Before the Chelsea-Arsenal match, many Gooners were looking forward to the game against Jose Mourinho’s team, as they dreamed of a memorable victory in Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge that would take the Gunners to one point behind Chelsea with a game in hand. To Chelsea however, this was but their next minor obstacle in their march to the Barclays English Premier League title.
It took Chelsea just 17 minutes to set up an unassailable lead, with Samuel Eto’o opening the scoring, followed merely 100 seconds later by Andre Schurrle before a hullabaloo incident in the 15th minute saw Andre Marriner inexplicably send off the wrong player for a horrendously unsporting act from the Ox.
While Gunners fans will be quick to divert the attention of their mauling to the fairly rare wrong sending off, they simply started off with their heads elsewhere. They were punished for their almost casual approach to the game, already one goal down. And if ever the soccer world had doubts on Arsenal’s title credentials, it was laid bare by the unorthodox move by milestone manager when he substituted the attacking Lukas Podolski for Thomas Vermaelen. That tactical change sent two messages out to the players and fans; the first was that it was all about damage limitation for Wenger’s men – who have been on the receiving end of a 5-1 and 6-3 mauling by Liverpool and Manchester City in the league this season. The second was a freshly sealed envelope inviting Mourinho’s men to unleash torrents of attacks.
By the end of the first half, even goal-shy Oscar had got his name on the score sheet. Oscar – who broke his 10 games goalless run – went on to double that tally. To rub salt in their wounds, winter signing Mohamed Salah added to the score line, his first for the club. The not-so-long-ago solid and impenetrable back four had – over a 90 minute period – become an error capital for which Chelsea were unapologetic in capitalizing upon. And what prevented the score line from spiraling into double digits was the reliable-but-occasionally-shaky hands of Szczesny.
While many will rue the red card that marred what would have been a pinnacle game for the title, Arsenal paid dearly for their lax play in the opening minutes of the game, coupled with the peculiar move by Wenger to go for safety with more than an hour of the titanic clash still to go.
What was far more worrying than the score line itself was the relative ease and innumerous occasions Chelsea overran, outsmarted and peeled open the Arsenal back four. At one point in the game, it was almost as if Chelsea were facing a shambled Sunday morning side. With no player willing to pick the baton from the other, Arsenal’s abysmal performance was plainly evident.
Perhaps nothing better summed up Arsenal’s performance better than former England international Dion Dublin’s post-match comment:
“Arsenal have been all over the place, nobody taking responsibility, nobody talking and nobody wanting the ball. They have fallen apart, it is not like Arsenal to do that. Chelsea though have been awesome.”
Truth be told, Wenger’s reluctance may have affected the Gunner’s chances for silverware, but the score line is nowhere close to the reality of what a striker would have added to the clueless side. Injuries seemed to have handicapped the team, but Wenger is well-aware that the likes of Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo are capable of producing assists, if not goals for the team to flourish.
For their part, Chelsea were simply telepathic today as no player was a passenger in the rampant performance in the supreme performance. Their breathtaking counter attacks always saw them have three or four players charging at the feeble-looking Arsenal defense. Put simply, Chelsea were simply on another level against an Arsenal side who had lost the game “in [the first] 10 minutes” as Mourinho put it in his post-match interview.
Arsenal are now tasked with having to pick up what is left of their gut-wrenching defeat and prepare – both tactically and mentally – for their next game.
Today saw Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes erased.