The season isn’t over, but watching the match between Arsenal and Chelsea on Saturday, it would have been easy to think that both sides had nothing to play for. For Arsenal, we are in danger of undoing the good work of the second half of the season by not finishing off the job of finishing third. Apart from Newcastle’s good run of form, we’re fortunate that the teams behind us can’t put a string of good results together.
The team looked fatigued against Chelsea, which is understandable at this stage of the season, however when the opposition were in a similar state and were mainly focussed on defending, it’s frustrating that we couldn’t win the game. It’s hard to be angry at the result though, because it was a poor game, and Arsenal didn’t force the issue or grab the initiative to press forward for a win.
We’re still in a good position to finish third, but we have to take the last three matches seriously and not just let the season drift and meander away, as it did at the end of last season. The negative vibes that built up during the last few weeks of last season then continued into the summer, and things hardly went smoothly in the last off-season. Fatigue does play a part, but it’s also the case for every team. The players should be able to deal with it and be prepared to give everything, otherwise we’ll find ourselves slip out of the top three, and possibly the top four.
One of the main talking points amongst supporters after the Chelsea match was Aaron Ramsey again. I’ve said enough times on this blog that I think he will be a good player for Arsenal, and that he’s still young and is going through a rough patch of form. We’ve seen how Tomas Rosicky has turned it round, so there’s no reason why Ramsey won’t improve. With the injuries we’ve got, we need him to find some form quickly, otherwise our midfield will look weak without Arteta.
On Saturday, Arsenal weren’t overrun in midfield, far from it, but there was a spark missing. Ramsey and Song don’t have the understanding that Song and Arteta have built up this season, and whilst Rosicky was ok, Chelsea had midfielders sitting deep enough to try and nullify his threat. Ramsey was caught in possession too much, but he can’t be criticised for working hard to win the ball back when that happened. He just needs to quicken his decision making when playing in the deeper role as his role can be vital when trying to maintain momentum in an attack, and it’s important in setting the momentum from the deeper role when building attacks from midfield.
One positive in central midfield was the return of Abou Diaby. He still looked rusty, but having only made three substitute appearances all season, that was understandable. Stoke next week might not be the ideal game for him to be eased back into, but his height will be useful with the inevitable Stoke tactics, should he be selected from the start. Hopefully Diaby will be able to have a full pre-season and get back to his best next season. He can be outrageously skilful and powerful in midfield; he just needs to be injury free and in form.
Most Gooners would have been excited to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain start on the left, however we can’t expect greatness from him in every game. He’s still only 18, and has exceeded people’s expectations this season anyway. He still looked dangerous against Chelsea, but his eagerness to attack often meant the ball ran away from him or his control let him down. With Theo Walcott injured and likely to be out for the remaining games, I think we’ll see more of the Ox on the right. It’ll be a good chance for him to make a late claim to be in the England squad for the European Championships. On the other side, we need Gervinho to find some form as well. He’s looked out of sorts after the African Cup of Nations, and if we sign another forward minded player in the summer, he could be the one to miss out on a regular starting place next season.
Up front, Robin van Persie looked tired. More so than the rest of the team, fatigue for Robin is to be expected. We’ve never got so many games out of him in a season, and the effects of it are just catching up with him. As this shows, Robin’s time on the pitch in the Premier League has increased massively this season (via @1DavidWall on twitter). He had chances against Chelsea that would have resulted in a goal earlier in the season, but the problem remains in our squad that a fatigued Robin van Persie is still a heck of lot more likely than Marouane Chamakh or Ju-Young Park to convert those chances. The priority in the summer initially has to be to get Robin to stay. After that, sign someone to support him.
Robin van Persie was deservedly named the PFA player of the year on Sunday night, proving that some footballers do know what they’re talking about. Wayne Rooney has been in good form recently, but there couldn’t be any other winner. Van Persie has not only played in every game and scored a lot of goals, he’s lead the team through some difficult times, and we’ve come out of it in decent shape. He’s matured as a player and as a leader this season, so hopefully he’ll see that he can progress further as part of this team next season.
The biggest positive from the Chelsea game, and one of the reasons why the match wasn’t a thriller, was that we defended well. Laurent Koscielny returned from suspension and was immense. He has improved so much this season, and is now arguably a better defender than Thomas Vermaelen. Koscielny is quick, reads the game well and now isn’t afraid of a tackle. He’s another example of what hard work and a bit of experience can do for a player.
Frankly, the Chelsea match was boring, so the less said about it the better. We didn’t lose and kept a clean sheet, so let’s take that forward to Stoke on Saturday. It’s well publicised how Arsenal don’t like going to Stoke, but they have very little to play for, so hopefully that’ll take a bit of the edge off the game for them. It’ll still be a difficult game though, and Arsenal should by now have wised up to the challenge faced and be able to brace themselves for that challenge.
If there is one game left this season that I’m desperate for Aaron Ramsey to play well in, it’s the Stoke match. We all know the history he has with this fixture, so it really is a good time to get behind him and the team. If there are brainless Stoke fans booing him again (it wasn’t his fault that his leg was broken), it’d be great to see Ramsey put in a great performance. It would go a long way to getting the relationship he has with the fans back to the strength it was after that horrific incident.
It’s not just Ramsey, but the whole team need to put in a good performance at Stoke, otherwise our much heralded comeback might collapse Spurs-style. Let’s face it; we want to leave that sort of thing for them to do.