Boring draw? That’s what the premier league football pundits would have you believe. You shouldn’t be surprised one bit about this. The pundits who declare a 5-5 draw as a great advert to premier league football, an intense goalless draw would certainly look boring. What the pundists want is calamitous defending and disastrous goalkeeping with lots of handbags, vicious tackling and throw in some terrible refereeing too. Sadly for them, they can’t forever talk about whether the ball crossed the line or not anymore.
It was by no means a boring draw. If anything, it was quite the opposite. This was between two top teams who are competing for the league title and also have a great history and track record of games between themselves. One manager has never beaten the other in all meetings. Plus, this was a derby. And, in a league that has too many contenders, this is easily a must-not-lose game. Despite this backdrop, the game was very lively. It was like a suspense thriller movie. And there was a cerebral battle going on in the rain drenched pitch. The away team was happy to concede possession but still very keen to win. Some people can’t see this go together. Yes, you can concede possession and not the match. One team had the possession and the other had the control. One team was probing all along and the other continued to threaten. This was a great game of tactics. If this wasn’t interesting, we should probably double the size of the goal posts and abolish the offside rule. Then you can say, ‘what a great advert for the premier league’ after that 24-21 win for the away team.
At the end of this game, we could have had three possibilities. One – Chelsea on 36 points joint top with Liverpool while the others are very close. Two – Arsenal opening up the gap on everyone and with Chelsea by 5 points. Three – Nobody gains ground and the top 5 teams in the league are in the range of just two points. Going for each of those possibilities have their own success ratio and consequences. I’m a bit like Jose Mourinho. I’m a pragmatist and I think for the season, not for this match. All things considered, I’d go for the option three which is to get a draw as a minimum, so nobody in the league table pulls away, and also look for opportunities to win the game. Someone on twitter said, ‘Jose Mourinho knows how to navigate a season. Important not to lose the game. Liverpool play City next, they take care of themselves’. Bingo.
Chelsea did exactly that. Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, have always played Arsenal like this. We let Arsenal have the ball and we know their weaknesses and we exploit those weaknesses – especially when we are playing away. Unfortunately, every time we choose to let the opposition have the ball, it’s misunderstood as playing defensive or even playing negative. You can say that when Chelsea did not attack when they had the ball. In fact, Chelsea did attack every time they had the ball and that’s why Chelsea had 7 goal attempts in the first half while the home team Arsenal had none. It took till the 88th minute for Arsenal to even register a shot on target. Let me say that Arsenal were playing negative football. They had lots of possession and they didn’t bother to create chances or even have a shot on target.
Somehow Jose manages to find the balance in key games where he ensures we don’t lose but at the same time sets us up in such a way that we get our chances to win the game – if only we could finish. So the team selection Jose made was fit for purpose. He went for a 4-3-3 which would be a 4-5-1 off the ball, with Torres flanked by Hazard and Willian, while Mikel protected the back with Lampard and Ramires controlling the centre. Mata and Oscar didn’t start. I wasn’t pleased with this but as the game progressed I could understand why. This was a very fit, pacy and capable Arsenal team playing at home. We don’t want to concede any initiative to Arsenal while we make ours. The way Hazard and Willian ran the flanks, I don’t think Mata or Oscar would have, in this game particularly. The Chelsea midfield bossed a game, finally. And, Lampard was in that midfield.
There were a couple of ‘manufactured’ talking points in the game. One was the tackle by Mikel on Arteta. That was poorly timed tackled with no malice whatsoever. It was on a rainy day on a skiddy pitch. Yellow card at worst. There was a feeble penalty appeal by a couple of Arsenal players for Willian’s tackle on Walcott. Well, there was contact but that was not a foul. This is another premier league rule of thumb – if there was contact, it must have been a foul. Well, no. There was contact but Walcott fell down like someone kicked the bucket under his feet. No penalty. And I guess the professor ziznz zee iz.
We had a very good first half that we could have finished 2-0 to us. Lampard was unlucky with that volley while Willian mis-finished a few times. Arsenal had one good chance all game and that must have been from a tight angle that Cech was covering. Arsenal did not threaten at all. Chelsea though must have worried the Arsefolks quite a lot. We were missing chances. The commentator made sure we didn’t miss this statistic: ‘No Chelsea striker has scored an away goal in premier league in 2013′. Given it’s Christmas tomorrow, this is a damning statistic.
After several games where we looked totally lost in midfield and leaky in defence, finally we played an away game where we controlled the what happened on the pitch and there was also quiet confidence and assurance about Chelsea. Ozil was invisible. The whole Arsenal midfield was out of ideas. Chelsea organised superbly and played as a team with a common purpose. I was particulary impressed with Lampard after a long time. I don’t think it’s because of the 4-3-3. It’s not about his attacking contribution. It’s about how alert he was while Arsenal was on the ball. He was constantly looking for spaces to cover and was closing all the passing lanes for Arsenal.
Mikel was the reason why Arsenal could not dominate the midfield at Emirates. He totally ran the show. Arsenal just couldn’t get past him and his ball retention was superb as always. With a 4-5-1, Arsenal weren’t going to get too much joy on the flanks but that also meant you needed strong presence in the middle and Mikel provided that. He’s always invaluable in such matches.
Overall, this was a very good team performance against a top team in an away stadium. This could have been a very good result if we had managed to take some of our chances. The way we played yesterday, if we had got a goal, we would have surely come out with a win.
Some Chelsea fans are upset that we didn’t win the game. We are rubbing shoulders with some teams that have phenomenal strikers. Aguero scores for fun at Man City. Suarez is not only the best striker in premier league (europe?) now but also the best player in the premier league in my opinion. We haven’t got a resurgent Wayne Rooney. Neither do we have the mercurial Robin van Persie. Based on our strikers’ form and their performances, we have no business to be in the two-point range with the league leaders.
Look at the post-game scenario. 5 teams are in the range of just 2 points. With practically no to little support from any of our strikers, and the defensive disasters that we have had, Jose Mourinho has still managed to keep us right in the middle of the title run by Christmas. Many other managers would have us reeling below the top five with our under-performing strikers. With goal scoring strikers, I’m very sure that Jose would have had Chelsea at top of the table with daylight between us and the rest. So I’m happy about where we are at the moment. The January transfer window is upon us. There are rumours and also possibilities of Chelsea signing a striker. I’m quite excited about this opportunity.
We now have two home games to finish this year on a high. On Thursday (boxing day), we play Swansea. On that very night, Man City will host Liverpool. A draw there would be ideal for Chelsea. On Sunday, we play Liverpool. If we do get six points in these two games at Stamford Bridge, we can really end the year on a high. And if we manage to get a new striker in January, we will be top favourites to win the premier league again. And yes, merry christmas to you all!