Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Late Comeback Falls Short

This result comes down to nothing other than the fact that Arsenal could not be bothered to show up for the entirety of the first half. Anything approaching 90 minutes of full effort would have resulted in at least a point today, and likely all three. A listless first 45 minutes combined with the ever-present schoolboy defending instead saw us come home with nothing.

I don't understand it. I don't understand how an entire side can come into a match of this magnitude this unprepared mentally to play. I do understand that as a one-off, these things happen. But when it happens with the frequency that it happens from Arsenal, it speaks volumes about the character of the players on the pitch and the manager who is supposed to get the best out of them.

I honestly believe it will take a miracle to finish 4th now.

This time, it wasn't about team selection. The eleven that eviscerated Swansea City started this match as well, which was clearly the right decision (the usual caveat about Santi Cazorla being played into the ground aside). It's not like we have much else in the way of options anyway.

Matches like this often turn on a single moment, and indeed the 4th minute saw that moment come our way. Theo Walcott created the chance, fresh off of signing da ting. Side note: I had meant to write something here outlining my thoughts on his contract, but could not find the time. Short version - it's far too much money but my sense is that we had to stop the bleeding as far as big-name players leaving the club. Much like when Chelsea and Manchester City first got their benefactors, they had to overpay for the first wave of players that they signed. Likewise, we had to do the same to get that first player to stay. We continue.

Olivier Giroud ran onto Walcott's pass, and had a clear sight of goal. Mitigating factors were there - it was a tight angle, and there were a few defenders in semi-attendance. But, a top-level striker hits the target in that situation. Perhaps it goes in, maybe Petr Cech saves it. What a top-level striker does not do is screw a tame shot hopelessly wide. That's Giroud in a nutshell. He's a good player, but not a great one.

That's Arsenal in a nutshell. We're a good side, but emphatically not a great one.

Chelsea are arguably also not a great side, but they are a good one and they were at home. Despite the odd choice to start Fernando Torres instead of Demba Ba (my theory is that the weather and field conditions decided that for Rafa Benitez), they have a frightening attacking midfield trio and they were the ones to make us pay.

The excellent Cesar Azpilicueta played a long ball which was run on to by Juan Mata. Bacary Sagna was playing ridiculously high up the pitch, and Mata exploited the gap perfectly. He took a touch and walloped an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. It was a fantastic finish, but basic positioning and competence from Sagna would have prevented it. So, while Francis Coquelin was undoubtedly fouled in the build-up and thus the goal should not have stood, we can't claim much in the way of sympathy either.

Szczesny did well a few minutes later to repel Mata after the Spaniard had effortlessly weaved through the entire Arsenal defense, but there was little he could do to avoid conceding a penalty a few minutes later. Abou Diaby did poorly to give the ball away in the center of the park, and Chelsea were away. Torres passed to Mata, who left Thomas Vermaelen for dead. The cutback came to Ramires, who was in completely alone. Not only was Per Mertesacker guilty of ball-watching and cutting too far inside, but Sagna was once again absolutely nowhere to be found. Szczesny came out and mistimed his challenge. The replay showed minimal or no contact, but that's a difficult call for the referee in real time.

Frank Lampard took the penalty, and was as clinical as ever.

That proved to be too large of a deficit to overcome for the Gunners. The job may have been easier if our first goal had come in the first half, but even conceding two early goals did not spark Arsenal to life. Torres could have extended the lead further in the waning seconds of the half, but his finishing failed him for the umpteenth time.

As far as Arsenal goes, where do you begin to describe that half? Our erstwhile target striker was constantly outmuscled by his markers. Cazorla looked jaded once again. Diaby and Coquelin were an ineffectual Maginot line, Chelsea's attackers simply going around them by exploiting the flanks. Sagna, as mentioned, was Sunday-league standard.

If ever a match was crying out for all three subs to be used at halftime, this was it. Not only were there many passengers out on the pitch, but it would have sent a message to the squad that such listlessness will not be accepted. Instead, of course, the manager made no changes. I'll put my money where my mouth is - I would have withdrawn Sagna, Diaby and Giroud and replaced them with Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin.

Speaking of which, look at this bench. I mean, just bloody look at it:  Mannone, Jenkinson, Ramsey, Arshavin, Koscielny, Santos, Frimpong.

Whenever the boss witters on about "super top quality", he is trying to sell us on the idea that he cannot locate better players than these men. Turn that over in your mind for a few seconds.

That said, whatever the boss said to the squad during the halftime break worked, as they came out with intensity and purpose. We can all be forgiven, I think, for asking why those words weren't said 45 minutes previously.

There were a few fits and starts, Cech saving comfortably on a few occasions. The goal did come on the hour mark though, Walcott going some way towards justifying the new contract. Torres was caught in possession, and Arsenal were away. Cazorla arced a perfect ball over the Chelsea backline. Walcott ran onto it, took a touch, and coolly chipped it over Cech and in.

Arsenal had their tails up now, and belatedly Arsene did make two changes. Ramsey replaced the injured Coquelin, while Arshavin came on for Diaby. Neither got into the flow of the match, though in Ramsey's case it was mainly down to how little we went through the center. Arshavin did show some effort, but he was no danger to the home side. I don't blame him, though. He's been frozen out for months now, and all of a sudden the boss is asking him to do a job against a top team on the road.

Again, this is a function of squad depth, which is supposed to be a function of the manager. I apologize for being a bit of a broken record here, but I report what I see. 

The last half-hour played out with Arsenal often in possession, but unable to apply tangible pressure on their opponents. I don't recall Cech having to make a serious save from that point on. The home side were happy to concede a long succession of corner kicks, and there were a several free kicks from the edge of the area as well. The guys who are supposed to be the threat in those situations - Giroud and Mertesacker in particular - were found desperately wanting. I don't exaggerate when I say that Chelsea could comfortably have defended 500 of those set pieces without ever looking like conceding.

When Demba Ba did come on with 10 minutes to play, he should have killed the game off. Arsenal were pressing for the equalizer, and Chelsea were able to get him in behind. Szczesny bizarrely came out of his area, and was easily rounded. Vermaelen did fantastically well to block the shot, but how Ba didn't just roll it to either side of him is a mystery.

The Belgian was less effective on the other half of the pitch, wasting a late free kick uselessly wide. Is he honestly our best option to take those? I understand we can ask that question about a lot of things, but this in particular irks me.

In the beginning of this report, I outlined a few things I don't understand. Here is one more: What does the manager see in this squad and in our situation that gives him his unshakeable belief that we don't need reinforcements? The situation is dire. Six losses and seven draws in 22 league games. We stand in sixth place, a full seven points behind our nearest and dearest in 4th place. Chelsea are four further points clear in 3rd place. I took a little stick earlier this season for saying we're Liverpool now, but look who's there tied in points with us (West Brom too, since we're on the subject).

Trouble is coming, and this season I don't know if anyone is manning the watchtowers.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 5, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 5, Sagna 3, Diaby 5 (Arshavin 6), Coquelin 7 (Ramsey 6), Cazorla 6, Wilshere 7, Walcott 7, Giroud 5

Man of the Match:  Not much to choose from today, so Theo Walcott for the goal.