PAT NEVIN: LOOKING FORWARD
With a point taken from yesterday's derby and December's busy schedule nearing its end, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin sees a side well-positioned for an intriguing second half of the season…
I thought Chelsea's performance against Arsenal was arguably the most controlled performance of the season, though Manchester United away might have run it close. Possession stats may have read 61% to 39% in Arsenal's favour but was it seriously threatening possession? Considering Chelsea had nine attempts on goal to Arsenal's four, it just goes to show how good the discipline was in the Chelsea side.
Every one of the starting players seemed drilled to absolute precision when the ball was lost, leaving Arsenal trying to thread ever more unlikely through balls. It is hard to pick out individuals but Mikel was tasked to stop Ozil in the creative role and the German did next to nothing in the game as a result. I thought beforehand that Theo Walcott was the biggest threat, but try as he might he just couldn't get a look in against Azpilicueta. He didn't fare any better when he briefly tried his luck against Branislav Ivanovic.
What was then left was the threat from Giroud and he scarcely got a sight at goal due to the combined efforts of Terry and Cahill. I thought Gary Cahill had one of his best games in a Chelsea shirt and only once did Giroud get to the near post, his favoured run, with any menace and on that occasion John Terry made the goal-saving lunge with Petr Cech in close attendance.
Chelsea on this occasion opted for what was something like a 4-3-3 formation with the strength and running power of Mikel, Lampard and Ramires closing down throughout, just where Arsenal like to play. It was a change of basic system, but there have been plenty of changes by Jose this term. The players are expected to be able to adapt to the style whether it is 4-2-3-1, 4-2-4, 3-2-3-2 or whatever.
In the midst of the work and the organisation some might argue a couple of things, first that it is boring and secondly the striker isn't getting many opportunities. Well sometimes I think that it just has to be the case on occasion. This was a game not to be lost and in the end Chelsea had the closest thing to a goal through Frank Lampard in the first half. I didn't find it boring at all, had we scored through Frank it would have been described by all and sundry as a tactical master class. As for the striker, I am sure most Chelsea fans at the game would agree that Fernando Torres worked himself to a standstill until he was finally given a well-deserved rest near the end.
He gave himself up for the team and I suspect the manager would have been delighted with him, even if he didn't have a chance to score a goal.
It was also worth thinking about the game itself played in conditions not exactly conducive to silky soccer. There was a pretty 'old school' feel about the game and not just because of the wind and the rain. The tackles were flying in and the referee seemed to understand that this is what can happen in a pacy game in very slippery conditions with two committed teams. For about an hour the players generally just got on with it, understanding that the referee was allowing some robust fare, a la the 1980s, and it was all the more enjoyable for that. Unfortunately that changed when Mikel Arteta rolled about after a foul by Ramires, even though he was clearly not badly hurt. The spell was broken, the referee felt the need to go for his card and we were back in the pernickety modern day game, with the referee forced to reach in his pocket every five or 10 minutes…it was nice while it lasted.
I digress, with seven out of the nine games gone in December I think we are pretty well on target with the notable exception of the Carling Cup of course. We are very much in the leading group that is bunching very close together as we approach the middle of the race. As Christmas is upon us it is worth reflecting that things are not too bad and there is much to look forward to. In fact I think we can look forward to the most exciting Premier League since its inception and I am looking forward to that almost as much as I am looking forward to giving and receiving presents on the 25th! I hope every one of you gets what you want, not just this week but in the entire year to come.
An early Christmas present goes to Ikechukwu Odoh in Lagos, Nigeria who won last week's quiz, noting correctly that Didier Drogba's first goal for Chelsea was indeed against Crystal Palace.
This week to have a chance of winning a copy of the Frank Lampard 203 Goals book, signed by Frank, could you tell me the name of the last player to score for Chelsea on a New Year's Day (January 1st)? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com