I have always said, even though Jose Mourinho left the club, Chelsea is still the same team and Guus Hiddink is only a caretaker manager. Against Arsenal, Chelsea again played exactly like they did in the Mourinho days and used their psychological dominance over the Gunners with a pitiful counter-attacking game. Even though Guus Hiddink praised his team's versatility, being both proactive and reactive at the right time, the picture was clear. Mourinho found the winning formula against Arsenal and Guus Hiddink naturally followed his path, which is, terrorizing civilized football.
Hiddink simply gave Cesc Fabregas unlimited autonomy and authority over Chelsea's offensive organization and Diego Costa was their "terrorist" in Arsenal's defense and even his mere existence frightened Wenger's defenders and eventually led to Per Mertesacker's red card. Thus, Chelsea scored a goal, sent Per Mertesacker off and made Arsene Wenger take off his striker and they did all this in just the 20th minute. Everything was suited for their counter-attacking game. Yet, as if proving their inability to create opportunities, Chelsea never seriously challenged Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech after the goal.
However, the reason why Arsenal's collapse in the 20th minute did not change things too much for Chelsea is that they were nowhere near as proactive as Guus Hiddink claimed. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were always in charge of the game and even though they had 10 men, the game was totally under their control. The only thing missing in finding the equalizer was the quality in finishing, with some saying that Arsene Wenger was wrong to withdraw Olivier Giroud for this reason.
This analysis might be right, but in order to get the ball into Chelsea's box, Wenger needed his central midfielders and wingers. Seeing as putting Giroud in the penalty box is meaningless if you cannot get the ball there, Wenger naturally opted for the promising scenario. Nonetheless, he paid the price when Mathieu Flamini kicked the ball out of the Emirates stadium twice in crucial moments.
But this was an extraordinary game and there is not much to blame Wenger or Flamini for in particular. Firstly, a defender like Per Mertesacker should have known it is better to concede the goal rather than leaving the team with 10 men. Added to that, this fact worsened Arsenal's psychological barrier against Chelsea and left them with wracked with self-doubt throughout the game and possibly for the rest of the season.
Secondly, it should not be so easy to terrorize Arsenal's defense, it just encourages the players like Diego Costa and the counter-attacking game. Rather, Arsenal should make peace with the fact that the game they play is open to mistakes at the back and they could end up conceding goals. It is the most natural outcome of neo-total football and if Wenger can teach his defenders to be braver about going forward, they will both get rid of the fear of simple mistakes and leave less space and time for counter-attackers.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are one of the few representatives of modern, civilized football against primitive and barbaric counter-attacking. Thus, Wenger and his team just need a little bit of courage, experience and a good defensive midfielder, then the road to the championship is open.
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