Something to cling on to despite another dose of defeat

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea

Another day, another defeat, and the worrying stats rack up. 5 league wins in 20 (only two teams have won fewer this season), and no league wins at home since 6th October. 

But despite the scoreline and the abundance of gloomy statistics, there were green shoots in evidence. For a start, and not surprisingly given our new manager and the opposition, it was probably the fullest I’ve seen the Emirates for a while. There were still pockets of upper-tier die-hard no-shows, but for a club that’s been leaking matchday support for some time – even during big games – it was good to see this reversed for Arteta’s home debut.

We were rewarded with the best half we’ve seen in ages, too. Disciplined, tight and dominant, and with a neat goal from our goalscoring saviour Aubameyang, it was sufficiently lop-sided that Lampard was forced to make a change after just 30 minutes.

Unfortunately for us it worked, and from that time on we retreated bit by bit. Come the second half, the play was almost all at the wrong end of the pitch, with just the odd foray forward to relieve our beleaguered (and by now, Mustafitastic) defence.

For all their possessional dominance, we’d held Chelsea largely at bay and Leno had little to do in terms of goal-saving shots stopped. But without being able to retain the ball for any length of time, a Chelsea goal had felt likely for a while.

Shame it came the way it did. Leno has been sensational this season (though I bet he wishes he’d not been the centre of attention in the way he has), so it was out of character for him to flap at a cross and present Jorginho with a simple tap-in.

Then we caved in, conceding the kind of goal on the counter that has become our Achilles heel over the years. Too far up; give the ball away; lose shape and don’t tackle; concede. Tick, tick, tick.

So you could say that it was self-inflicted, and in a way it was. But also, a goal had felt inevitable for some time, so I wasn’t enormously surprised. We were out on our feet by the 70th minute, and had made no changes at a time when Chelsea had made all three.

Running in the family

I suspect there’s a lesson there for Arteta, and he knows it only too well. He mentioned afterwards that we couldn’t keep up the intensity, and that conditioning will take time. (It also begs the question: what the hell has this squad been doing all these years, at a time when power and intensity both on and off the ball has been the defining hallmark of good teams? Someone has been asleep at the wheel).

So until such time as the players are fitter, maybe he needs to make some earlier switches to retain some power and energy? Reiss Nelson – who has been an early beneficiary of Arteta’s nascent stewardship – looked so tired when he was substituted that I thought he might just plop down and have a kip on the side of the pitch. 

Something about you

Positives though, positives. Arteta’s two games have not given us the new manager bounce in terms of results – and we may have to wait a little longer for that – but there’s no denying we’re playing more cleverly and with more structure. And we’re working harder. Amen to that! Amen to that will bells and whistles on!

All this without three of our four full backs, with a wantaway Xhaka not even on the bench (I mean, if the Bundesliga’s 12th placed side come calling, you don’t say no do you) and with Chambers – now our first-choice centre half – hobbling off to be replaced by the ghost of Mustafi past.

Yes, imagine such a thing. Poor old Mustafi has always had a rick in him, but he was also capable of intermittent excellence, let’s not pretend otherwise. No longer though – his form and confidence are on the floor and for the sake of everyone here, surely January is the time for a fresh start. 

Lessons in love

I thought Nelson was good, and he’ll be pretty happy with the new direction his season has taken. He must grasp it, and seems to be doing just that. 

Maitland-Niles is another interesting one. He was frozen out a bit, he admitted he wasn’t that happy at right-back, and I did wonder where his Arsenal career was heading with no other obvious position for him. But he’s stuck at it, injuries have handed him another go and I think he’s got better and better, albeit in a quiet way. He’s another one who could benefit from Arteta’s pastoral care and more structured orders.

Then there’s Torreira, who Emery didn’t want at DM. There were rumours swirling about him being unhappy, but Arteta has put him where he’s good (perish the thought) and I thought he was excellent again yesterday. He posted a Christmas ‘gram of himself in a retro scrambled egg away shirt – does that look like a player who wants out? Doesn’t feel like it.

So yeah, I’m rambling. But I think we were collectively better yesterday, at least at first, and I think some of our players are making the most of this fresh start.

Forget the obsession with the Champions League. It’s not happening this season, let’s be honest. If we keep improving like this, the results will ultimately come and that collective and personal improvement is what the rest of this season is all about.

I feel good about it.