The latest edition of TheReport is here! In this column, I offer my perspective on £50m man and his team! Today, I look at yesterday's Premier League match against Arsenal.
Really, then, what can I possibly say about that? It was a travesty. We shouldn't be losing matches like this. 5-3 is a ridiculous scoreline, frankly. Is everything lost, then? Are the wheels coming off our magnificent, blue bus? Honestly, I have to say no. I contend that, despite the horror show of a scoreline, the Arsenal match was an aberration, and even a little bit of ill-fortune. Fernando was, frankly, anonymous against the Gunners, half through a lack of service, and half through being in less than ideal positions. With your permission, I'm going to deviate from my usual plan and focus on the team more than its striker.Losing 5-3 to one of our biggest rivals can never be acceptable, but how should we feel about this? I have had a day to process and sleep off the immediate anger, and I feel much better. I'm convinced we haven't shown any long-term weakness in this match. We had several players unfortunately decide to take the same day off. In my opinion, our biggest offenders were Messrs. Cole, Sturridge, Bosingwa, and Mikel. Now, they weren't the only poor performers, but, for me, they were the worst. Perhaps it's because they were the players meant to protect against their best performers, but they had a huge effect on our defensive performance.
Ash and Bossy really struggled in defence yesterday. In attack, they were as good as could be expected, I suppose, but they both consistently failed to track back properly, dramatically increasing the pressure on our defence, who had troubles of their own. Though Bosingwa was arguably the more disappointing, he's never been known for either his defensive capabilities or his ability to track back. Normally, the right winger would be expected to cover, and yesterday, that was Daniel Sturridge, but we'll get to him later. For me, there were simply too many occasions in which our full-backs left holes in our defence, which Theo Walcott and Gervinho used to fabulous effect. Ashley Cole, obviously, was more disappointing to me. He is usually very good at getting back, despite his penchant for getting forward. Against Arsenal, however, he just couldn't get back consistently. I don't know if he was having a slow day or if he was simply being a bit lazy. Either way, he was very much not at his best, and, for me, a disappointment. I think the lack of efficient wide play was the biggest factor in our less-than-optimal performance yesterday. We tend to link everything through our wide players, both going forward and tracking back.
With two attacking wing backs, you need to have a solid defensive midfielder who can drop back into the defence to help make up for the full-backs as they're tracking back. Yesterday, that player was John Obi Mikel. In what is quickly becoming a recurring theme, he didn't play very well, often failing to fall back into defence. He definitely got back more than his full-back colleagues, but not as often as he should have. Unfortunately, even when he did get back to help John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, he wasn't effective. A DM is tasked both with stopping attacks and getting the ball out again. Mikel has really never been good at the latter, but his ability to do the former has historically largely made up for it. Yesterday, though, his passing was slower than usual, allowing Ramsey and Arteta to press, forcing the ball wide, rather than through Lampard and Ramires, who were our best players, apart from Mata, and eventually Torres. All three were largely taken out of the game, and that was keenly felt as our wide play failed to live up to its full potential. I wonder if Romeu might have been a better choice at DM. He is certainly better getting the ball out, despite the extra defensive risk. That said, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I would have picked Mikel in AVB's position.
The final player who really disappointed me was Daniel Sturridge. He was wasteful in attack, and also failed to account for Bosingwa's tendency to stay forward. Maybe that's harsh, since Juan Mata is not exactly great at tracking back either, and the problem lies with Bosingwa, but Sturridge really should have done better. Anelka is actually pretty good at maintaining the balance between attack and defence, and I hope Danny can start to learn from him. I Sturridge has a major fault, it's that he often feels like he needs to impress. Sadly, he then overthinks, generally plays worse, and becomes extremely wasteful. Fabio Capello was in attendance yesterday, so that may have been a factor.
From the comments yesterday, I get the sense that many of you felt our central defenders and goalkeepers were also terrible. I have to disagree. They certainly weren't fantastic, but they were horribly hampered by the play of those around them. Sure, they made mistakes, and should have done better, but usually, they have players like Bosingwa, Mikel, and Cole taking some of the possible moves. That is to say, the presence of those other defenders makes it easier for them to correctly choose the best option. With half of our defence missing or struggling, those who were actually playing decently had no chance.
At the end of the day, though, We were unlucky to lose. Of course, had Arsenal taken their chances, we'd have been down three by the half, but in the second half, we had some heart-breaking decisions go against us. I know it's not cool to use refereeing decisions as an excuse, but Szczesny should have been off. Instead, he was only shown a yellow, and allowed Arsenal to continue to compete effectively. After that, there was JT's infamous slip after Malouda's [Surprise!] horrible backpass. Really, there was nothing he could do, except possibly take out RVP. I honestly don't think doing so would have been that good an option. Arsenal would have destroyed 10-man Chelsea, and I'd rather not have another suspension on our books. AVB blamed the fifth goal on our pushing for an equaliser, but I disagree. Our defence simply didn't get back from a set piece. Arsenal didn't break with any particular speed , and we just didn't get back.
If I were to say one thing was our biggest fault, it was our work rate. Too many of our players just didn't, or couldn't, put in the hard yards to get back effectively. I think that will have been a kick in the teeth for AVB, who is well-known for loving work-rate above almost anything else. I have faith in his ability to set his team right in training this week, so I'm still positive we can bounce back. Sure, the title might be slipping away with this form, but it's still very early, and we don't know what's going to happen in the rest of the season. After all, any team who can score three goals while playing rather badly is a good team, and should do well. Now is the time to keep the faith, and to "Keep the Blue Flag Flying High."