Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Answering the post-game FAQs

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts


I was about to embark on my usual way of reviewing this game by reporting events and squeezing my thoughts in between them, but the variety of arguments and subplots meant that I was better off attacking issues individually, than to conjure jumbled up dysfunctional garble in one post.

Yesterday was odd for many reasons - many people did not know what to feel about Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea's approach and Arsenal's result. And look, such is football. There are things that dazzle and things that bemuse, and yesterday had perhaps more of the latter. What I provide below are not the answers, but just my own views on yesterday's events. It's called having a blog.

So if you wish to clear your mind or want the open mindedness to hear the other side of the debate, feel free to hunt for your query below!

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1. Did Arsenal deserve to win the game?
If not anything, this game at least demonstrated that Arsenal had progressed just an inch further. I had said in the preview that Chelsea parking the bus right from the off must not be taken as a given, and that we shouldn't look to bombard men forward from the word go.

Wenger heard my concerns - he seemed to have put a more focused team out there. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were the only players who had the goal of moving forward in their minds. Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla expressed caution, but rightly threw that to the winds once Chelsea retreated in their shell late on. It didn't hurt to see Coquelin and Alexis sticking their foot in and roughhousing Chelsea. We need more of that.

I firmly believe that a final scoreline is always deserved, barring referee interventions. This game certainly had their share of contentious decisions by a referee who refuses to penalize Arsenal. The first one was - in my opinion - definitely not a penalty, the second was stonewall (Szczesny did something similar against Bayern and was sent off), but the Fabregas one tends to divide opinion.

In my opinion, it is a penalty. This is modern football - in the penalty box, if a player goes to snatch the ball but mistimes it, it is always a penalty regardless of the force exerted on the fouled player. I don't like it, but this is what modern football has come to.

The Gary Cahill handball was, in my opinion, a penalty too, but had the referee given all the above decisions, Arsenal were potentially 2-1 down. Basic mathematics dictates that Arsenal actually benefited from the referee's incompetence.

The fact that Arsenal had more of the ball but couldn't win the game is down to our incompetence. You can't excuse Ozil and Cazorla missing chances under the pretext of "Arsenal had more of the ball". Possession doesn't win matches - goals do. We had a shade of fortune with respect to the refereeing but otherwise deserved what we got.

It matters little if Ozil had snuck in the late chance. The way I see it, Wenger knew the way Mourinho was going to set up. He was armed with an entire week of preparation and with in-form players to work a way around an uninspiring Chelsea (at home), but still failed.

Let's face it - we're firmly second best.

2. Should Arsenal be more like Mourinho's boring Chelsea?
Look, I have absolutely no problem with negation football. It's what Arsenal did in the George Graham years and what Chelsea are doing now. I honestly feel that style of play matters little when it comes to trophies. Winning is all that matters in football. I don't remember too many people complaining when Arsenal parked the bus against Manchester City and triumphed. If you place style of play over major honours, you have little reason to moan over Arsenal's trophy drought.

Different situations require different styles of play - it just needs a manager and players who can work that system effectively.

Jose Mourinho, always criticized for grinding wins in any time of the season, actually found the right balance between beautiful football and parking the bus this season. He played the most attractive football in the country for the initial two-thirds of the season, and became pragmatic when it was time to hold nerves. Let's not forget that Jose only truly parked the bus against Arsenal after the 65th minute, when it really mattered.

The greatest criticism that comes toward Jose Mourinho is why he chooses such a boring, almost cowardly approach to games when he has all the billions to spend in the world. You could definitely weigh that argument against him in his Inter Milan and Real Madrid days, but certainly not his second-spell Chelsea ones. While this season his balance between attractive football and ruthless pragmatism was not perfect, it was close enough. And hey, it won him a league title.

Chelsea's final step toward unofficially sealing the league was making sure Arsenal dropped points (which we did), so I see no problem in Chelsea celebrating as if they won the league because yesterday, to be honest, they practically did. And don't kid yourself, you wouldn't be embarrassed of Arsenal if this time next season Per Mertesacker was bouncing around Stamford Bridge after Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw which practically sealed Arsenal as champions.

The least we can do is not be hypocrites, act classy and congratulate Chelsea on winning the league through gritted teeth. Know when you're beaten. We should have done better this league season, but there's still plenty of honour in being runners-up.

3. Was I right in booing/applauding Cesc Fabregas?
Many people have different reasons to hate Cesc Fabregas. For some, he's a mercenary. For some, he's a gold digger. For some, he backstabbed Arsenal when they needed him. Personally I don't care much for Fabregas, but I do want to add another dynamic to this debate.

Take your mind back to summer 2010 and remember the situation when Barcelona had an interest for Fabregas. Wenger told him to stay and give his Project Youth one more chance, didn't he? Fabregas obliged, but after the post-Birmingham collapse he understandably had had enough. Fabregas wanted a club who could satiate his ambitions, and Barcelona provided that.

However, Wenger wasn't willing to hold up his end of the bargain in 2011 because Nasri had allegedly said "if Cesc goes, I go" (or something like that).

