Theo Walcott’s second half strike wasn’t enough for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger’s side went down 2-1 to Chelsea following a disastrous first half showing. An early Juan Mata strike and a Frank Lampard penalty did the damage as the Gunners toiled in the January snow in West London. While there was plenty of heart on show after the break, for all the possession it was profligacy in front of goal that proved costly.
It was the same starting line-up that beat Swansea in midweek albeit with a weaker bench with both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski missing through illness. For their part Chelsea left Ba and Terry on the bench with Torres leading the line.
Chelsea certainly started brighter but it was Arsenal who had the first clear-cut chance after only four minutes. Cazorla found Walcott who quickly slipped in Giroud. Bearing down on goal having beaten the offside trap the Frenchman looked a good bet to score but arrowed wide in haste.
The miss was to prove very costly. A minute later we went behind.
Ramires studded Coquelin’s ankle in the midfield, the ball fell to Ivanovic who lofted a diagonal ball to Mata. The Spaniard controlled beautifully and slapped a finish high past Szczesny despite pressure from Diaby. 1-0.
On the touchline Wenger quite rightly went mental about the fact that no foul was given in the build-up.
Eager to keep up the tempo after the restart Cazorla, who initially struggled on the left of midfield, produced a good save from Cech. Not to be outdone Eden Hazard wriggled through our defence forcing Szczesny to palm his shot over the bar. It was an action-packed first ten minutes.
The longer the game went on the more Arsenal struggled under Chelsea pressure. Defensively we looked shaky with the trickery and dribbling of Blues trio Mata, Hazard and Oscar testing the discipline of our back four.
In midfield Ramires had Diaby in his pocket. Twice he got the better of the Frenchman inside 30 seconds, the latter eventually to a scramble in the box which saw Szczesny in a second phase of play trip the Brazilian. The Chelsea man definitely left his leg hanging to ensure he went down, but with contact made the referee was always going to give the penalty. A yellow card was produced for the Pole, Lampard stepped up and calmly slotted home to make it 2-0.
By this point we were all over the shop, wildly hacking the ball clear in an attempt to clear the lines only for Chelsea’s defence to gang up on Giroud and push forward again.
In the final third the best we offered were awful crosses from Sagna and Gibbs while Walcott put three consecutive corners into Cech’s hands. As you might expect, feeding the Chelsea goalkeeper only served to provide the home side with a platform to launch more quick attacks.
We needed to press in midfield but for all Jack Wilshere’s anxious and angry pleading with his teammates there was little reaction. Coquelin, Diaby and Sagna were the worst offenders, each lackadaisical both in and out of possession.
Although Wilshere started to impose himself on the game his moments of quality were met with no end product. A dinked ball to Giroud wasn’t brought under control and Walcott was twice offside from incisive through balls.
Were it not for wild finishing from Ramires and Torres we could well have been further behind before the break. Just to sum up a horrible half for Arsenal, nice work by Coquelin in injury-time was rewarded with another offside flag for Walcott. Our new £100,000 a week man did that annoying shoulder shrug thing he does.
Wenger sent the side out early after half-time, presumably thinking five minutes in the freezing snow was the best possible team talk.
It nearly proved dividends. A foul by Cole on Walcott on 47 minutes gave Wilshere the chance to loft a ball into the box. When it dropped at Mertesacker’s feet the German composed himself but could only hit his shot straight at Cech. A sign of more positive things to come?
For once Walcott beat the offside trap from a Cazorla pass, but bearing down on goal he too could only shoot directly at the Chelsea keeper. We were going for it at least.
Further pressure came from a Giroud header from a clipped Gibbs cross; a poor effort in truth, but at least he managed to get in the position.
Finally just before the hour mark Walcott timed a run correctly latched onto a Cazorla through ball and slotted past Cech. It was a goal which we deserved and another very tidy finish from a player improving in one-on-one situations. 2-1.
Coquelin, who was lying on the turf as we scored, was immediately replaced by Aaron Ramsey, while Walcott also required treatment before the restart.We nearly grabbed a quick equaliser after a fine break involving Gibbs, Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere released Theo again. This time he cut in from the right only to scuff his effort wide.
Chelsea looked very anxious, perhaps mindful of the two goal lead they let slip against Southampton on Wednesday, as we continued to up the tempo. More good work by Walcott drew another foul from Cole on the edge of the box. Cazorla took charge but his curling effort was blocked by the wall.
Vermaelen had Szczesny and Sagna to thank for denying Torres after being caught by the Spaniard’s pace twice in two minutes as the game entered the final third. With limited options on the bench Andrei Arshavin was introduced for the tiring Diaby while Ba replaced Torres. It was obvious as we entered the last ten minutes that our energy levels were depleted; the game a much slower affair than it had been at the start of the half.
Chelsea should have sealed the win when Ba skipped past Szczesny and rolled the ball goalwards only for Vermaelen to miraculously block the ball. It was a massive let off.
The Belgian then hit a low drive from a free-kick just past the post and Giroud tried his luck from 30-yards just before we entered injury-time. There were as many as five corners during the five minutes added on but despite Walcott and Giroud coming close we just couldn’t muster the equaliser.
It was a fine showing in the second period, but as with the game against City last weekend, you just can’t afford to give opponents two goal leads. We lose again and sit sixth in the table six points off the Champions League pace. Granted we have three home games in the Premier League coming up but we’re really struggling for momentum now.