30 October 2013

Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea. Meh.

So it seems we're done with the league cup, and this apparently means that Ramsey is shite, Wenger is will be sacked by the end of this sentence, and we're going to get relegated to boot.

Oh. Wait.

It's just one match, and one in which we sent out a fair number of second-string players. It's true that Chelsea did the same, but when your second-string includes the likes of Mata, Essien, Mikel, and Eto'o, you have a right to expect a result like this one. There's been some hand-wringing from the idea that this is the second time in two weeks that we've come up short at home against elite competition, and there's an element of truth in that but only on the front end. Losing to Dortmund at home in the Champions League is one thing, but losing at home to Chelsea in the League Cup is another matter entirely. On a night when our attack, such as it was, consisted of a striker we've tried to unload in almost every imaginable way and a 20-year old winger who's made a mere four appearances on the season, well, we're going to struggle to score, especially against a defense that includes the likes of Cahill, Sideshow Bob, and Azpilicueta. It's our first time failing to score all season, a string of fourteen matches. Silver linings and so on.

I just don't think there are very many broader conclusions to be drawn from this result, at least not about the squad as a whole. Regulars did fairly well for themselves, but none really left his mark on the match, and that's to be expected when playing with players they rarely play with. We didn't look quite as disjointed as we did when we faced West Brom, and that's actually encouraging despite coming out on the short end of things when you consider the quality of the opposition. No, the only broader conclusion to be drawn is one that we've known about the whole time: the squad is thin. By 10 November, we should have Podolski, Walcott, and Ox back, and our attacking options will thus look that much stronger.

As to individual players, no one truly stood out although Cazorla, despite the fact that he's still finding fitness and was the only real attacking threat for the defense to worry about, had some chances and very nearly scored late on. At the other end, Jenkinson had a difficult night all around, punctuated by the error that lead to Chelsea's first goal. He is still limited, still too weak with his left and in the air. His header back to Fabianksi was telegraphed for an eternity, giving Azpilicueta plenty of time to anticipate (so much so that I wondered if he might have run offside) and beat Fabianski to it, and Jenkinson headed so feebly that Fabianski had no chance. Jenkinson is not doubt devastated by this flub, but I hope he doubles down and comes back more determined than ever to answer his critics.

Between Cazorla's decent display and Jenkinson's difficult night, most everyone else played a fairly average match without much to say as far as highlights or howlers. We muddled through, and as nice as a win would might have been, let's not mistake the quality of the opposition for the importance of the match. In years past, we've crashed out in sometimes shocking fashion to lower-tier teams. Once this fixture was announced, it took on more glamour and more symbolic power than it really deserved. It was a fourth-round League Cup match, one in which we would normally play quite a few more Academy players, see what happens, and shrug, more or less, whatever the result is. Last year, we sent out a full-strength (ish) squad and still lost to League Two Bradford. This time 'round, we would face Chelsea, a hated rival and contender for the Prem League championship, and this inflated but didn't raise the stakes. So we threw on a few first-teamers and second-stringers, left the Academy kids on the bench (for the most part), and got what we got.

So it goes.

Our starting XI still strikes me as one the best, if not the best, in the Prem. Peeking past that, of course, reminds us of our thinness, and that was the factor tonight. However, taking the League Cup off of our list of fixtures makes it a little easier to focus on the Prem, the Champions League, and the FA Cup. The League Cup was always lowest on my list of targets for the year. I know I'm not alone in feeling that. In fact, here's my list of targets for the year:
  1. win the Prem. 
  2. Advance past the Champions League group stage (further? why not?).
  3. win the FA Cup.
  4. win the League Cup.
Winning the Prem strikes me as the most important target for the year. We talk of a trophy drought, and winning the League Cup might have been the most-winnable, but I don't want to end the drought in the easiest of ways. No, I want something bigger and, yes, more-difficult. Let's say we made it to the League Cup final and defeated Bradford 5-0. That might feel a bit anticlimactic even if it did put an end to the drought. No, I want to emerge as champions of the Premier League. I want to say that we were best of the best. We have the quality to do it. Of course, there are quite a few tough fixtures coming up, starting with Liverpool on Saturday, so we'll know a lot more about our ambitions and our prospects a month from now. We're bound to drop points sooner or later; we'll probably relinquish our top-of-table status as well. However, the key is to keep calm and continue taking care of business. I'm sure we'll bounce back from this one soon enough.

In other news, I'm proud to announce that this blog is one of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blog" category. I'm facing some stiff competition from some general-interest blogs that cover a little of everything: transfers-rumors, betting, etc. I'm hoping that fellow Gooners will take a moment to vote:
Thanks, as always, for your visit. Let's put this result aside and get ready for the Mugsmashers! 'Til next time...