So our Chelsea hoodoo continued this afternoon after Per Mertesacker was sent off just 18 minutes into the contest and Diego Costa scored the only goal of the game five minutes later to secure all three points for the Blues at Emirates stadium.
If I’m honest, after conceding the goal having just been reduced to ten men, I was seriously concerned about us potentially getting a battering. So considering how the rest of the match played out, I was pretty pleased with the overall team effort, if not the performance of individuals.
Theo Walcott has taken a lot of flak online from what I’ve seen, and rightly so in my opinion, but he was far from alone in playing badly. I thought Aaron Ramsey, for example, was very, very poor in the middle of the park and his display again underlined just how much we miss Santi Cazorla’s distribution and game-running capabilities in that position.
Mathieu Flamini was just, well, Mathieu Flamini, and I don’t expect much more from him, but I do expect Ramsey to be able to find a team-mate with a pass every now and again and to not get caught in possession every time he receives the ball, as he seemed to today.
At the back, Laurent Koscielny had a poor start to the game but I think that can be put down to nerves and I thought he got better as the game wore on. Meanwhile, his partner Per reminded us why opponents like assigning even remotely mobile attackers to play off of his shoulder, by reacting to a through ball played past him in what seemed like slow-mo speed.
Unsurprisingly, the German defender only succeeded in getting himself sent off after sliding for a ball he was never going to reach – especially after he disorientated himself at the last second by looking to see if he’d be saved by an offside flag – and Costa took full advantage, hitting the deck and rolling around like the big feigning f*cktard he is.
As for the fullbacks, Nacho Monreal could have done more to close down the cross that led to their goal and Hector Bellerin was steady and tried hard but with our team looking disjointed and lacking any kind of fluency, he wasn’t as effective raiding forward as he usually is.
In truth, when you’re reduced to ten men so early in a game, especially against quality opposition like today, it’s an almost impossible task to take anything from the game and if you avoid doing serious damage to your goal difference, it’s a big plus. And that’s what we can cling to today if nothing else. As I said earlier, we might have been beaten by three or four goals and that would also have been a much bigger blow to our confidence than the narrow defeat we ended up with.
As it is, I think the squad should be able to compartmentalize this game for what it was; another defeat to Chelsea yes, but also the second one this season against them where we’ve had at least one man less for a large portion of the game.
On the bright side, we’re still level on points with Manchester City, we’re getting players back fit and with the FA Cup next weekend, we now have nine days to get our team balance right before we resume our title chase by entertaining Southampton a week on Tuesday.
One final point on today’s game before I go though, and it’s about the apparently widespread disillusionment over Olivier Giroud being the man to make way for Gabriel after Mertesacker was sent off. Personally, I called that switch and still think it was the right one.
Arsene decided we’d need pace out wide to best implement the counter-attacking game-plan we’d be forced to adopt with a man less, and although he could have taken off Walcott or Campbell and moved Ozil wide, taking Giroud off allowed us to keep Ozil in a free-ish role in the middle of the park, which I think was hugely responsible for us enjoying as much possession as we did in the end, and keeping ourselves firmly in reach of a draw right until the end.