Sunday, 23 March 2014

Arsenal fail to learn their lessons as Wenger's big day is ruined


· Match report       · Wenger's reaction

Morning Gooners.

That was not how any of us wanted to remember Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game. A mauling by Chelsea, a team I detest, managed by that man, a man I cannot stand. The result has ruined what should have been an occasion where this team laid down a marker and told everyone they could get a result against one of their rivals and were going to be in this title race until the end.

Instead we're attempting to forget what happened. I really can't believe we were that bad, yet the warning signs have been there before. I had a positive feeling about yesterday's game. I truly thought we could go to Stamford Bridge and win. How naive I feel now.

Chelsea were by far the better team, I hate to say. Yet we had the first opportunity to shoot on goal, to score and possibly change the momentum of the tie. But Olivier Giroud's shot was scuffed, he didn't make a true connection with the ball, and it was saved.

A minute later we were behind. An Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross field ball was cut out by Andre Schurrie. The German played a one-two with Oscar and then played in Eto'o who found the back of the net with a curling left foot shot.

How many times this season have we seen that happen? We don't take our chances and then get punished?

But not content on being punished once, we let ourselves down again. This time it was Santi Cazorla who lost the ball and Nemanja Matic pounced. He played it to Schurrie, who raced away and hit a powerful shot which flew into the back of the net. Wojciech Szczesny didn't move.

I don't know what has happened to Cazorla this year but he's not the same player we saw last season. Perhaps it's second season syndrome. But I don't think playing him out of a more attacking position is helping. Wenger has gotten away with moving the Spaniard alongside Arteta in a deeper role against Bayern Munich and Spurs, but yesterday we saw the idea and plan fall down.

I think you can get away with playing a player out of their more natural position for a game or two. But then they aren't as focused as they should be, stop playing on adrenalin and get caught out. I think we saw that happen with Cazorla yesterday.

So 2-0 down inside seven minutes and you would have hoped that lessons had been learnt from our games away at Manchester City and Liverpool. Clearly they hadn't been. The manager could have sent his team out to be compact, could have started with both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in front of the defence, we were instead far too open. Wenger wanted to play the game his way, when it was clear that we didn't have the tools to do it.

And again we were punished. Chelsea calved us open, Hazard shot and Oxlade-Chamberlain dived to his left to tip the ball around the post with his finger tips. The shot was going wide, referee Andre Marriner seemed to have awarded a corner when he was surrounded by two Chelsea players and then points to the penalty spot.

The linesman on the far side didn't signal. So was it the Chelsea players or the fourth official who made him aware of the handball? Then the situation became farcical as Marriner sent off Kieran Gibbs instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who then went over to tell the official he had red carded the wrong player. However the official stuck by his decision to dismiss Gibbs and Hazard scored the resulting penalty.

The game then went through a lull as it appears both sets of player came to terms with what had just happened. Wenger brought on Thomas Vermaelen to play at left back for Lucas Podolski.

But Chelsea had another goal before half time. Koscielny failed to intercept a break down the left and Torres crossed for Oscar to score a fourth.

Wenger threw his last card, bring on Mathieu Flamini and Carl Jenkinson for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Laurent Koscielny at half time. Vermaelen shifted to the centre of defence with Bacary Sagna going to left back and Jenkinson fitting in at right back. Flamini took up one of the midfield berths.

However after some Arsenal pressure where we looked like we might get a goal, it was the home side who added a fifth. Oscar shot from outside the box after picking up a stray Rosicky pass which Arteta could not get to. The Brazilian pounced and curled a shot around Szczesny.

Five minutes later the substitute Mohammed Salah, on for Oscar, scored with his first touch. Sagna tried to plays offside and the 21-year-old Egyptian ran through one on one with Szczesny and slid the ball passed the Poland international.

That was it. 6-0. Game over. Chelsea recording a record win against us. But it could have been prevented.

The team could have been set up more conservatively. Flamini in the middle might have helped. We could have shut up shop for the first half and played like we did at White Hart Lane with the majority of our players behind the ball.  But that is not the Wenger way.

We were missing four of our best players yesterday in Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Any side would struggle to cope without their talent available to them. So should the manager not have thought about making the best of a bad hand and done a Mourinho on Mourinho and set up not to lose?

Giroud is a shadow of the player we had in the first half of the season. The ball doesn't seem to be sticking to him as much as it did. And the form of players such as Lucas Podolski and Mikel Arteta, along with Cazorla, is a worry.

The only player who can come out of yesterday's game with any sort of pride - be it small - is Tomas Rosicky who at least tried his hardest to get us moving forward and wasn't guilty of giving the ball away in dangerous areas (as much) as his team mates.

But it's not good enough. The manager hasn't learnt from previous drubbings at Manchester City and Liverpool. It's a record of 17 conceded against our top four rivals. You cannot win a title when you get smashed like we've been at Middle Eastlands, Anfield and Stamford Bridge.

The players must take responsibility too. They let themselves down and the manager, on what should have been a very special day for him.

Where do we go from here? We've got eight league games to go and a very, very important FA Cup semi-final against Wigan. The team has to return to winning ways against Swansea on Tuesday night, then they have to get a result against Manchester City next Saturday.

Securing a top four spot and the FA Cup has to be our aim now for this season. If we achieve it, we'll have made progression. But there is plenty of work to be done in the summer.

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