Sunday 22 April 2012

Crawling to the finish line

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

If Arsenal do secure a place in the top three/four they won’t do it with much a flourish if this match is anything to go by.

Littered by poor decisions and what they call ‘unforced errors’ in tennis, this was 90 minutes of my life I’d like to get back. I hope most of those who played in red and white yesterday would like to press the rewind button as well because they missed a brilliant chance to move a step closer to sealing that Champions League spot by beating a Chelsea team missing a fair few first teamers and understandably more bothered about Tuesday's game in Barcelona.

The point takes a different light because of Spurs' defeat at QPR (happens to the best of us...) last night. That eases the pressure for a bit longer and should be enough for us to secure fourth but it doesn't mean we're finishing with style.

Chelsea came to defend and did so usually with 10 men behind the ball but I never got a sense that Arsenal were stretching every sinew to break them down.

With Arteta absent through injury, we never played with the sort of tempo or control that he provides. Ramsey was a disappointing stand-in, apart from a couple of excellent long passes in the second half. Wenger made the worthwhile point the other day that this is his first full season in the Premiership but even so he has shown only glimpses of real quality during his time at the club. Like most of our midfielders, I think he would fit best in a four-man unit rather than three because at the moment he looks a bit lost.

In fairness, he was not the exception in a team that struggled overall. Song was poor, Diaby did little when he came on for the anonymous Rosicky and Walcott was having one of his frustrating days, failing to test Ryan Bertrand, a talented full back but making only his fourth appearance for Chelsea, in any way. On the other side of the attack, the Ox was full of good intent but he too made the wrong decision more often than not.

The importance of an in-form Robin Van Persie was made all too clear. We ended up hoping the captain could ‘make something happen’ from a simple boot up field but he was found wanting yesterday.

I said at the start of the season that we were Robin-reliant and that he needed a player of the season campaign if we were to achieve anything. Since he is likely to claim the PFA honours tonight and we look toothless in attack without him firing on all cylinders, both of those points have come true (I’ll take my virtual tap of the shoulder in respect of my soothsaying talents at this point). I don’t envy Ivan Gazidis’ job in trying to negotiate a new contract for Van Persie given his value to this team.

The biggest plus was the pairing of Koscielny and Vermaelen which got back into the groove with few problems following Koscielny's suspension. He was caught out once when he let Kalou run off his shoulder but, frankly, you could employ a flea-ridden, three-legged goat to defend against Kalou and you wouldn’t have a problem. Otherwise, the pair worked well together and Vermaelen even managed to get away with a sly flying shoulder-barge on John Terry which earns him some extra brownie points.

Before the Wolves game I thought winning our three remaining home games, against Wigan, Chelsea and Norwich, would have been enough to get us into the Champions League. We now need to earn those missing points away from Ashburton Grove. And where do we find ourselves travelling first on that quest? Ah yes, the ever-welcoming Stoke. Be thankful that Newcastle’s and Spurs’ final fixtures do not look straightforward.

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