The monkey is off his back. Arsene Wenger has finally beaten Jose Mourinho and no doubt he’ll have walked into the dressing room after lifting the Community Shield and told his players to defend it next year as champions.
The goalkeeper and back four along with Cazorla and Coquelin were nailed-on starters for their positions, so the real questions from an Arsenal perspective were ‘who would fill in for Alexis?’ and ‘who would start up front?’
In the end Arsene opted for Özil on the left and Walcott through the middle, as part of a very interchangeable forward line. I’ve always been worried seeing Özil line up on the left side of the attack because he tends to be less effective there, and can leave his fullback exposed – however I needn’t have worried too much, as he was fully involved and did his defensive work when required. He also had Cazorla covering the left side from midfield. He drifted into central positions intelligently and didn’t leave a gaping, left-sided hole when he did so.
Theo through the middle was a brilliant tactical decision which paid off in more ways than one. Firstly, it put Chelsea on the back foot from the start. Secondly, it meant that the Ox started on the right, and we all know what impact he had.
John Terry is a very accomplished defender, but he’s never been quick and Cahill isn’t known for his blistering pace either. The threat of through balls in behind for Theo to chase meant that Terry and Cahill had to stay very close to Courtois, so that he could get to any balls played beyond them. The knock on effect was that both Ivanovic and Azpilicueta couldn’t venture too far away from their centre halves for fear of leaving huge gaps in their defence. In essence Theo’s pace, along with Oxlade-Chamberlain forced their entire defence back.
Having Matic and Ramires as the two holding midfielders was a compliment as Jose clearly feared our attack, (and rightly so). The plan was probably for Terry and Cahill to cover Giroud and the holding players to cover our attacking midfielders. It also seemed to me that once he’d seen that Theo was starting rather than Giroud he probably instructed Ramires to try to bridge the gap between defence and attack that Theo’s pace creates, (I’ve got no doubt that Mourinho had planned for this eventuality but expected Giroud to start). Ramires did get forward in that respect and had a good chance to score, but fluffed his lines, much to Jose’s frustration.
Both the Chelsea wingers had games to forget. Hazard was very quiet and at one point during the game I was surprised to see Willian because I’d forgotten that he was playing. Obviously a lot of credit must go to our full backs and Koscielny. Oddly enough though, I felt that Mertesacker was largely a passenger and that Kos was covering the centre mostly by himself.
Going forward for Chelsea, Remy was constantly offside and Falcao still looks a shadow of the player who tore up La Liga a few seasons ago, whereas Theo was a menace in the first half and when Giroud came on he caused major problems.
In central midfield, both Matic and Ramires did their defensive work, but could not compare to the brains and brawn duo of Cazorla and Coquelin. Both moved across from central midfield to either help their full back and/or participate in an attack, and both put in great performances. If we can keep those two fit they’ll be hugely important to our success this season.
Speaking of Cazorla: I still find it amazing that we bought him for around £15 million when he was 27 years old. What a bargain that has turned out to be! I believe that if we win the league in the next two seasons he’ll go down as one of our greats. He’s a world class talent and he would walk into just about any team in the world, (including a certain London team who play in blue).
His ability to keep the ball even when surrounded by opposition players and distribute it intelligently is the launch pad for our transitions from defence to attack. He also knows where the goal is, and his set pieces are superb. For me he was the man of the match at the weekend.
Who misses out?
The next big question Arsene must address is who does he drop for Alexis when he returns to the first team? Our Chilean hero is back in training and will go straight back into the starting XI when he’s fit, (which won’t take long).
As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think it will be Cazorla so that only leaves Ramsey or Coquelin, with Özil moving back to his usual number 10 role. The answer probably lies with whatever opposition we face on the day.
Teams that play with long passes out from the back to wingers tend to bypass central midfield. Against such teams there is little need for a specialist defensive midfielder like Coquelin when Ramsey can provide adequate defensive cover, whilst also adding something extra in attack against stubborn ‘parked bus’ defences. Against less direct (better) sides Coquelin’s’ defensive nous will be required.
Alternatively both men could be accommodated if Rambo is preferred to Theo or the Ox on the right side of the forward three. Barring injuries or suspensions, though, I don’t see this happening.
Just a quick word on the Hammers…
Bilic has a tough job ahead of him trying to convert his square-peg players into the round-hole system he wants to employ. What I mean by that is former West Ham boss Big Sam had a very specific way of playing, and he bought players to match his system. Bilic has to use these players to play his way and the change won’t be easy for a lot of them.
He’s already brought in several new signings (and our own Jenkinson back on loan) but it will take them some time to bed in and adapt to both his style and the league. Overall I feel that now is a good time to play them, because he might just be building a decent team over in East London. Either that, or he’ll be sacked with West Ham in the relegation zone at Christmas.
By the way, the ref had a good game at the weekend, didn’t he?