Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: Listless, Utter Wank

This loss was brutal, no doubt about it. There was a listlessness in the side that permeated through just about everyone who wasn't a fullback, and it's beyond argument that a bit more cohesion would have resulted in us seeing off a Chelsea side that were a bit out of sorts themselves. But, look...there's 38 of these things. It is unrealistic to expect that the team won't give us the odd stink-bomb every now and then. Sometimes, you just don't have it on the day. It was unfortunate though that this performance came in a fixture of this magnitude.

Given the form and fitness of those involved, you can't fault the manager for the team selection. Some will talk about how Per Mertesacker should have played in place of Laurent Koscielny, but that is Monday-morning quarterbacking of the lowest order. All the talk previously had been about how we had three fit center-halves who were all on form, and that wasn't less true now that Koscielny proved to have a bit of a shocker on the day. Thomas Vermaelen returned from illness to partner him, while Abou Diaby also returned to the center of the park. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey were on the wings, with Lukas Podolski playing up top.

For whatever reason, the home side misfired straight from the opening whistle, and never were able to find their way into the match. Frankly, had Chelsea been at their best today, we may have been given a bit of a hiding. As it stood, the visitors were somewhat disjointed themselves, leading to an opening quarter of an hour where neither side covered themselves with glory. Passes went out into touch, played to spaces occupied by no one. Diaby drilled one long-range effort into Petr Cech's breadbasket, but otherwise neither goalkeeper was unduly troubled.

Speaking of failing to cover one's self in glory, referee Martin Atkinson was truly abysmal in the first 20 minutes. An Arsenal player would breathe on a man in blue, and up would pop Mr. Fussy with his whistle to award a free kick. Meanwhile, a man in blue could recreate the Battle of the Somme on an Arsenal man, and it was a disdainful little wave to play on. Not that it is entirely the reason for the first goal, but the set piece came when Chelsea were given a free kick for an absolutely ridiculous foul call on Vermaelen. If that was a legitimate infraction, then I'm the Tsar of Russia.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, Diaby went off crocked and had to be substituted. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the man to come on, and while he was always going to come on at some point, it would have been nice to have Diaby's energy and drive in the middle of the park. You can see why Arsene is spellbound by his potential, but how many more opportunities can we give him?

The excellent Juan Mata was the one to play in the free kick, a fantastic curling effort to the back post. In fairness, Koscielny was all over Fernando Torres and it'd be a bit harsh to assign blame for the goal on him. Torres managed to get a leg up to volley the ball past Vito Mannone at his near post, though you can't fault him either...there was no time for him to react. I'm generally loath to say anything nice about a Chelsea player, but you have to tip your cap to Torres on this occasion - it was a brilliantly-taken goal.

Directly after the goal, Atkinson rejected a penalty shout on either end, and I think he was right on both occasions. John Obi Mikel made slight contact with Mikael Arteta in the penalty area, but we'd have been incensed if a penalty were given against us for that. Up the other end, Torres received a diagonal through-ball that left the Arsenal defense for dead, and was in alone on Mannone. Instead of taking a shot first time, he faffed about and tried to round the Italian keeper. That let Koscielny come back, and while there was a little contact, Torres was actively prospecting for the penalty at that point. It was never a foul, and to his credit Atkinson agreed.

It easily could have been 2-0 shortly thereafter, were it not for Torres drifting slightly offside. Mata, who was easily the best player on the field today, left the Gunners' backline for dead again with a killer through-ball. Torres fired a somewhat-tame shot on goal, but Mannone let it drift through his hands and into the net. It didn't count due to the Spaniard being offside, but it was horrific goalkeeping and unfortunately a portent of things to come.

Seriously, if you're part of the contingent that thinks Wojceich Szczesny should be benched upon his return from injury because of one bad goal conceded in a game we already had in the bag (and I know you're out there, I've seen it on message boards), the burden of proof is on you to explain how this guy is better.

The half wore on with the home side barely mustering any kind of attack in anger beyond a few hopeful potshots from distance. Then, out of nowhere, a momentary flash of brilliance hauled the Gunners to level terms that they probably didn't deserve. The Ox marauded down the right, and his cutback into the penalty area found Gervinho. For some reason, the Chelsea center-halves retreated almost to their goal line, allowing the Ivorian a shooting lane. Despite that, he had a window about the size of the ball itself that would have resulted in a goal - he only had the near post to shoot at, and Cech had it mostly covered. To his credit, Gervinho found it with a ferocious effort that nestled just underneath the crossbar. It was a hell of a strike, and the hope at this point was that Arsenal could kick on from there and go for all three points.

I think we all know how that worked out, sad to say.

