Written by Mean Lean on Monday, 21 January 2013 11:00
The referee made two decisions that cost us goals. One should have been an Arsenal free kick for a stamp on Coquelin by Ramires. The other saw Martin Atkinson give Chelsea a penalty when Ramires slipped whilst trying to round Szczesny in the Arsenal goal. Usually decisions like those drive me mad and I am sure that would have been my focus today had Arsenal produced the minimum requirements from the first whistle.
In my match preview I wrote about how we may have found the winning formula after a much improved second half display against Swansea in the FA Cup. The gears were increased also in the second half against Manchester City even with ten men.
Confidence plays a big part in football, you don't try passes that you would do if you were in the zone, your finishing many not be as instinctive and I wouldn't be here complaining if that was the case, what I found beyond strange was our lack of closing down in the first half yesterday. I used to always fancy us in big games because we would fight from the off. Sometimes the best Arsenal team's of Wenger's reign would play the lesser teams in second gear but when it came to the heavyweight clashes, commitment was never an issue.
Yesterday the players stood off Chelsea, let them pass the ball unopposed and it was left to Wilshere and Coquelin to put pressure on the ball, everyone else decided that it wasn't really that necessary. Why was that the case when the manager had spoken publicly about the need to be more physical, why was that the case when an obvious increase of closing down turned our performance around against Swansea?
My first thought was that the manager's freedom of expression is to blame but these are not children, most are experienced footballers who must understand what worked in our last two games and what didn't. Why did Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna and many more go onto the pitch thinking they could win without doing the hard work?
I cannot speak for anyone else but what frustrates me is that I know we have a good group of players, a group far better than our points or league position suggests. It is the second half display that makes you want to eat your own arm. Everything that was missing from the first half was on show in the second. Arsenal players snapping into tackles, not allowing Chelsea to lift their heads and play the next pass easily and we went at them from the second half whistle.
The first half could have been different even with our lack of urgency to win the ball back. Giroud was presented with a great chance, on his stronger left side clean through in fact it was very similar to his chance against Coventry where he lifted the ball over the legs of the keeper, instead Giroud blasted wide. If you want to win tough games, you have to take those chances. For their second goal, it was Abou Diaby who dwelt on the ball for too long against Ramires who has been exceptional in pretty much every game he has played against us. I would go as far as to say that had we had Ramires then we would have won that game and that is not just down to the part he played in the goals. His graft and work off the ball is what you want from every player in your side.
Theo Walcott looked our most dangerous player in the second half and you can see that his game is much more rounded nowadays. Jack Wilshere pressed well but couldn't create much but the one player that stood out for me was Francis Coquelin until his injury. He was fantastic all round and you could see a glimpse into the future. Looked composed on the ball, won tackles and even tried to create chances. I hope he is not out for long.
If we were not sprofligate in the second half then we could have snatched a draw or more but Walcott and Giroud fired blanks for the most part. Walcott did manage to pull one back, feeding off a good Cazorla through ball (haven't seen enough of those in recent weeks) and Walcott's finish was typical Walcott. But the damage had been done by that first half display as it was against Manchester City last week.
We have a mountain to climb at the moment but with 15 games to go there are 45 points to play for, if the players want it then they have to prove it and prove it with effort over 90 minutes not just half of that.