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Chelsea coverage: We Ain't Got No History.
Arsenal met with defeat at Stamford Bridge today despite controlling long stretches of play either side of the halftime break. A near-post flick by Didier Drogba from an Ashley Cole cross and a powerful free kick from 25 yards from Alex sealed the three points for Chelsea, who were ruthless when given good chances.
The Gunners started brightly enough, with both Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny contriving to miss from great spots in the opening few minutes. Arsenal did really well in the first 20 minutes of the match, pressing a lot in midfield and generally winning the battles for possession. Things gradually evened out, although after 35 minutes one could still say Arsenal had probably had the better of the chances.
Then the old bugaboo appeared. Chelsea won the ball in midfield, and Ashley Cole moved forward, Samir Nasri letting him do so without tracking. As the ball inevitably came out to Cole, Sagna couldn't reach him in time to prevent a low hard cross that Didier Drogba met and turned home, somehow, with the inside of his left foot, off the post. Sébastien Squillaci and Lukasz Fabianski were not to blame, really, the shot so unexpected from the Ivorian. Such is his quality that he can make shots happen out of nothing, and Fabianski and Squillaci will have to find a way to to even better next time. As it was, the score was 1-0 for the home side.
Hafltime approached, a worry for Arsenal as Michael Essien trod on Abou Diaby's ankle, causing the Frenchman a lot of pain. Thankfully he was able to continue into the second half, although Arsène Wenger categorized him as a doubt for France (won't see any Arsenal supporters complaining about that, probably).
The second half started without changes for either side. Chamakh got a free header from a corner, beating both Alex and Drogba, but missed his chance in the 51st minute. Arsenal continued to threaten around the edge of the Chelsea area for most of the next twenty-five minutes or so, but for all their possession and threat, they could not produce a finish. Both Arshavin and Nasri had good chances in that stretch, and after Tomas Rosicky came on for Diaby, he had a chance blocked by John Terry.
Not that Chelsea were without their chances, as well. Squillaci dilly-dallied on a backpass, Nicholas Anelka stole in and took it away from him, rounded Fabianski, and shot into the side netting of a wide open goal in the 61st minute. Arsenal took hope from the letoff and continued their pressure.
Chelsea managed to withstand every chance, Chamakh failing to control a good cross (generally speaking, the Moroccan was off-form today).
Wenger continued to look for inspiration from his bench, bringing on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in place of Jack Wilshere for a huge Premier League debut, the big man moving up to striker. Arshavin immediately targeted him with a long ball, but it was hit too hard and went out for a goal kick.
Chelsea kept on countering at speed; at one point Arshavin played an offside trap (or perhaps just ran out of gas) as Ramires was played through on a vicious break, catching the Brazilian just offside.
It was not to matter, though, as Koscielny conceded a free-kick from straight on about 25 yards out in the 85th minute. Drogba and Alex both stood over it, the Brazilian center half ultimately taking it. After a long run-up, he cracked a shot through a hole in the Arsenal wall, a space that Florent Malouda opened up as he swung away, a space made bigger by Alex Song turning away from the blast as well. The ball curved outwards and into the top corner past a despairing Fabianski. It was a fierce hit, and a fatal one for the Gunners.
In general, although Arsenal played very well, ultimately they didn't do as good a job controlling Ashley Cole. As Zonal Marking points out, Chelsea's three midfielders sit back more and are thus able to cover for their full-backs when the opposition full-backs come forward, and today Cole possessed more threat than did Gael Clichy.
After the match, Wenger said in his press conference that he felt sorry for his team, because they had come in with a fantastic attitude and dominated long stretches of the match. He pointed out, though, that nobody can fail to finish as many chances as they had an expect to win anything. Hopefully he will find a way to both contain Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba and get the lads finishing before the two sides have to meet again.
Lukasz Fabianski, a worry for many supporters prior to the match, actually did quite well, making good saves from Anelka, Drogba, and Cole as the second half wore on. He was not at fault for either goal, and made a number of good catches on crosses and corner kicks throughout the game. Hopefully he will take more positive vibes from his performance today.
It is a tough loss, and Arsenal are indeed a ways behind (seven points) after seven games. There is a ton of football left, though, and to give Chelsea the title now is foolish. Arsenal were without their best spine players today, and in a few months, who knows where things will stand? The players will hopefully use the international break to examine what went wrong and what went right, and get back to winning ways in the league.