Despite a much improved second half in which the team actually looked like a top four side, we still ended up empty handed due to the woeful 45 minutes that preceded it.
Chelsea should’ve been out of sight as the halftime whistle blew but wasted many good positions that their quick passing game earned them. Wenger fielded Diaby and Coquelin in midfield — I assume to break up the rapid attacks expertly engineered by Mata, Hazard and Oscar — but it didn’t work at all as we were left exposed time and time again.
In fact the two Frenchmen played a big part in the Chelsea goals. First of all Coquelin overran the ball and hurriedly passed it straight to Azpilicueta, whose lobbed pass found Mata in oceans of space to make it 1-0. Coquelin was fouled immediately after he gave it away and the ref should’ve blown for a free kick — we were unlucky there and I can only assume the ref thought the ball had already been lost. It was the wrong decision and it cost us, but nevertheless Coquelin’s slack pass was typical of the carelessness with which we played those opening 45 minutes.It doesn’t get much more careless than Diaby’s dallying for the second goal though. Caught in possession just inside his own half, Chelsea broke at pace and Ramires bought a penalty by tempting Szczesny out and then falling over him. Lampard made it 2-0 after 16 minutes and it was a miracle we made it to halftime still in the game as the Blues swarmed around our box without adding to their lead.
Ironically we’d had the best chance of the game just before the opening goal when Giroud shot wide after a good pass from Walcott, but apart from a long range Cazorla effort we offered nothing else.
The second half was much improved though as Arsenal suddenly found a hunger from somewhere. They harried and hassled whenever a blue shirt had possession and exploited Chelsea’s nervousness following their midweek capitulation to Southampton. We created a few good chances and finally took one when Walcott latched onto Cazorla’s through ball and finished neatly with over half an hour to go.
However, we couldn’t find the equaliser and were almost caught on the break when substitute Ba rounded Szczesny only for Vermaelen to kick his shot off the line. Thank goodness Benitez played the out of sorts Torres otherwise Ba could’ve had the game wrapped up long before that.
So another league defeat and the big question is why couldn’t we play like that in the first half? It’s not the first time we’ve been sloppy in the opening 45 minutes. This is, I think, a fair summation of our most recent games:
Chelsea — woeful first half, very good second half
Swansea (Cup replay) — poor first half, very good second half
Man City — woeful first half, ok second half
Swansea (Cup) — poor first half, ok second half
Southampton — woeful first half, woeful second half
Newcastle — poor first half, good second half
There’s a definite pattern there and it’s something that’s happened quite a lot all season. Quite why we’re never turned on from the first whistle baffles and frustrates me and is ultimately down to the manager.
Another thing down to Wenger which cost us today was the squad depth. Replacing Arteta with Diaby and/or Coquelin just isn’t good enough and it’s no coincidence they were at fault for the goals. I watched the Spurs game afterwards and who had they brought in to replace the injured Sandro? Scott Parker — a quality, experienced pro. They are now seven points clear (although we have West Ham to play midweek) and their better squad and superior consistency will see them finish above us. Wenger will not buy and we will not qualify for the Champions League, it’s as simple as that.
I’m also concerned about the improving Liverpool who visit the Emirates in 10 days and are now level on points. The Sturridge-Suarez partnership looks promising and they will give us a tough game. And I haven’t even mentioned consistent Everton who have a three point advantage over us! All of this makes Wednesday’s match against West Ham a must win, but it all depends on which Arsenal turn up — the first half team or the second.