The second half picked up much where the first left off, with little attacking impetus from both sides. Atkinson was perhaps the best performer in the early going, correctly showing David Luiz a yellow for a blatant dive in our penalty area (fair play to him, he ended up having a good game overall after the horror show of the opening quarter of an hour).

Soon after, Chelsea got the lead that they wouldn't relinquish. If their run to the Champions League title last season proved anything, it's that they have a talent for finding a goal when there is a vacuum in the run of play. If you're playing them and don't show the requisite drive and desire to win it, they'll steal it from you every single time. In this case, two pieces of individual incompetence cost us a potentially-valuable point.

Vermaelen again was the man to provide the visitors with the set piece, though again I thought the foul was a bit dubious. However, the free kick from Mata should not have caused us any bother - it was a bit underhit, and not in a particularly dangerous location. The first problem is that Koscielny came across Mannone's field of vision, and even worse, slightly nicked it so that instead of going wide, it headed inside the post. There was no need for it, and was indicative of his performance on the night (and also continues his predilection for being fantastic 90% of the time, and coming up with comedy mishaps the other 10%). The other issue was with Mannone. As a keeper, you have to follow the ball over to the post in that just have to. I sympathize with the fact that Koscielny's run threw off his peripheral vision a bit, but that doesn't excuse him standing there rooted to the spot like a mong. There was no potential for a glancing header from a Chelsea player - their lot was nowhere near it. All told, it was inexcusable goalkeeping from the Italian, and it cost us dearly.

Get well soon, Wojceich.

As bad as we were over the entirety of the 90 minutes, it must be said that only the brilliance of Cech allowed the visitors to leave Ashburton Grove with all three points. Kieran Gibbs, who was about as good as we got in the first 75 minutes before tiring badly, fired in one of the few good crosses we had all day. Lukas Podolski managed to get a head to it, sending it back across the grain. Cech was wrong-footed, but still somehow got back across to claw out the shot.You have to admit it, it was a brilliant save.

The truth is that Chelsea were there for the taking if we wanted it, and as much as I dog the manager for his substitution patterns, he brought on the right pieces at the right time today. With 67 minutes gone, Ramsey and Podolski came off in favor of Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Ramsey's contribution amounted to not realizing that the guys in blue shirts were not the same ones he sees in training every day, and Podolski was very much on the fringes of the match. Arsene got these changes right - it's not his fault that both men failed to grasp the chance on offer.

There was one last gasp from the home side, with 15 minutes to go. The ball was played into Giroud, who took a decent shot on goal. It came off of David Luiz, leaving his goalkeeper wrong-footed once again. Once again, Cech was able to stop his momentum and get just enough of a hand to it to clear the danger. For all of the talk of him being past it, he was the entire difference between his team winning three points and coming away with nothing.

Despite the importance of the match, the Gunners were unable to muster any kind of desperation or urgency in their attacks. The opponents looked to have tired a bit, and Luiz had to come off injured for Gary Cahill. There's a reason why managers don't make changes to the defense except in case of injury, and that's because it badly affects the rhythm and cohesion of the defensive unit. Again, I stress that they were there to be taken. Instead, the visitors held the ball for much of the last 15 minutes, and with one exception in injury time, were never threatened.To give the devil their due, much of that was down to their lockdown marking on Santi Cazorla, who had no appreciable affect on proceedings.

Speaking of which, there were four minutes of injury time, which should have been 7 or 8 given how risibly the men in blue were wasting time from the moment they took the lead. The Ox was again the creator, his pass eluding the Chelsea defense and finding the onrushing Giroud. It wasn't the easiest angle in the world and there's no guarantee that any shot on target would have beaten Cech given his fantastic form. But, the fact that he couldn't so much as get it on the frame was the latest in what is becoming an unwelcome pattern of terrible misses.

So, we're left with a loss that stings more than a little. I think I speak for most of us when I say that there are few sides in the world I hate more than Chelsea, and I'd rather lose to United or City 10 times than lose to these guys once. But, I also have to admit that our guys brought this on ourselves with lapses in discipline and an alarming lack of application and urgency.

Still, it's only one match, and there are easier challenges ahead. Hopefully the team can take out their frustrations on Olympiacos mid-week, and use that as a stepping stone to start collecting points in the league. We're not in a bad spot given how strong our early opponents have been, but now is the time for the side to buck up and start winning games. Here's hoping.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 5, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 5, Vermaelen 5, Jenkinson 7, Diaby 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Arteta 7, Gervinho 7, Cazorla 6, Ramsey 5 (Walcott 6), Podolski 6 (Giroud 5)

Man of the Match:

There's a part of me that wants to break my own Arsenal-only rule and give it to Mata or Cech, given how little any of our lot deserve it. However, I do have to say that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did play fairly well and created what few chances we had. Not many men in red deserved to be on the winning side today, but the Ox did.