Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Knocked off the top


A 0-0 stalemate against Chelsea finally knocked us off our perch, much to the critics' pleasure. And while there is a plausibility of reclaiming it a mere two days later, I think that this game should be taken as a lesson to the players and the manager of the club.

As much as I loathe Jose Mourinho's personality, I can't help but admire the perspective he saw this game from. Instead of sending his team out to win against us, he decided to face facts and settle for a draw at an away pitch with blistering conditions, possibly hoping to get a goal on the break as a bonus. It would've worked out extremely well had Lampard found the net through a volley that cannoned off the crossbar.

While he was surely the benefactor of the two managers, it's surprising why he didn't change his tactics midway throughout the game. It was getting obvious in the first half that Arsenal were far from their best, with the London weather and our link-up play looking dreadful. I think that if Mourinho had decided to stop parking the bus and go for the win, we would have crumbled.

I think to some extent that we should count our lucky stars, because we could've easily left this game without a point at all. However, that certainly didn't rob me of the frustration of failing to win an important game on an important night. Olivier Giroud's failure to score when he had two presentable opportunities was another example on how signing a striker is becoming a must through every passing game. Even though his second effort via a Gibbs cross was well saved, he at least should've hit the target with the first.

His technique was all wrong as well, while taking the shot on. Instead of lashing at it, maybe a loop over the goalkeeper or a placement at the near post would've been a better option. It's getting clearer with every passing game that Giroud is not the first person that you would want on a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. A change of plans up front is becoming a necessity.

I've resigned myself to the scenario that on the way off chance that Arsenal do buy a striker, he would come way after the 25th of January, courtesy of Wenger's notorious transfer procrastinating habits. That would mean that there is a month - or 7 matches - of no player being set to brought in, which is already taking a huge gamble. Can we rely on Giroud until then?

I think not. Podolski's return means that we do have more options upfront. While I am of the opinion that Podolski offers us much more on the wing rather than as a lone striker, he might just prove me wrong like so many Arsenal players have done so far. In this season alone Ramsey's turning into a complete midfielder, Giroud's hold-up play has vastly improved and Arteta's defensive qualities are gradually standing out. Looking at the changes developing in these players, it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of Podolski turning into a goal poacher.

If he indeed does, that still doesn't rule out the requirement for a signing. If Podolski turns out to be the answer to our striker woes, that would mean that a winger would become a necessity, due to Podolski vacating that position. I haven't really considered a winger that we should purchase, but I feel he should be good in crossing, pacey and a prolific goalscorer or assister.

Whether we do get anyone in the transfer window itself remains a huge question mark, but there is no doubt in my mind by now that a winger or a striker is a necessity if we want to win the title. Let's be honest - this Arsenal side are completely incapable of beating top teams. We aren't going to win the title or even get past Bayern Munich unless we get a marquee signing in January. That's a fact.

Deemed incapable of starting?
Speaking of Podolski, it's baffling why Wenger didn't bring him on, or even Santi Cazorla for that matter. Mourinho's clever decision of pairing Terry and Cahill against Giroud to match his physicality paid off. Halfway through the second half, if Wenger would've got on Podolski for Giroud and made Walcott as a striker with Lukas on the wing, we might've threatened a lot more than we did.

On that subject, Arsene said:

"I had plenty of offensive players on the pitch and we were in the need to attack. I had Walcott, I had Ramsey, I had Ozil, I had Giroud, I had Rosicky, and because we didn't play for nine days none of them looked really jaded. That's why… I felt we had the balance defensively and we had four or five offensive players on the pitch."

A word on Mike Dean as well, who many Arsenal supporters have criticized for his performance. Actually, I thought that he did pretty well, aside from his decision to not book Mikel for that challenge on Arteta. The foul on Walcott definitely wasn't a penalty, in my opinion. Quite frankly, the referee gave the game every chance of continuing, and doesn't deserve to be made a scapegoat for our underwhelming performance.

As of now, we've surrendered our league lead to Liverpool, a team who I believe are top four contenders rather than title challengers. They play Manchester City and Chelsea in this week, while we face West Ham and Newcastle. While I'm confident that we are going to restore our lead when the New Year arrives, I'd want to warn everyone to not be fooled into thinking that it's a sure sign that our team are set to win the title.

The current league standings suggest that this season's title race is going to be closer than ever. It's a league where there are two joint leaders, a league where Man City are just one point off the pace, and where Chelsea and Everton are four points adrift. It's also worth noting that it's a league where Newcastle United are on par with Tottenham and ahead of Man United, and can become genuine Europa League contenders should they beat us on the 29th.

I remember Arsene saying that the league table carries no real significance at the beginning of November. While I agreed with him, I had fully expected the title race to take shape at this point of the season, which, to my surprise, hasn't been the case. The increasingly competitive nature of this season's title race is leaving absolutely no margin for error for us. The scenarios where a draw or a loss would make a team fall two or three positions were entirely unexpected at this time. For a neutral, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Premier League seasons ever. For a Gooner, it's downright worrying.

We've coped remarkably well under pressure thus far, responding to Aston Villa shocks and Old Trafford sucker punches to continue being right up there. As of this moment, the team is experiencing yet another slump of four games, and has an easy fixture list given to recover from. THIS is the time of the season, which, according to me, would decide if we're going to lead the pack or play catch-ups.

In this week, we can be certain that either Liverpool, Manchester City or Chelsea are going to drop points. By defeating West Ham and Newcastle, we can take advantage of the inevitable slip-ups that are certain to follow. Let's do that.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )