As Autumn sets in and Arsene Wenger celebrates his 18th year at the helm of Arsenal we’re all set for the first real test of the Gunners mettle in terms of challenging for the title this season. Wenger’s team was still in the mix at the top of the table before totally unraveling in a six-nil hammering at Stamford Bridge back in March. The question now must be: how far have they come since then..?
Whilst Chelsea seem to have addressed the weak points of their game from last season by bringing in a serious goal-scoring threat in Diego Costa and a midfielder who can unlock doors in former Gooner Cesc Fabregas, questions remain over Arsenal’s soft centre in defence and midfield.
In the summer Arsenal brought in former Barca play-maker Alexis Sanchez at great expense to add to a pool of creative talent that includes Ozil, Wilshere and Cazorla to name but three. They did add young defender Calum Chambers, also at great expense, but bid farewell to Barca-bound Thomas Vermaelen, thereby swapping experience for potential.
No doubt they are both fine players, but you can’t help think that perhaps a pursuit of a defensive midfielder – like Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira for example – might have been a far more prudent way to spend the transfer kitty at the Emirates.
Remember; that humbling defeat back in March wasn’t the first time that Arsenal were overwhelmed by one of the big boys, similar things happened at the Etihad and at Anfield, and Arsenal’s inability to stem the tide was in evidence again in match week one of the Champions League when they escaped Dortmund with a rather flattering two-nil defeat that could have been a lot worse.
Wenger’s insistence on sending his full-backs deep into opposition territory with gay abandon, regardless of who they are playing and where they are playing, has bit him on his derrière too many times now. His persistence in doing so is not a case of him sticking to his footballing principles, it is downright pigheadedness and it is costing the team dearly.
Arsenals’ only recognised defensive midfielder is Mathieu Flamini who was brought back into the fold after being released on a free transfer by AC Milan and was recently caught napping in the North London derby for Tottenham’s opening goal.
He may not be the greatest protector of a back-four, but he’s essentially all Arsenal have for that role. That was proved beyond a shadow of doubt when Wenger chose to start Arteta instead of him last time out against Chelsea. Flamini was, somewhat inexplicably, keeping the bench warm whilst Nemanja Matic and David Luiz (in an all too rare outing in midfield) totally dominated proceedings. Chelsea’s midfield effectively tore Arsenal a new one in Wenger’s 1,000 game in charge, winning the game in the first 17 minutes as the Blues roared into a 3-0 lead with Matic in particular looking imperious.
It will be interesting to see how Wenger approaches the game on the back of that heavy defeat. Flamini must surely be in the starting line up this time but he cannot protect Arsenal’s defence all on his own, it will need to be a collective effort if they are to stand a chance of taking anything from the game.
It is well documented that Wenger has yet to taste success against Mourinho in any of their past encounters and it’s hard to see that changing this weekend as his side still look ill equipped to handle the more physical teams and Chelsea in particular.
Mourinho’s signing of Matic looks more and more like the soundest bit of business of the last 12 months. He is exactly the player Arsenal and United so desperately need, yet they both went for big name attackers like Sanchez and Di Maria instead – and whilst they have probably sold thousands more shirts as a result it is Mourinho and Chelsea who look best placed to cash-in in the hunt for silverware.
It’s not as if Wenger doesn’t know the value of having a powerful midfielder in his ranks, the first half of his Arsenal career was notable for the midfield presence of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit – both key components of ‘The Invincibles’. Surely it’s no coincidence that the first 9 years of Wenger’s time at Arsenal brought unheralded success, whilst the last 9 years have yielded only a solitary FA Cup triumph.
Will it signal the autumn of Wenger’s tenure at the Emirates if Arsenal fail to be competitive in yet another key fixture..? Perhaps, certainly an increasing number of supporters are voicing their discontent with his seemingly stubborn ways and another one-sided defeat will add fuel to those flames.
Wenger can go a long way towards appeasing those doubters if he can demonstrate an ability to learn from past mistakes and put together a game plan that brings Arsenal something from this derby.
One piece of good news for Wenger is that Chelsea’s perennial tormentor of all things Arsenal, Didier Drogba, will miss out through injury. However, in Diego Costa the Blues have a striker who is capable of giving Arsenal’s defenders a whole new set of nightmares with the kind of physical play that’s been their undoing in the past.
Karl Hofer writes for BobbyFC, the football website with a retro twist. www.BobbyFC.com
There was turmoil at The Bridge when Tommy Docherty took charge of Chelsea after Ted Drake was dismissed following a series of mid-table finishes and a woeful start to the 61-62 campaign, but he was unable to turn things around and at the end of the season Chelsea were relegated. But they bounced straight back with a side built around Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Terry Venables, and their young captain Bobby Tambling.
Their first season back with the big guns was magnificent for such a young team – the standout result being a 4-2 win at Highbury.
The Arsenal team was built around the attacking talents of George Eastham, Joe Baker and George Armstrong, and they still held faint hopes of maintaining a title challenge. But they were found wanting as Bobby Tambling scored all four Chelsea goals on a mudbath, capitalising on three mistakes by Ian Ure, the other a delightful lob.
Chelsea finished in fifth, three places ahead of Arsenal. Docherty’s side were anointed as one of the teams of the decade and went on to capture the League Cup a year later. Arsenal on the other hand descended into a dark period under Billy Wright, not only losing their way but also their white sleeves in the process.
Both teams began the 70’s in fine style; Arsenal won the league and Cup Double in 1971, only to drift. Chelsea followed up their 1970 FA Cup win with the Cup Winners’ Cup a year later – and then decided to expand Stamford Bridge with a massive East Stand. Up went the stand, and down went Chelsea.
One of their stars of the 1960s Eddie McCreadie led Chelsea back up with a team built around Ray Wilkins. Boardroom unrest meant McCreadie was replaced by another star of the previous decade, Ken Shellito, before Danny Blanchflower was tasked with keeping the Blues in the top flight.
But in 1978-79, Chelsea won only five league games all season, the knockout blow being landed with a spectacular flourish by Arsenal. David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton (2), Alan Sunderland and David Price sent Chelsea down – with the west Londoners’ only relief coming from terrace favourites Clive Walker and Tommy Langley.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal went unbeaten in their title triumph of 2003/04 of course. But that achievement could have been old news had Chelsea not beaten George Graham’s Gunners in February of 1991, 23 years earlier, which proved to be their only league defeat of the season as they clinched the title by seven points.
In a tight match, Chelsea seized control in the second half thanks to Graham Stuart’s header into an almost unguarded net after Winterburn’s mistake, and late on the Arsenal defence was in tatters as Kerry Dixon tapped in after being set up by Damien Matthew to send The Shed into raptures.
Alan Smith’s smart finish pulled one back, but it came so late the away fans could barely muster a cheer. Invincibility would have to wait…
Nwankwo Kanu is a curious character, the embodiment of unfulfilled possibilities some would say. Despite his frustrating, languid style and unspectacular goal scoring record he is a cult figure to Arsenal fans everywhere – thanks largely to this game.
Chelsea seemed to have the game all sewn up shortly after half time when Dan Petrescu added to Tore Andre Flo’s 39th minute strike. But Arsenal’s lanky Nigerian striker had other ideas, scoring an exquisite 15 minute hat-trick. His first two goals were all about his control and delicate touch, but it’s his 90th-minute winner that will really live long in the memory.
It looked like the chance had gone after he’d chased down Albert Ferrer’s stray clearance, but dribbling past a stranded Ed de Goey, Kanu whipped the ball over an array of Chelsea defenders into the far top corner from an impossible angle, sending Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler into a fits, screeching the famous line: “Can you believe it?!”