Anyway, an angered Fabregas felt betrayed by Wenger went on strike and probably sulked around for precisely this reason. When Wenger realized he couldn't keep Fabregas around, he had accept the lower rate from Barca. And look, many players would have gone on strike if they had a deal and the manager did not hold his end. The days of Tony Adams signing a contract with his eyes closed are long gone. If you want your best players to stay, you lucre them with money and trophies. That's modern football for you.

Even if you want to believe that Fabregas would have backstabbed Arsenal regardless of promises and circumstances, try this. Arsene Wenger rejected Fabregas when he wanted to leave Barcelona. Just as Fabregas apparently rejected Arsenal when we needed him the most, Wenger rejected Fabregas when he needed us the most. Again, that's modern football for you.

I understand that you would want to hate Fabregas because he was once an Arsenal player and is now at Chelsea, but using the 'he forced his way out' angle to justify it probably isn't right. To suit your conscience, a better reason would be his quotes after he signed for Chelsea, clearly saying he CHOSE them after having "considered all the other offers very carefully", which means that he did not have Arsenal in his mind at all after he realized that Wenger did not want him back.

Boo him for choosing an Arsenal rival despite many options, or stay mute because your thoughts are fixated on Ozil and Cazorla. However, in all honesty, I don't believe for a second that when Fabregas was celebrating his goal at San Siro, or Arshavin's against Barcelona, the first thought in his mind was "Stage One: Gaining the trust of the Arsenal faithful to betray them in the future, check!"

4. How many of Thierry Henry's comments were senseless?
Right, time to take this one at a time.

*Henry on Giroud: "I think Giroud is doing extremely well. But can you win the league with him? I wouldn't think so. He does a job, and he does it ever so well, but you can't win the league [with him as striker]."

While others have interpreted this as Thierry not knowing much about Giroud's current form or being hypocritical by swaying along with the mood of the club (he just massively praised Giroud last week), I think differently.

I don't think Henry managed to convey this very well, but I think his point was that Giroud is a fairly decent player but Arsenal need an undoubted world class player as striker to win the league. Look, Giroud is important to Arsenal's attacking approach and is currently playing very well, but you always feel that he's punching above his weight, and will fall to something along the mean in the near future.

It's a crude example, but look at Southampton. Mathematically they were in it for fourth most of this season, but many people perceived that as a team merely on a purple patch, who will go back to their level once their honeymoon period is over. It's the same with Giroud. What Henry was trying to say (I believe) is that while Giroud has done a good impression of a world-class player these past few weeks, in reality he is not one. Arsenal need the real deal, not an aspirant.

*Henry on Arsenal's transfer needs: "I think they need to buy four players - they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a centre back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I'm afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again."

Here's where Henry sounds a bit like a 12 year old kid who just started watching football saying "Get me Messi, Ronaldo and Neuer and we'll win everything." I think he fails to take into account the players that Arsenal do have at present.

Buying a striker is easier said than done - Arsenal have recently bought Welbeck and are unlikely to let him go after one season, especially since Wenger seems to rate him. Maybe Wenger could sell Walcott, push Danny to the wings and make way for a striker, but even so, the market does not seem to be awfully buzzing with forwards.

Defensive midfield and goalkeeper are understandable concerns, but centre back is probably not. Per Mertesacker is an excellent defender in a system not including the offside trap. Laurent Koscielny is almost always reliable. Gabriel Paulista is capable of doing the dirty work and Calum Chambers is a promising lad.

It's easy to admire Thierry's ambition, but he really should have put some thought in what he said.

*Henry on Fabregas and Ozil: "I would have benched Ozil for Fabregas [if the Spaniard had been brought back to Arsenal]. I will single out Mesut Ozil. It was his eight game today against a top four side, he has zero goals and two assists. That is not enough, overall since he’s been at Arsenal he has 14 assists.  Now if you take Cesc Fabregas, he did that in one season with 16 assists."

This is impossible to defend because it seems like Mister Henry has climbed onto the "Ozil is amateur" bandwagon as well. It's a real shame because he's an Arsenal fan and seems to be a person who really understands football, but has passed a hugely uninformed opinion. Loads of Chelsea fans will look back at Henry's comment and use that against Arsenal fans which is unfair, because his comment is truly irrational.

Such criticism on Ozil would have made sense back in October, but it doesn't now. Ozil has been pulling the strings and carrying Arsenal's creative burden for some time now. Even the manner of the criticism does not make sense, for he has taken Ozil's assist record against three teams and compared it to Cesc's assist record in the entire season.

The only reason Wenger should have bought Fabregas in the summer was so that a club like Chelsea could not have gotten their hands on him (again, that's modern football for you), but I'm still relatively happy with how things turned out. Mesut has been at Real Madrid proportions since January. Fabregas has the edge over him in defensive workrate and versatility, but Ozil is creatively superior.

Either this was nostalgia with Cesc getting the better of Henry or he was paid to say this, but either way, it was hugely flawed and I'd love to hear a follow up from anyone in the near future.

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Right, that's that. Just as a footnote, I'd like to mention that if you have any feedback about my thoughts I'd prefer them in the Comments section than in a personal email. I'm sure others are interested in your views too :)


-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]