March 28, 2014

It's safe to say that #Wenger1000 did not go as well as we hoped.

Two early strikes by Chelsea, followed by a comedy of errors from Martin Atkinson Andre Marriner (sorry, they look so much alike...) It was just the tip of the iceberg as Arsenal fell 6-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Arsène Wenger was left almost speechless by his team's performance on a day that should have been memorable for all the right reasons.

"It was a nightmare and I take full responsibility for it," he said. ""That is the most disappointing thing, that we were never in the game." 

He later explained, "We had a desire to accept to play and to go forward, but we were caught on the break."

Mikel Arteta, however, wouldn't lay the blame at the boss' feet. "If you give the ball away in the middle of the park against Chelsea you know what's going to happen. That's what we have to avoid and we knew that from the start of the game and we haven't done it."

As for the error by the referee, unless you've been hiding under a rock you know all about it. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put a hand on a shot by Eden Hazard in the 17th minute. After some confusion on the pitch, Marriner pulled out a red card and sent Kieran Gibbs off despite protests by both players.

When asked whether Marriner should apologize for the error, Wenger was magnanimous:

"He does not have to do that, I trust his honesty. He made a mistake and it can happen. We did not lose [because] of that, the game became much more difficult for us of course - at 3-0 down with 10 men, you know you have to attack. I completely accept the fact that Andre Marriner is an honest referee and a good referee. He did not do that on purpose, it was accidental."

Perhaps part of the reason for that was how everything shook out in the end. As expected, The FA cleared Gibbo and transferred the red card to Ox. The big twist came next. Arsenal appealed for wrongful dismissal claiming that the shot was never going in, and the handball should have been at worst a yellow card. The FA agreed and the usual punishment for a red card was immediately withdrawn.

But unfortunately, The FA's ruling was not a magic wand that made the whole loss disappear. Still, Wenger tried to put the loss in perspective:

"An accident has happened, that doesn't mean that you're not a good driver. It just means that we have played about 40 games this season and it's not what happened on Saturday that reflects the quality of this team. We have 62 points that we earned hard with quality games and that's what we want to focus on, to get back to that quality. We go back to basics."

But the talking points from the result centered on Arsenal's performances this season against the rest of the top four. And as everyone also pointed out, each of the big losses of the season against Man City, Liverpool and now Chelsea came in away matches with a lunchtime kick-off. Wenger even touched on the topic later in the week.

To be fair, it is my least favorite kickoff time, too. It means I have to wake up when some of my fellow West Coasters are starting to think about going to bed. Ah, days of my youth…

But I digress. Whatever was behind the loss, whatever contributed, the fact was Arsenal needed to get right back on that horse and play Swansea on Tuesday, the first of two straight home games.

 And from the moment they emerged from the Emirates Stadium tunnel, the squad looked determined to do just that.

But despite dominating possession and pushing the visitors back throughout the opening 10 minutes, Arsenal soon found themselves behind when Wilfried Bony headed a rather innocuous-looking cross past Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsenal looked out of sorts for the next 60 minutes, but then everything changed. Gibbo set up Lukas Podolski with a fantastic cut-back that the German knocked home for the equalizer. And before anyone knew it, Arsenal took the lead. Poldi sent a low cross in for Olivier Giroud who steered the ball inside the near post.

Boom! What a comeback! What a show of mental strength!

And then… what awful luck.

In the 90th minute, Leon Britton broke through and unleashed a shot on goal and Szczesny made a wonderful save. Right into Mathieu Flamini's shin. That the ball bounced off. And went straight into the goal.

Wenger was obviously disappointed and suggested it some of the result stemmed from the Chelsea hangover.

"We made the most difficult [part] by coming back to 2-1 and after that you could see that maybe we were too focused to keep the result and maybe too conservative because of confidence level had been affected certainly by Saturday."

With the draw, many have now written off Arsenal's title chances. But Wenger insists nothing is over yet – and as usual he made a pretty good point. "Everybody speaks about Everton coming back on us [to challenge for fourth place]. Why should we then not come back on the teams who are in front of us?"

This brings us to this weekend and a match against one of the hotter teams in the Premier League right now. Citeh have won eight of their last 10 and have a league-high goal differential of 52. Interestingly, last game aside, the previous for clashes between Arsenal and Man City have yielded just three goals.  

The key battle looks to be how Gibbo and Bacary Sagna will deal with City's roaming midfielders, David Silva and Samir Nasri. For Arsenal's part, the question is whether we can exploit the fact that Yaya Toure's penchant for pushing forward sometimes leaves City's midfield exposed.

From a fitness standpoint, it looks like Arsenal will field a very similar line-up to the team that faced Swansea. And it appears that players like Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are still at least a few weeks away from playing.

The better news is that Kim Kallstrom made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt on Tuesday and looked rather impressive. And your surprising fact of the day? Kallstrom is the eighth player this season to make his first-team debut for Arsenal. He could play an even bigger role this weekend.

Even better news is that kickoff is not at 12.45p UK time. It's actually a 5.30p kickoff which this weekend translates into a 1.30p start on the East Coast. You can find the game on NBCSN in the USA and TSN in Canada. So get out there and support the Gunners from afar - It ain't over yet!   

Come on you Gunners!

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 28 Mar 2014