04 October 2014

Beating Chelsea—at their own game, if necessary...

And so we go into a match that has certainly been circled on the calendar by many Gooners, either out of dread or determination, as the sternest test of the young season. The question on most minds seems to be, "how badly will we lose?" or some variant thereof, with most answers holding the margin to three goals, as if we'll be lucky to lose by a mere 3-0 or, if we're plucky, 4-1. Bollocks. If anything, that horrific scoreline flattered Chelsea more than it flattened us. Mourinho's minions scored only three more goals on the season than we did, and they experienced an unprecedented orgy on that day that seemed to reveal everything that's ostensibly right with Chelsea and, alongside that, everything's that wrong with Arsenal. As I said before, bollocks.

Let's first put that infamous 6-0 scoreline in perspective. Yes, it was 2-0 inside of eight minutes. That's the salient and unavoidable gap, to which I'll returrn in a moment. Everything else from the 17th minute in is, to me, pure dross. It was in that 17th minute that saw us lose Gibbs to a red-card that should have been on Oxlade-Chamberlain for an accidental handball on a shot that might have gone wide anyway. Whatever the details, we were down a man and perhaps suffering a bit of PTSD following the 6-3, 5-1, and 3-0 losses that preceded.  Lost in that avalanche is how well we played in so many other matches. Almost half of the goals we conceded in the Prem—20 of 41—came from these four matches. Even if there are four such results from 38 total, they are such outliers that it's difficult to suggest much from them other than that they were freakish occurences. At Chelsea's end, there were only three other matches in which they scored more than three goals: home against Cardiff (4-1), at Sunderland (3-4), and home against Tottenham (4-0). From both ends, then, that anomalous result beggars belief. For as shell-shocked as we were, well, they must have been gobsmacked as well.

Even if the additions of Costa and Fabregas have added more offensive firepower, suggesting that Chelsea are looking to produce more scorelines like the aforementioned, they've not quite achieved that to this point. Buoyed by ten goals in two matches, Chelsea have scored 19 goals in six matches. Aside from the 6-3 win over Everton, the 4-2 win over Swansea, and the 3-0 win over Villa, they've been utterly pedestrian, scoring just one goal in each of three other matches. Yes, they're undefeated. However, they're far from invincible. For those with an inferiority complex, Chelsea have twice conceded first to clearly inferior opponents—in the 11th minute at Burnley and the 17th at home against Swansea. For as glitzy and gauche as their results and goal-differential are, then, there's a hint of brittleness that we can look to, even if it offers only a glimmer of hope.

Along similar lines, the Costa-Fabregas has produced a very one-dimesional approach. Of Chelsea's 19 goals in the Prem, Costa has scored eight. No one else in the squad has more than two. 42% of Chelsea's goals, then, have come from one man. Four of Costa's eight goals were assisted by Fabregas. That axis, then, as prolific as it's been to date, offers a blueprint for trying to shut down or at least slow the onslaught. If we can close down Fabregas, denying him the ball or depriving him of it, this would go a long way to blunting Chelsea's attack. This might mean that we should again see Özil playing wide, the better to make space for the likes of Rosický or Oxlade-Chamberlain to play more central in front of Flamini in order to harass Fabregas. In the face of the Chelsea attack, Rosický or Chamberlain's willingness to press and tackle means more than Özil's ability to create.

Alongside that, I daresay we see Chambers and Gibbs stay closer to home rather than getting forward (more an issue for Gibbs than for Chambers). Simply put, we can't blithely send them forward to join the attack, especially when we can count on Mourinho to park that bus of his and look to hit on counter-attacks.Rather than expose ourselves to just that sort of game-plan, we might be better served by playing just a bit more cautiously, at least at the outset, to prevent Costa or others from getting into spaces where Fabregas can find him or send him through on goal. Recalling Chambers and Gibbs would also blunt the pressure otherwise created by Hazard, Oscar, and Azpilicueta.

Vote for Woolwich 1886 as Best New Blog in the FBAs--click below! I don't mean to say that this is a blueprint for victory. Maybe it's a blueprint for a draw. If we do claim a draw, bully for us. Chelsea are not the bogeyman we've made them out to be, even if they've scalped us more often than not. They can be beaten, and that starts with believing you can. Sorry to get schmaltzy there, but it's true.

Rather than dread an encore, why not see this as a "nothing-to-lose" match? Most everyone, including Gooners, expect another heavy loss. Not me. I'm not calling for a win. I'm only suggesting that we have enough fight in us, even after the injuries, to take something from nothing. A moral victory, such as losing by only a goal or two? I've set my sights higher. I think we can nick a point. That is, after all, Mourinho's game-plan for away-matches: play stubborn defense and play not to lose. If we have to do the same on Sunday, let's call it irony.

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