The game against Chelsea on Sunday was, as I’m sure you all know by now, a goalless draw.
As everyone always labels them, it was inevitably drab, never-ending, and disinteresting.
There were some noteworthy moments, things for Arsenal to work on, and things for Arsenal to take into big games next season.
One thing is for sure: we are a side on the up.
The Arsenal line-up was unsurprising. The same team from the win against Liverpool was selected with a few changes from the win over Reading: David Ospina, Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal and Olivier Giroud regained their places in the side.
With Didier Drogba only deemed ‘almost’ fit enough to start, Chelsea used an almost striker-less formation in the first half.
Eden Hazard was asked to join in more centrally while Oscar was sort of up front.
The main talking points from the first half were probably a number of penalty appeals.
I won’t waste too much time talking about them. Oscar dived. Cesc Fàbregas dived even though Santi Cazorla did dangle a leg. The ball struck Cahill’s arm but was hit from a yard away.
The only call Michael Oliver may wince when reviewing the game is when Oscar went through. For the first time Fàbregas was allowed the space to play a ball not dissimilar to the one which assisted Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. Oscar raced onto it. Hector Bellerín brilliantly cleared his goal-bound effort but David Ospina cleaned the Brazilian out.
They are rarely given but that is no excuse, we got away with that one.
As we have seen a lot, Arsenal rely on the fullbacks for width. Especially in these games where a low defensive block floods the middle of the pitch and allows you a bit more space out wide.
The first half saw two half decent opportunities thanks to surging runs from Héctor Bellerín. His smart cutbacks led to the penalty appeal and a Mesut Özil effort, which safely found the arms of Thibaut Courtois.
The second half was an even cagier affair, but Arsenal created one big chance. Alexis Sánchez found an overlapping Nacho Monreal. Another brilliant low ball in from the Spaniard found Özil, but the German missed the ball. Danny Welbeck, caught unawares, couldn’t make good enough contact to divert it towards the goal.
Another chance was fashioned, not by a fullback but rather Laurent Koscielny, who stole the ball high up the pitch and darted into the channel. Santi Cazorla should have done better with the shot but once again Arsenal showed how crucial those spaces out wide can be if you attack quickly and deliver sensibly once you get there.
I can’t help but feel like the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have made a big difference dragging Cesar Azpilicueta out. Having Aaron Ramsey in the middle, where he sniffs out chances, would also have been a big boost. Welbeck could have been selected with Ramsey moving inside, but Arsène Wenger seems reluctant to pair Ramsey with Francis Coquelin – especially at the expense of Cazorla.
Welbeck did have one run at Azpilicueta when he came on, and a deflected effort saw Courtois forced to turn the ball around the post.
Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular adds an extra cutting verve to our game. His touch can be clumsy but he really bursts beyond players. He’s going to be a huge player for us.
Defending set-pieces was no problem for us on Sunday. Between free-kicks and corners Chelsea had four opportunities to trouble our defence. Only once did they win the ball, and caused no real issue.
We had plenty of opportunities to swing in a delivery, but we didn’t cause too many waves ourselves. Chelsea are superb at defending in those situations. Only once did Courtois parry the ball, but Per Mertesacker dragged a difficult effort wide.
We never really looked vulnerable when defending these situations and, to be honest, it was a relief. Time and time again this is where we have come unstuck, but not this time.
Without doubt the other area where we have let teams in, particularly in big games has been on the counter. The midfielders go forward, the fullbacks go forward, and we are left exposed.
The balance has been much better lately with Monreal and Bellerín offer an attacking threat while remaining sensible.
An end-of-the-game flurry of bookings came as Ramsey, Cazorla, and Monreal (twice) brought down Chelsea men on the break. In the past we have let teams counter, unwilling to ‘take one for the team’ with a cynical foul. We seemed to have learnt from the past.
When we were haring forward, Chelsea were sometimes not quite set defensively. One particular scene stands out, but Alexis failed to find Giroud with the final ball.
With the players we have, counter-attacking should be our greatest weapon, but we have go to work on our decision making in those vital moments.
Improve there and we will be winning even more games.
Cutting the ball back generally creates the best chances in football. Against such a brilliant defensive side happy to sit back Arsenal, shouldn’t be too disappointed by the openings that they did manage to force.
xG map for Arsenal-Chelsea. Weird match that could’ve gone either way. Feels odd to say it was a given for Mourinho. pic.twitter.com/PexvfakUom
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) April 26, 2015
As I said after the Liverpool game, the most promising thing is we are now capable of different styles against good opposition. We have more strings to our bow.
We pressed high against Liverpool, we were patient and sat deep against Manchester City, a mixture of the two approaches saw us win at Old Trafford.
Against Chelsea we were patient. We didn’t commit too much and we were willing to take bookings when we did.
Three wins and a draw from those four fixtures in 2015 – Arsenal are competitive against the big teams again.