CHELSEA 6 ARSENAL 0
Where to begin. The Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge as title contenders, but left in a battle for fourth after an inexcusable and embarrassing 6-0 defeat to the Russians. It is, in my opinion, the most embarrassing defeat of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and that it came on the occasion of his 1,000th game in charge as Arsenal manager, against the opposition and manager that it did, made it all the more painful.
I watched two pre-match interviews from Wenger, possibly three. In each one he spoke about the danger Chelsea possess on the counter-attack, how we needed to be mindful of it. The teams were then announced and their line-up included four defenders, protected by Matic and Luiz, re-enforcing their very obvious tactics. And then add to the equation that we got beaten 6-3 and 5-1 in our two previous away games against our direct title rivals.
So, taking all of that into consideration, what on earth were we doing gifting away the ball in the middle of the park, with both full backs and the whole of the midfield ahead of the man losing possession, leaving the two centre-halves exposed to the very same counter-attacks Arsene had warned about twice inside the first eight minutes?!
If Arsene had warned about preventing counter-attacks in all of his interviews you can be sure as hell he stressed about it in his team talk. So how on earth did we manage to concede the first two goals the way we did? Did Arsene not stress the importance of shape and discipline enough? Did the players just not listen or implement the tactics accordingly? Or were the players just rank stupid? And having conceded the first goal in the way that we did, we did Arsene and Steve Bould sit silently in the dug out? Why did they not shout with fury from the touch-line to try to prevent it happening again, as opposed to watching on in disbelief as it did happen again just moments later?
So many questions, to which I could only provide guesses and speculative answers. By the time goals three through to six arrived it was already game over, inside those opening eight minutes, but that doesn’t excuse the pathetic nature of them. Chamberlain inexplicably hand-balling, Koscielny in no mans land for the fourth, Rosicky and Szczesny with a double assist for the fifth, and a ridiculously high line for the sixth. It was disgraceful.
We’ve conceded 17 goals away from home against City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. That’s as many as we have in our other 27 league games combined. We won away at Dortmund and have drawn twice at Bayern inside the last 12 months, the two teams who contested last seasons Champions League final. Yet domestically, in the big games away from home, it’s P15 W1 D1 L13 F13 A44 over the last five seasons – including this one – against the three other teams who have made up the top four in each of those five seasons (via @arsestats). Surely it has to be a mental issue?
Our title challenge is over. Even if we win our game in hand tomorrow night against Swansea we will still be four points behind the leaders. And then we face City at home and Everton away, from which I just don’t see us taking six points. If Everton were to win their game in hand over us and beat us at Goodison then they’ll be just two points behind. It’s time to face reality and think about consolidating our top four position.
It’s funny (in a non-humorousness way) that at the start of the season many people wrote us off, including our own fans. We were never title contenders, and were told we’d even struggle for fourth. And in recent seasons there has been the age-old debate as to whether you’d prefer fourth place and no trophy or fifth place and win the FA Cup. Now we’re in a position to get both a top four finish and win the FA Cup, arguably meeting (or for some people exceeding) this seasons expectations, and it’s being deemed a disastrous season to forget.
I think we need to take stock of where we are and where we’ve come from; overall there has been progress. And I also think that it’s no coincidence that our recent form reads only 3 wins in the last 8 when we’re missing the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, Ozil, and Wilshere – with the first two having been absent for far too long.
All that said, please don’t think I’m some naïve fool. I’m not stupid. I understand the goal posts of expectations moved due to our earlier success this season. I understand that to fall out of the title race doesn’t mean having to do it in such a diabolical fashion. I too demand answers and a response from both the manager and the players. I too want to understand why we fall so short and so hard when it comes to facing our title rivals (especially away from home). There is every need for the emergency meeting that has reportedly been called. There is every need to take a long hard look at ourselves.
But I also believe in Victoria Concordia Crescit. I believe that the best thing to do is to aim the cannons outwards. I believe that every fan at the stadium tomorrow night needs to sing loud and proud because bloody hell do our team need us right now. I believe that this team has the character and the ability to secure a top four finish and to win the FA Cup. I know the path from now until season end is fraught with more potential danger and embarrassment. But I’m Arsenal. I believe. Up The Arsenal.