Dropping Mertesacker must have been difficult for Arsene, and it was a huge risk, but it made sense tactically. When you have three reliable center halves you can, and you should, rotate when needed. Today, however, the tactical move didn’t work, the risk didn’t pay off as Arsenal produced their worst, most error strewn performance so far this season.
One reason we missed the BFG was that Koscielny looked rusty – not quite match fit yet. He made errors against Man City but you would have thought he’d have got them out of his system with that game. But here he was bullied by Torres for the first goal, then his mistake nearly cost us another. And aside from that there were plenty of rushed, missed tackles on Chelsea’s dribblers that allowed them through.
The other reason was tactical. Before the match Wenger talked about how the new Chelsea don’t have the physical presence of the old side. But he may have underestimated them in that regard. Torres up front bossed Vermaelen and Koscielny physically. Cech’s goal kicks were often easily chested down and this helped Chelsea keep possession in dangerous areas. Compare that to previous games where Mertesacker simply head-passed any goal kicks or long balls to one of our midfielders.
And of course, the set pieces, where Mertesacker’s added height might have made the difference. Diaby’s injury didn’t help either.
And higher up the pitch, after Diaby’s substitution Ramirez and Mikel overpowered Cazorla and Ramsey. Cazorla in particular had a poor performance by his very high standards. Lost the ball too often and wasn’t able to create any good chances for himself or his teammates.
Speaking of losing the ball, that was a theme of Arsenal’s performance today. Credit must be given to Chelsea as they marked us well in midfield and forced errors, but there were too many unforced ones as well. Players over-elaborating in deep areas, trying the hollywood pass instead of laying it off to an open teammate. We kept the ball so well against City and here, our poor passing and lack of height from goal kicks meant we didn’t enjoy as much possession as we’d have liked. What made things further worse was in Diaby we lost a physical ball winner, and Ramsey’s early yellow meant he couldn’t go in strong in challenges.
On another day it could have been different. We had chances (Giroud, I’m looking at you). But as it stands, a good away result has been marred by errors from players and manager. Home form is crucial in title races, and already we’ve dropped 5 points against Sunderland and Chelsea. If we want to be in the mix come May, we have to improve on that. Especially since we find ourselves 7 points adrift of the leaders already.