Ozil failed to deliver – again
Mesut Ozil is a world-class player – I’m not disputing that for one second – but in Arsenal’s big Premier League games he hasn’t made a match-winning difference. During the Gunners' 1-0 loss at Old Trafford he was ineffectual.
His use of the ball was uncharacteristically sloppy against City as the Gunners lost 6-3. OK, he did set up Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Liverpool, but against Chelsea he finished another 90 minutes with little to show for his ball mastery. The German was the game’s most prolific passer in the attacking third – completing 19 of 23 attempts – but he failed to carve out a single goalscoring opportunity. When Chelsea dropped back into their defensive shape, with everyone behind the ball bar lone striker Fernando Torres, Ozil couldn’t find a gap in the impregnable blue wall.
In the big games, the big players step up and administer a killer blow. Ozil needs to start doing this if Arsenal are to remain in contention for silverware.
Arsenal’s passing is getting sloppy (by their standards)
During their 6-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium, Arsenal’s passing was lax. Their usually pinpoint exchanges were missing the feet of their team-mates and finding those of the men in light blue. One such slack pass from Ozil to Mathieu Flamini was punished by Fernandinho. Surely this was just a blip?
Arsenal might have a tendency to choke under pressure, but they always zip the ball about with style. But yet again against Chelsea their passing looked tired and careless. Ramsey was the main culprit in the opening exchanges, inexplicably giving the ball way 3 times in quick succession. Towards the end of the first half, Bacary Sagna appeared to have caught the bug as he sent a simple pass to the Welshman flying out of play. The less said about Theo Walcott’s use of the ball the better.
Arsenal attempted 545 passes – 205 more than Chelsea – and their accuracy was only 6% better than the visitors’. Completing 458 passes – a success rate of 84% – doesn’t seem that bad on paper, but it was the way they conceded possession cheaply when they had time and space to hurt Chelsea that will worry Wenger.
Jose Mourinho’s side had less of the ball, but managed 13 efforts on goal, 4 of which hit the target. The Gunners created just 7 chances and only troubled Petr Cech once, with another effort being hooked off the line. The weather played its part, but if you want to challenge for the title you have to find solutions in a scrap.
With Walcott in the team, Arsenal lose balance and fluency
You can understand why Wenger selected Walcott – he’s got pace to burn and an impressive scoring record against Chelsea. The England forward has netted more times (5) against the west Londoners than any other team. The threat of his speed could also keep Cesar Azpilicueta pinned back, with the Spaniard fearing Walcott’s ability to race in to the space left in behind.
But Mourinho is not naïve enough to let this happen. Azpilicueta’s surges forward were conservative and when Chelsea didn’t have the ball there were plenty of blue shirts retreating to shield the back four. Whenever Walcott was in possession, two Chelsea players were dispatched to apply pressure. Mourinho made sure there was no space for the sprint king to run into. Walcott is at his most effective when he plays on instinct – as his finishes against Manchester City showed – but when he has to play with his back to goal or he has time to consider his options, his brain and legs melt simultaneously.
There was a moment in the second half where the counter-attack was on. Ramsey swept the ball out to Walcott who faced up to Ramires. From the stands there seemed one obvious option – kick the ball past the Brazilian and turn on the afterburners. Instead, he ran straight into Ramires and the chance was gone.
Walcott is a touchline-hugging speedster, not an intelligent technician capable of swapping positions during the game to throw his marker off his scent. Spanish conjuror Santi Cazorla is. When he plays alongside Ozil, Ramsey or Jack Wilshere they all interchange positions and passes, leaving the opposition chasing shadows. Walcott is a lot easier to mark. His lack of defensive acumen also suppresses the attacking influence of Sagna.
The French full-back is usually Arsenal’s go-to man down the right wing, but against Chelsea he had to sit back, alert to their counter-attacking capabilities and Walcott’s indiscipline. The Gunners’ number 14 barely touched the ball over the 90 minutes, completing just 11 of his 19 passes. All 4 of his attempted dribbles were halted.
Wenger should have introduced Cazorla early in the second half. His ability to keep the ball and create something out of nothing could have made all the difference.
Mourinho played not to lose
It was clear from the outset that Mourinho was looking to hit Arsenal on the counter-attack. Knowing his team would spend a lot of time without the ball he started with Mikel in the holding role, Frank Lampard and Ramires in front of him and Willian and Eden Hazard out on the wings – ready to hit the nitro button when Chelsea broke down an Arsenal attack and sprung the counter.
This meant Oscar and Juan Mata were left on the bench. Selecting either in a game like this has its risks, but it can also bring plenty of reward. Yes, they’re not going to add much defensively, but their technical skills would have improved Chelsea’s ball retention. They also have the capacity to unlock a miserly defence. They might not have the pace of Willian or Hazard, but their brains work at breakneck speed.
Against West Ham United, Oscar found the net and presented his team-mates with 3 chances to score as they won 3-0 at Upton Park. Mata, who has scored in his last four games against Arsenal, terrorised Southampton at Stamford Bridge during a 3-1 win for the Blues. It was his cross that John Terry headed home to edge Chelsea in front and the Spaniard found gaps in the Saints’ defence on 4 other occasions.
In the absence of Mata and Oscar, Lampard played a starring role. The England man rattled the bar in the first half, and between him Hazard and Willian, they created 8 goalscoring opporunities. Lampard also put in a shift defensively – making 6 ball recoveries and 5 tackles – more than any other player.
These numbers are impressive, but apart from his effort that hit the woodwork, Chelsea didn’t have any other clear-cut chances. Mata or Oscar might have been able to fashion something out of the ordinary.
Cahill and Terry should partner each other in defence for England
I know it’s hard, but cast aside your perceptions of Terry. His misdemeanours on and off the field make it almost impossible to admire him, but the fact remains – he’s a quality defender.
Alongside Cahill he has forged an impressive partnership at the heart of the Chelsea defence. Terry has never been quick across the ground so a loss of speed is not that detrimental to his game. His most underrated skill – his use of the ball – remains, along with all his defensive qualities – physicality, sensing danger and aerial power. He might have lost the respect of some players, but he’s still a leader out on the battlefield.
Cahill possesses all these qualities, with added mobility and speed. The former Bolton defender made 7 ball recoveries on the night, bettered only by Arsenal’s Sagna (9). He was Chelsea’s top passer, finding a blue shirt 36 times from 43 attempts. Terry wasn’t far behind in the distribution stakes – he was the Blues’ third best passer with a record of 33 completions from 41. The Chelsea skipper made 9 clearances and won 4 out of his 6 aerial challenges, making him one of top performers on the night.
Between them they made a number of crucial blocks and interceptions. These efforts combined managed to shut out one of Arsenal’s standout players this season – Olivier Giroud. The French striker hardly had a sniff. With just over 10 minutes to play he lashed a volley wide. Moments later he slid in to meet a cross from Kieran Gibbs, but Cech did enough to deflect his effort over the bar.
If Roy Hodgson could find a way to integrate Terry back into the squad and ride out the storm, the controversial defender’s experience and ability might prove invaluable in Brazil. In reality, there’s more chance of Adnan Januzaj getting a plane ticket in the post.