It’s official now. Scolari can’t beat top four teams, not even at home. To use a cliche, this was a match of two halves. The one in which Arsenal wasn’t even there on the pitch. And the one in which we were a bit complacent, conceded an offside goal and we couldn’t create chances to save our lives. So that’s 12 points lost at home out of a possible 24. Funny that Arsenal, of all teams, had to beat us at home. Well, every dog has its day.
Just like I mentioned in the pre-match post, the result of the match should be attributed to Scolari. He had a real responsibility to win this match today for various reasons. We’ve been losing points at home rather consistently. We’ve not beaten the other top four teams yet this season. We are struggling big time to score against decent teams. We are kind of making a mess of our champions league progress as well. We had a chance to put a title contender out of sight. There are five reasons already. There should be more. By the way, what did Arsenal win today? They celebrated like they won an unbeaten quadruple, by scoring a winning goal in the stoppage time of a champions league final. Yuck!
For all that Scolari has brought us, there is a bloody drought in chance creation. We are not simply creating enough chances. Forget those big wins that we notch against hapless opponents. In matches of substance, we don’t create enough chances. When you have an error-free defence and a world class attack, you can live with fewer chances with a higher conversion ratio. Unfortunately, despite having a world class goalkeeper and a superb back four, we have not been error-free. The things that have plagued us of late have been lapses in concentration, periods of complacency, occasional indifference to proceedings and lack of urgency.
A combination of one or more of these plus a compelling need to play in ‘a certain way’ is what has been limiting us this season. I’m all for playing football any which way you want. But if you think we’re playing well enough, we should be creating those chances. We should be having clear shots on goal. What we’ve been able to produce after those well-knit array of passes is not much. It is either our forwards are very fragile or our midfielders are unable to give them that lovely ball on a plate.
Scolari had about two months of transfer window for him to bring in anyone. Of course, it is very well documented that he wanted Robinho and we made a meal of that transfer. But then it was his choice to keep Anelka, Malouda, Kalou, Joe Cole and Drogba. He said his squad was perfect and just wanted one Robinho. I have been shouting my lungs out that our problem on the pitch is only with the forwards. We might get the odd goal and we should keep a clean sheet. We can’t afford to make defensive errors or cannot provide for bad refereeing decisions. If a team scores a goal or two, we are unable to overcome that deficit and win the match. This was something that was bread and butter earlier. If an opponent scores two goals in the first two minutes, I have my doubts if we can score three goals in the next 88 minutes.
Simply put, Scolari’s Chelsea does not rise up to the occasion. Let me say it again. We don’t rise up to the occasion. That’s the problem. If you have beat top teams home and away, you have to rise up to the occasion. And that’s the manager’s job to prepare the team and gear them up for these matches. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea had a fantastic record against the top teams in England and in Europe. He was a master of big matches. A world champion himself, Scolari is not new to big matches and neither is this Chelsea team. That’s what exhausts all excuses.
First half, we absolutely deserved to take the lead. We were denied a penalty and also, at a crucial time Kalou was called offsie when he was not. In the second half, goners get lucky and linesman fails notice a 2 yard offside by van Persie and allows the goal. And then in true Arsenal style, we lose concentration quickly to concede another goal. That was a great strike by van Persie for the second goal. All this was over by the 62nd minute. We then played out more than 30 minutes. In that half hour, did we do anything worthwhile to deserve a goal? Nope. Was it because Arsenal were defending well? Nope. Their midfield and defence were absent for most parts of the match today. I’m not even sure if Fabregas or Nasri played today. When you have 30 minutes to score to prevent a defeat, what would you expect to see? Devastate the opponent with attack after attack. Okay, how many shots on target after the 62nd minute? One?
When we were struggling to create chances, Scolari did very little to take the matters into his hand and force a change. He made no evident tactical changes at all. We were in the same loop all match. He makes two substitutions. He takes off Mikel who was really a thorn for the Arsenal midfield. That was a very bad move. I’d have kept Mikel and might even have given him the license to step foot in the final third. At some point, we could have gone 3-4-3. We didn’t. 2-1 and 3-1 mean the same. On the pitch, in the last half hour, we didn’t try to do anything differently. As I said, we were in the same loop all the time. That annoying over-elaboration when we had to be very concise and precise.
On-field tactic-wise, Scolari has not impressed me yet. I have not seen him influence a match midway with his substitutions and/or tactical changes in chance creation or formation. I have seen him make no subs or bad subs or ill-timed subs, pretty much like good ol’ AG. The way the team plays, you won’t realise if we are leading or trailing, if we are pressing for a goal or holding on to a lead. We seem to play in a very flat mentality. We don’t seem to react to the situations. Remember the game against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in the last two seasons. How did we react when we went a goal down? Didn’t we plunder them? We have kind of become quite numb in the way we play our football.
What’s more annoying is, this was always coming. It’s not that we got a rude shock or something. We have been deteriorating for the last few weeks. There were so many signals and symptoms but we seem to have done nothing much to really improve. Of course, we are inflicted by injuries but surely it’s not really that bad. For starters we have Petr Cech plus a top class back four with no one being played out of position. Also we’ve had either Essien or Mikel in every single match. Add to that an in-form on-fire Frank Lampard in almost all of the matches. Then there is the goal machine that is Anelka, premier league top scorer. With these names so far and their form, you should be able to do a fairly good job in the big games too.
Scolari might have to ask himself some questions and give us some answers. It’s fair to say he is under pressure. Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea was synonymous for the term consistency. I want that back. I want that professionalism and pragmatism back. Our current form is L-W-W-L-W-L-W-D-D-L. That’s 4 wins, 4 defeats and 2 draws in the last 10 games. Remember, if we don’t beat Cluj at home next week, there is a chance of us not progressing to the knock out stages! Makes me a bit nervous!
I’m not trying to sound as if there’s a crisis. Not certainly when we are on top of the table and just a win away from progression in champions league. Most teams would bite our hands off if we offered this. What I’m trying to say is that the problems I see are unfortunately here to stay unless Scolari also sees them and does something about them. The next big one is on 11-Jan at Old Trafford. Until then, we play Bolton (A), Cluj (H), West Ham (H), Everton (A), West Brom (H) and Fulham (A). The important information is in brackets. This fixtures list shows that we can still be No.1 or No.2 in the table by the end of the year. Hope there won’t be any further drama.
I really really hope we get back our ruthlessness sooner than later. I hope to see a reaction at Old Trafford. I’m not going to consider the results against Bolton etc as the reaction for this defeat. I’ve taken the other results for granted as we have a strong enough team and to lose points against them means something else. We need to beat Man Utd at Old Trafford in January. Until then, Scolari must ensure that we put in a winning run with least importance to whether we play it on the round or in the air.