Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wenger Outwits Himself in Arsenal's 2-1 Defeat to Chelsea's Dutch Master

A curious team selection by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger handed the FA Cup semifinal to Chelsea on Saturday as the Pensioners had to come from a goal down to win the game 2-1. In reality they dominated the game from start to finish.

Didier Drogba's 84th minute goal along with Florent Malouda's equalizer on the stroke of half-time proved enough to overcome a young Arsenal team.

The young guns were out-fought and out-thought for the vast majority of the match, but not before they gave Chelsea a real shock through Theo Walcott's opener.

Wenger's strange decision to leave both Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin on the bench combined with the unbelievable substitution of Emmanuel Adebayor to let Chelsea off the hook and dominate large portions of the match.

Perhaps the Arsenal supremo was afraid of the goalscoring might of a Chelsea team who seem to be firing on all cylinders going forward.

The Blues have scored no less than 13 goals in their last three games, so the defensive team that Wenger chose to start with might have made sense. However, Chelsea have also conceded eight goals in the very same three games, so an attack-minded Arsenal team could have got at them.

Chelsea's strength lies through the middle.

A hugely impressive central midfield trio of Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, and Michael Essien are a match for any team, but they are weak on the flanks.

Petr Cech has flapped at many a cross this season and with Wenger only fielding one acknowledged wide player in Theo Walcott, against arguably the best left back in the world, Ashley Cole.

Tottenham had shown their North London rivals earlier this month that the way to overcome Chelsea's dominant midfield was to bypass it down the wings.

Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott's understudy in the England national team, gave Cole a torrid time on the day, but more than give the Chelsea full back attacking problems, he made Cole reluctant to move past the half way line on his marauding attacking runs as every time Cole left Lennon behind, the Spurs out ball was always to the nippy winger.

On the other flank, Luka Modric—a player who is also highly comparable with Arshavin—proved to be a nightmare opponent for Jose Bosingwa.

The Croatian international kept cutting inside and the Chelsea full back did not know whether to stay or go with his Spurs counterpart. Eventually Lennon set up Modric for the Spurs winner after a run inside to many.

With only one recognized winger on the pitch, Wenger made Chelsea's job much easier. Cole stayed man to man with Walcott, who despite giving Arsenal the lead did not really give the Chelsea defender too much trouble all match.

Cesc Fabregas, Diaby, and Denilson completed the midfield—all central midfielders, so when Arsenal did win the ball in tight positions the only out ball they had was to a tightly marked Walcott.

Essien moved on to Fabregas, which left Diaby and Denilson battling it out with Lampard, Ballack and Ivanovic—no contest.

Without Nasri and Arshavin on the pitch Arsenal conceded the battleground to Chelsea, who went on to create the lion’s share of chances.

Chelsea started the match in the same vein as they had in their previous historic 4-4 encounters with Liverpool.

They forced the early play and only for a great Kieran Gibbs's clearance they could have gone one down and Lukasz Fabianski's rush of blood to the head let Drogba in on goal when the Arsenal stopper needed prudence.

Arsene Wenger's team had been hit with injuries in the run up to the Wembley showpiece.

William Gallas and Gael Clichy had both been forced to pull out of the back four, while Manuel Almunia was also forced to pass his goalkeeping gloves on to the Polish keeper Fabianski.

With Chelsea dominating the opening proceedings, Arsenal went and upset the apple cart by claiming a goal against the run of play.

Nicolas Anelka was caught ball watching by Adebayor who slid the ball through to Kieran Gibbs, his end-line cut back floated over the Chelsea rear-gard to Walcott who volleyed home, in off the hand of Ashely Cole.

The Gunners celebrated as one, while Chelsea could only look on shaking their heads at the temerity of Arsenal's young players.

But their response was almost immediate. Ashley Cole set up Malouda who fired in a low shot that beat Fabianski, but left the goal begging. Chelsea moved up a gear and started to control the game, Arsenal's midfield by now being over-run.

They got their just rewards when Malouda, showing a cutting edge to his game that has been missing in previous months, scored the equaliser after good work by Frank Lampard.

Even at this early stage of the first half the game was slipping away from Arsenal.

Adebayor starved of service began getting ratty with his midfield teammates, and the Arsenal fans started looking at Nasri and Arshavin on the bench longingly.

The second half continued in the same vein. Chelsea controlling professionally while Arsenal struggled to get into the game.

With all that said, Chelsea were hardly creating clear cut chances, but you knew that the next goal was only a matter of time.

In the end Wenger was forced to bring on two of his most creative players, Nasri and Arshavin on 83 and 75 respectively, but it was too little too late. Chelsea had the match by the scruff of the neck by this stage—the substitutions coming a half hour too late.

The creativity that came on the pitch in Nasri and Arshavin was balanced out by the creative black hole that is Niclas Bendtner. Wenger made the strangest of decisions in bringing the Dane on for Adebayor who trudged off the pitch.

In the 84th minute the inevitable happened.

A long ball released Didier Drogba, the Ivorian's power and pace shaking off a helpless Mickael Silvestre, but as he neared the box Fabianski decided on another rush off blood, he rushed from his goal line again when staying rooted to the spot seemed the sane thing to do.

The big centre forward easily carried the ball past the keeper who never really had any chance of taking it from him, and as he nestled the ball into the back of the net the Chelsea fans roared in jubilation as Arsenal's fans reflected on another trophy lost.

In the end the game was hardly the open expansive game we had all hoped for.

Chelsea were given the impetus by Wenger's strange team choice, and the Gunner's chief now has to go back to the drawing board as he prepares to entertain Manchester United in the semi finals of the Champions League.

Hiddink on the other hand is on the verge of quitting the club that he has dragged back into the title race, into the FA Cup Final, and into the Champions League semifinals where they will meet the much lauded Barcelona team.

Roman Abrahmovich has a choice to make.

Risk the wrath of his home country and let the Russia boss go back, or face another potentially barren season with a new manager who will start again.

Which decision do you think the Chelsea players and fans want?

twitter / WillieGannon