A must-win game for both sides today with the teams jockeying tentatively for the first half hour. Neither side could settle into rhythm, and ten minutes on it looked that Arsenal were bending, a team on the brink of panic, clearing poorly and unable to hold the ball in attack. Chelsea were countering quickly, and though they held less possession it seemed like Drogba might make something happen all on his own.
It would have to be on his own too, as the Ivorian was isolated from a lagging Frank Lampard (who was not quite in sync with the team on his first game back from injury), while Malouda and Kalou were ineffectual up the wings. Even Cole, who always wants to remind the Gooners of what they’re missing, was held in check by a not-so-baby-faced-anymore Sagna. But the Blues’ defense was solid in the first third of the game, retracting into a shell and forcing Wegner’s men to pass the ball around the periphery, or neatly stepping into long passes and turning the ball upfield through the Bison.
Then Arsenal turned the tables. Walcott, who had been the most nervous of a visibly nervous Arsenal side, got a few lucky bounces to start the twist, and when Ashley Cole picked up a yellow and had to play more cautiously, Theo appropriately took the game to him. On the left Nasri was at work holding possession, making small passes and pushing the point, and up top there was Van Persie, back in a starter’s role and causing a bit of a rift across the Cult Football intranet. While we agree on the match in nearly all ways, co-author Amy Kahmille and I don’t see eye to eye on Van Persie, then we chatted during rest of the match:
Amy: Those last few minutes of the first was the turn around for the Gunners, albeit without the help of the striker van Persie, who to me does nothing in most matches, this one being no different. I was happy to see him subbed out in the 75th minute but would have been happier to see him go sooner. If Drogba were in van Persie’s position, Arsenal would really have something up top. Instead it has someone who stands around offside, misses shots at close range, touches the ball maybe three times the entire game, doesn’t play defense even when he does get back behind the ball, and when he does check-to doesn’t demand the ball to make something actually happen, and most importantly, loves to foul!
Sean: Van Persie did miss that lofted pass that gently floated in front of his favored left foot a few minutes in, and that is exactly the kind of goal Drogba lives on, but I think he moved pretty well when he came to the ball if not while trying to split the center backs. He doesn’t have the physical presence of Chamakh, but his touch is so much better, and he’s really quick. He’s just not back up to speed after his injury – guess you could say that about players on both teams.
Amy: I give credit to the workhorses for the Arsenal side. They were essential in defending the center of the field and their effort also led directly to the three goals. Fabregas (finally 100% healthy and starting), Walcott (replacing Arshavin who has been terrible lately), and Song were amazing. Fabregas was the engine of their midfield, his composure sparked that turnaround in the first half an led to Alex Song’s goal. Up 1-0 was a great way to end the first half for Arsenal, and amazingly they were able to carry the momentum into the second period since they haven’t won against Chelsea in two years.
Sean: I felt myself rooting for Arsenal at the start of that second half, but I never thought they would hold on. Then all of a sudden Chelsea just imploded.
Amy: The first ten minutes of the second half were pure embarrassment for the Blues. Arsenal scored two goals within as many minutes with Chelsea’s defense fast asleep. They were on their heels from the second Walcott stole the ball off the opening kick and displayed horrible marking/tracking. Theo made Fabregas’ goal, and then Fabregas made Theo’s. They were flying, but then the nerves started in.
Sean: Arsenal seemed to settle down when Ancelotti brought on Kakuta. Kakuta? Who is this kid?
Amy: They looked like they’d win, but then Drogba sent in that cross for Ivanovic to deflect in for 3-1, and you thought Chelsea might storm back. But Kakuta didn’t do a thing except lose the ball.
Sean: I thought Fabregas made an unusually high number of poor passes today, but then again his good passes are more in number and subtlety.
Amy: You should do a chalkboard.
And so it is decided. Below is some chalkboard action showing Arsenal’s passes versus Chelsea’s over the entire game. Arsenal’s made 576 passes with a completion rate of 82%. Chelsea made a hundred less passes with a 76% completion rate. Fabregas had a 75% pass completion rate and looked to make more happen from the left than from the right (where Arsenal was leaving space for Walcott to run).