Theo Walcott on the right wing was Arsenal's key to neutralising Ashley Cole.
It's tempting to say that Chelsea failed to give their all against Arsenal at the Emirates, and they certainly didn't play very well at all. However, that's only a partial explanation as to why the team lost, so let's dig a little deeper into what actually happened during Monday's drubbing. There's no formation chart for this one as I'm on the road.
- Chelsea's fullbacks, in particular Ashley Cole, have historically posed a real problem for Arsenal, creating havoc down the flanks as the Gunners' wide forwards have been unable or unwilling to help yet not threatening enough to force the defenders to stay in place. Despite the need to nullify Cole having been obvious for several games, Arsene Wenger had yet to do anything about the issue - until, that is, he deployed Theo Walcott against Cole and shifted Samir Nasri to the left against Paulo Ferreira. Walcott's speed ensured that Cole would be going on no surging runs forward, and Nasri kept Ferreira at bay as well. Without the support of their wide players, Chelsea's attack looked blunt - at best. Carlo Ancelotti introduced speedster Jose Bosingwa for Ferreira very late on, by which time Chelsea had already lost the game. Perhaps an earlier change of personnel at right-back was called for?
- Speaking of personnel changes, John Obi Mikel was substituted for Ramires at half time, and Chelsea immediately conceded twice. Mikel has two jobs: The first is to link up play between the defence and midfield, providing an outlet in the centre of the pitch, and the second is to act as a shielding presence in front of his back line. It was fairly obvious that job #1 was going unfulfilled due to the Nigerian's woeful passing, but he was actually doing pretty well in protecting his defenders before he was subbed off. Ramires coming on pushed Essien to the holding role, which is a little strage - Ramires is worse than Essien in central midfield, and Essien's probably worse than Mikel at holding. Chelsea's midfield was rather instantly plunged into chaos - both Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott scored as a direct result of Arsenal pressure on a confused midfield, and Walcott's goal came after Florent Malouda, who was playing left wing, gave the ball away in the centre of the pitch thirty yards from Petr Cech's goal.
- Malouda was immediately yanked off the field for his mistake, replaced by Gael Kakuta. The young winger had an exhilarating game, and if you ignored several errors his performance was very promising. His close control of the ball was something on the order of otherworldly, and he repeatedly made some very good defenders look very, very stupid with his dummies and flicks. Unfortunately he made a few passes which were almost majestic in their sheer direness, pulled off a 'backpass' which let Nasri through on goal (Cech saved), and found himself in exactly the wrong spot a few too many times. But that's what coaches are for.
- It's interesting to me how one player can dominate an entire side of the field as the opposition comes up with containment strategies. With Robin van Persie barely fit and Cesc Fabregas not at his best, Samir Nasri was the driving force for Arsenal and a major thorn in Chelsea's side. Against Tottenham, Paulo Ferreira had partner with a midfielder in order to match up against Gareth Bale, and he required significant help against Nasri as well. Salomon Kalou provided it, but when the right winger in a 4-3-3 collapses into a defensive position and stays there, a major resource is taken out of the attack. Chelsea might have been better off letting Ferreira try to deal with Nasri by himself and giving Kalou a run at left-back Gael Clichy, who looked like the weak link in the Arsenal defence.
Giving the ball away in your own half is a cardinal sin of football. As you can see from the chalkboard below, Chelsea were doing this so often that had they been living in the 1480s they'd have been burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition. Arsenal managed to get Chelsea to cough up the ball so much through excellent pressing, but there was a certain amount of laxness in Chelsea's play that was fairly inexcusable. Despite a two-week break, the Blues failed to do any real pressing of their own until they were three goals down.
Figure 1: Chelsea vs. Arsenal - Interceptions. Powered by Guardian Chalkboards.
- Where's Josh McEachran at anyway?