I was expecting us to beat Chelsea at home. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t. That was the first indication that we have progressed this season, or more specifically in the second half of this season.
I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to a game against Chelsea. Even at home, where we have a good record against just about everyone I used to worry. Not anymore, although it was as tight a game as you’ll get. Tactically Mourinho had set his side up to nick a 0-1 win with a counter at best and a draw at worst. I don’t feel the need to go into minute detail about this as it was obvious what Jose would choose to do. It’s what Arsene did that I found interesting. Bringing back Monreal and Bellerin was a given, but sticking with Ramsey as a right sided attacker was a decision that I saw some people questioning prior to kick off.
From my perspective Ramsey offers just as much defensively as Welbeck, but he is a little better going forward. He also has outstanding stamina to boot. What I was thinking before the game was that he’s better running with the ball into tight spaces than Danny and that this would be invaluable in what was bound to be a congested Chelsea final third.
Ultimately it didn’t work, but those arguing that Welbeck or Walcott should have started should take note of the fact that they were ineffective coming off the bench against tired opposition.
We took a decent point from the champions-elect and although I wasn’t exactly a statement of intent, it was a reminder that we can go toe-to-toe with Chelsea and hold our own.
I think that Eden Hazard is a very good player. I think that perhaps one day he may win the Ballon d’Or. I also think that if I was given the choice between him or Alexis, I would choose Alexis. I know that I’m biased as an Arsenal supporter, but Alexis contributes more. He’s scored more goals, which is especially relevant if you take out penalties, and he brings a work ethic and physicality to the side that Hazard just doesn’t have. Should he was won PFA player of the year over Hazard? I think so.
It is a genuine pleasure to think that one of our players deserves to be the PFA player of the year. We had a similar situation last year with Ramsey, which brings me back to the question of progression.
On paper we are on course to beat our points tally from last season by 3 points IF we win all of our remaining games. This would be enough to secure 2nd place, but I think that’s more of a reflection on how bad United and City have been. If we use last seasons table as a barometer, then winning all of our games would see us finish on 82 points, which would have put us level on points with Chelsea in 3rd. If we assume that we add +10 to our current goal difference column, our final position would be…4th.
At this point I want to believe that we have made big strides forward and there is indeed evidence to show this, such as having no fear of Chelsea. On the other hand we also have evidence to suggest that we’re not an awful lot better than last year, such as our performance in the Champions League and perhaps our points tally this season.
However I still believe that we ARE better than last year, (whether we retain the FA Cup or not).
Our performances in big games have laid down a marker in my mind. We beat City twice this season as well as getting a draw. We smashed Liverpool. We beat United away in the cup. We have grown mentally as a team, and that’s without even mentioning the added talent of Alexis and Gabriel and the rise of Bellerin and Coquelin, who I believe has been one of the main reasons for our form. We are also seeing the dividends from employing our new fitness coach, who has kept our players in shape during the run-in.
Next season, without World Cup fatigue to worry about and a well balanced squad already in place I think we’ll be contenders. Jose might be coming to the Arsenal needing a win, not hoping for a draw.
Lastly just a quick word on Thierry Henry. He is paid to talk about football and he needs to be interesting, which means that sometimes I think he exaggerates his own opinion to spice it up. If that means being overly critical then so be it, take it with a pinch of salt.
(For the record nobody pays me to write, so I have no vested interest in being controversial).
Follow me on twitter (@CaptainDeeg) if you like to talk Arsenal.