Martin Atkinson, as expected, played a pivotal role in Arsenal’s defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Gunners said goodbye to their title challenge in the weakest possible fashion.
The lineup was not a surprise to anyone. In fact, it was just as I’d predicted before the game, apart from Theo for Welbz because, well, I forgot about Theo. Given his impact on Saturday, can you blame me?
The formation, however, was different, moving from a 4-2-3-1 to a supposedly more solid 4-3-3 with Ozil on the left.
Arsenal started well and had their first shot – a deflected Iwobi effort – before we even had two on the clock. Within moments, it was up the other end for a Chelsea corner and the tone was set.
Both teams wanted the win, and neither were going to use a bus to get it. We had an actual football match on our hands.
That didn’t last.
Chelsea took the lead with 12 minutes gone and it was a goal that should never have stood. Or even got that far.
Atkinson ignored a foul on Coquelin which allowed Chelsea to win the ball back. Chelsea got in a shot and as the ball came back from Cech’s save, Marco Alonso flew into Hector Bellerin, cleaning him out with an elbow.
Atkinson gave the goal, Arsenal lost Bellerin to a head injury, and Sky Sports discussed how he must have winded himself when he ‘fell’. The reason he ‘fell’ the way he did was because he was unconscious:
This is clearly a foul. Leading with his elbow. pic.twitter.com/69w6OpCbHO
— 7amkickoff (@7amkickoff) February 4, 2017
Had it been Mustafi on Costa we’d still be seeing replays this time next week with talk of red cards and bans. It was a disgraceful passage of play from Atkinson, but not at all unexpected. Sky then went on to tell us how ‘brave’ Alonso had been. It’s really brave to knock out your opponent before heading the ball, eh?
The goal changed everything.
Arsenal were rattled and Chelsea emboldened. Atkinson flashed a yellow at Mustafi for cleaning out Hazard but kept them in his pocket when Moses did the same to Monreal. Arsenal couldn’t get their shape back and were unable to get Ozil into the game. Alexis was trying to do everything himself, the worst of his selfishness shining through.
It took Arsenal about 25 minutes to settle after the goal and substitution, when they should have scored from a corner. Gabriel’s free header went straight at Courtois when he simply had to score in a game was never going to present many clearer chances.
Arsenal made it to the break just one goal down – a feat that seemed unlikely in the aftermath of their opener.
The halftime discussion on Sky was beyond disgusting. Both Thierry Henry and Graeme Souness said the goal was ‘great’ and ‘fair’ Sky even showed the clearest angle of Bellerin being knocked out – before Alsonso met the ball with his head – and added ‘And that angle clears up it’s a fair leap’.
Alternative facts everywhere.
If I’m honest, my interest in the game had waned by the time the second half started. I was alert enough, sadly, to watch our defence act like weebles as Hazard slalomed around them to kill Arsenal’s hopes in this game and the title race.
We were going down hard.
Changes came – Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck for Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott – but it was too little too late. We couldn’t take any of them anyway. Welbeck, Mustafi, they all should have done better, although Welbz was denied by a great Courtois save.
Chelsea made it three when Cesc Fabregas, only on for about two seconds, capitalised on Cech’s awful mistake to loft the ball into a gaping hole almost as big as the one that now separates us from Chelsea in the league. Giroud grabbed a consolation, but nobody cared.
What we saw from Arsenal in this game was more mental fragility and a team unable to change when it needs to do something different.
It was a performance we’ve seen many times, usually against a team like Chelsea and there really is only one common thread running through all these games – Arsene Wenger and how he gets his team prepared for a match like this.
I’ve had a few thoughts on this so will address it in a post at a later date. I’ve been avoiding it because of the conclusions I know it will draw.