The Struggle is Real
The only blot on the Invincibles’ otherwise perfect season was the loss, 2-3 on aggregate, to Chelsea in the Champions League quarter finals. Chelsea was knocked out in the next round by Monaco who went on to lose to Porto, guided by Jose Mourinho, in the Final.
It’s easy to make up arbitrary stats points and draw conclusions but in this case, that loss seems like a real watershed moment: it was the beginning of the Abramovich era as he had spent €167m on players like Duff, Crespo, Veron, Makelele, Mutu, Scott Parker, Wayne Bridge, and Geremi; and Porto’s win in the Champions League launched the career of the self-proclaimed “special one”.
Chelsea also battled Arsenal in the League and finished second in 2003-04 to Arsenal. The next year, with another €162m in spending (on Cech, Drogba, Carvalho, Robben, and Ferriera) and with new manager Jose Mourinho, Chelsea won the League with 95 points and nearly went the entire season undefeated, losing just one game: Manchester City away.
Arsenal’s record before that Champions League loss was just 2 losses in 24 meetings and both of those losses were in the League Cup in 1998 (spanning two seasons of course). The complete record was P24, W15, D7, L2.
But since March 2004, including that Champions League loss, these two teams have met 31 times (again, this is in all competitions) and Arsenal have only won FIVE. That complete record is, P31, W5, D8, L18.
This year, of all the years, it felt like we should have gotten something from Chelsea. After all, we beat them in the Charity Shield, and while it is often considered a friendly there are no friendlies between these two teams. And after that loss, the wheels came off Jose’s bus.
And when they were saved by Mike Dean and his “naive” refereeing Arsenal fans felt like we should get something in the second meeting, but from Jump Street Arsenal were nervous. Koscielny gave the ball away in the 3rd minute, a straight pass to Oscar for a shot that Cech had to save. That set the tone for the game.
And in the 18th minute.. Theo’s failed cross, Ramsey’s failed tackle, Flamini fails to stop Willian, Koscielny was out of the play guarding nothing, and Mertesacker makes a stupid tackle, which lets Costa simulate a foul and get him sent off. Then in the ensuing chaos, Koscielny fails to guard Costa again and Costa scores. And let’s be frank here, Koscielny could have conceded a penalty for that NFL tackle on Fabregas.
I’m not picking on Koscielny, but that is what a “hoodoo” looks like: a complete mental meltdown. It doesn’t seem to matter what manager they have, what tactics they employ, what players they have on the pitch, Arsenal simply fall to pieces when they face Chelsea and have done since April 2004.
I don’t want to frustrate you any more than you already probably are but… even against 10 men Chelsea sucked. They sucked. But we sucked worse.
For example, Arsenal had more passes in the final 1/3 than Chelsea, 125 to 121 and 20 passes to their 11 in the 18 yard box. This indicates great penetration by Arsenal. But Arsenal only managed 9 shots and only got 1 on target. 1 shot on target.
The reason why Arsenal only got one shot on target was because they were playing without a forward. Flamini was allowed to play in the center forward role and took 3 of Arsenal’s 9 shots, he led all of Arsenal in shots taken. Ramsey also took 2 shots, meaning that Arsenal’s “double pivot” took 5/9 shots.
I like my midfielders making runs late in the box but Flamini wasn’t making late runs, he was camping on the 11 meter spot, where Arsenal’s forwards should have been. Again, when it comes to the “hoodoo” here is where I would want my forward to go over and kick Flamini out of that spot.
This is going to be more fuel for the Walcott haters and I don’t mean it that way but I can’t understand why Walcott — who was captain and was left on the pitch by Wenger as Arsenal’s center forward, and who really wants to play in the center forward role — didn’t play in the center forward role. Walcott took 0 shots on the day. Even Giroud, who only played 19 minutes, took a shot.
I suspect Wenger wanted Walcott to play wide to take advantage of the mismatch between him and Ivanovich. Walcott did set up three shots, leading Arsenal, but none of them were on target: Giroud’s long distance blast, Campbell’s bumbled shot, and then a long break before Gabriel’s shot in the 63rd minute.
Ramsey had the best overall game for Arsenal: led Arsenal in passes, 58/66; created a chance (for the flim flam man) and was 2nd on the team in final 1/3 passes, 18/23; led Arsenal in dribbles with 4/6; led Arsenal in ball recoveries with 8; led Arsenal in tackles with 5/7; had 2 interceptions; and led Arsenal in fouls suffered (2) and committed (6).
Fabregas was winning all the plaudits but when you compare the two players, Ramsey had an excellent game.
Ramsey did all that a man down while basically toiling alone in midfield, while the Flim Flam man played center forward.
Sources: 442 Stats Zone app, Transfermarkt, Statto