shine alongside Gallas once again he may well have taken it. He could not have done much more wrong than what Toure and Gallas did when trying to mark Drogba. Both the goals lacked someone like Senderos in their build up:

1-1 - The ball comes over and offside or not (more of that later) Drogba bought it down. The problem was Gallas who lost his head as his desire to get the ball in front of Drogba cost him his position between Drogba and the ball. he lacked power and having missed the ball left Drogba the chance to smash the ball past Almunia.

2-1 - With the defence asleep the ball was swung over and once again Gallas was beaten in the air, this time by Anelka. As the ball came towards Drogba, Toure attempted some sort of kung-fu clearance and got himself in a muddle. This was awful defending and showed once again that the defending lacked conviction.

Another thing that was apparent to me today was the importance of Sagna to the side. Along with Flamini I feel he has been a massive influence on this side and the changes made to our game. Not only did he have the desire to get on the end of the corner but we seemed more solid at the back. As soon as he was forced off we did not have the cover he brings. Eboue was always a suspect defender and did not show us any different in his 20 minutes there. The main thing however was the lack of time we got to settle without him there. It can take time to settle with a change like that, Chelsea did not grant us any.

The injury was followed by another mistake from Wenger, well in my eyes anyway. With the game dragging on and the scores at 1-, it was set up perfectly for a counter attacking set up. He had Eboue at right midfield before he was forced to right back. The obvious change was Walcott. He had the pace to attack Cole and break on the counter. Yet Wenger went with Diaby who is not all that comfortable on the left and was not really going to pose much of a threat. He may have shown some neat passing and skill but we needed penetration.

Once Walcott was readied, it was far too late and he rarely got the ball. It took 10 minutes or so to get him on the ball and whenever he made dangerous runs in behind Cole the opportunity to set him free was passed up too often. Then Bendtner came on but we did not see our forward players working together well enough. It summed up our failures in front of goal.

Do not get me wrong. Te build up play was still there at times. In the first half we kept it well and looked relatively threatening on the ball. We lacked the firepower up front which ultimately cost us there. We were poor at the back and Almunia bailed us out a few times. The midfield however did use the ball well and Hleb nearly got Van Persie in with one very cute pass. We were just as entitled to a lead as Chelsea were but once out defence crumbled we were never going to get anything.

As well as being blunt in the final third recently, we have been dealt some bad refereeing calls. Aliadiere was offside for his goal at the Emirates. I do not care if he is considered inactive, 2nd phase bla bla bollocks. He gained an advantage by being ahead of the play. Today however it was far more clear but. Drogba was on his way back from an offside position but never made it back before the ball was played long towards him. He was offside as the ball came to him and the goal should have been ruled out.

That decision came at the worst time and changed the game firmly in Chelsea's favour. It was their first meaningful shot on target and swung the momentum firmly towards them. As we settled into a new defence the goal rocked us. Had it been ruled out we may have been able to hold out for longer and see it out. How decisions like that can be made baffles me. The linesman are paid to do their job; surely it is not hard to get in line with the back 4 and spot that Drogba was not in line.

The issue of video replays once again comes to the fore. It would not be hard to continue the play until the ball was in the net. After that the Arsenal captain should be able to request a deferral to the fourth official. The ref should also ask to see it again if he is unsure. Therefore the right decision is made and if the play leads to nothing, there is no need to stop play.

All in all it has been a pretty bad day. Liverpool put up a pathetic showing at Old Trafford, something I doubt we will see in Europe. Chelsea knocked us out of the title race as I do not see us winning all 7 remaining games in the League. The Champions League is still a possibility but we must improve in front of goal.

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