Premiership: Chelsea 1 – 1 Arsenal

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Match reports

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Sir Alex Ferguson must have touched wood about this match, because Chelsea certainly did, much to their frustration. In an absorbing game, the champions were denied by the woodwork three times, and so now stand eight points behind Ferguson’s Manchester United.”

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The uncompromising quality of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea has been sullenly acknowledged by rivals, but now that power will be tested as it has never been before in the Premiership. The side rallied yesterday to equalise spectacularly and then hit the woodwork on two occasions in stoppage-time, but Manchester United, glancing over their shoulder, have to peer a little further than expected to make out their nearest pursuers.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “On the line was Chelsea’s 51-game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge in the Premiership under Mourinho, Chelsea have never lost here in the League and his players responded magnificently. He left the pitch with his arm around the shoulders of the referee, Alan Wiley, at the end although the Chelsea manager spent most of the match in the blackest of moods with the official. An early booking for Ashley Cole had him storming on to the pitch and he might have reached the referee had the fourth official not intervened.”

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “Coming from behind, as they did yesterday thanks to Michael Essien’s fabulous late strike (and at Old Trafford recently) may highlight the impressive resilience of his players but what about falling behind in the first place? It was only when Arjen Robben arrived that Chelsea began to stretch Arsenal’s valiant but inexperienced defence. It was only then that they began to play like champions.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Paul Mason: “Two points dropped to Man United this weekend but a point more than the league leaders gained from their home game against Arsenal. This story has far to go.”

The good

  1. The result. Just imagine what the reaction and behaviour of Arsenal fans would have been like if their team had broken our 51-game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge. It doesn’t bear thinking about. In that regard the draw, and the way it was achieved, was a great result.
  2. The game itself. I thoroughly enjoyed every second, although my alcohol intake probably had something to do with that. Our first half performance wasn’t particularly good, but we were by far the more incisive team and, on the balance of chances, the better team. It was a case of ‘if only’ – if only Frank Lampard’s strike which hit the upright had been a few millimetres to the left; and if only Cesc Fabregas hadn’t have been in the right place at the right time and cleared Michael Essien’s shot off the line. Our second half performance was a great deal better, particularly after we switched to 4-3-3. We certainly did more than enough to win the game.
  3. Michael Essien. Game after game the Ghanian’s influence is decisive. His stunning equalising goal capped another fine performance. It’s just a shame it wasn’t the winner, although he had a chance to win the game a few minutes later, but struck the underside of the crossbar from three yards out. Again, if only. The question is, should Essien play at right-back more often? Given that the introduction of Arjen Robben changed the game (which was more open after 66 minutes anyway), playing an extra attacking midfielder might be the answer to our current goal scoring problems. Perhaps the merits of both Jose Mourinho’s preferred systems, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield versus the more attacking 4-3-3, the formation that won us two Premiership titles, is best left for discussion in the comments, as is Andriy Shevchenko’s continuing struggle to adapt to the Premiership.
  4. Ashley Cole. He handled the inevitable abuse well and had a steady game. There was a degree of poetic justice in the fact that his tackle on Alexander Hleb, which could easily have been a free kick to Arsenal, led to Essien’s equaliser. It certainly had the sour-faced Arsene Wenger hopping mad on the touchline.
  5. Alan Wiley. Probably a contentious decision. For the most part I thought he had a great game given the circumstances and animosity between the two teams, whose behaviour could have gotten out of hand on several occasions. The biggest decision he eventually got right was to award Jens Lehmann and Didier Drogba a yellow card apiece for their Laurel and Hardy routine; many referees would have taken great pleasure in (incorrectly) sending off Drogba. The trouble is, Wiley caused the incident in the first place by not awarding Drogba a penalty after he was clearly brought down in the box by the inept and clumsy Phillipe Senderos: the Swiss international had hold of Drogba’s right shoulder and went through the back of the Ivorian. If Wiley had awarded the penalty, Arsenal’s petulant and childish 37 year-old German international goalkeeper wouldn’t have had the opportunity to push Drogba and start the resultant pantomime routine.

The bad

  1. The result. The draw meant we slipped further behind Manchester United: we’re now 8 points adrift with a game in hand. There’s no other way to put it, we simply should have beaten a below strength Arsenal side with ease. Yes, we hit the woodwork three times and had a shot cleared off the line, and the Gunners did well to achieve what they set out to do, to nick a point, but the long and short of it is that we should be winning these games at Stamford Bridge more comfortably.
  2. Henrique Hilario. This may come across as a bit harsh, but his effort to keep out Matthew Flamini’s shot was pathetic. There’s no doubt he’s done well in recent weeks given the circumstances, but he’s not good enough to be playing for one of the best teams in Europe. And to think we’ve got an ex-Coventry and Celtic keeper, who came out of retirement, on the bench. Let’s hope Carlo Cudicini recovers from his injury soon.
  3. Shaun Wright-Phillips. Clearly still lacking confidence despite scoring his first goal for the club against Levski Sofia. During the 23 minutes he was on the pitch he gave the ball away more often than not. Frustrating to say the least.

Man of the Match

Michael Essien.

Final thoughts

Is Wednesday night’s game against Newcastle United at the Bridge the first must-win game of the season? Probably. We just cannot afford to slip further behind United. We also need to start scoring more goals. There’s no doubt that we should rip the Magpies’ poor defence apart, but given that we struggled against the youngest Arsenal back four ever, which at times was all over the place, then a win is not a forgone conclusion. I’d settle for 1-0 and 3 points.

I apologise if I’ve missed anything important out of this post, but I have one of those hangovers that makes you want to ingest more than the recommended dose of Nurofen and adopt the foetal position under the nearest desk. Add any omissions to the comments.

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