Arsene Wenger cut a familiar frustrated figure on the sidelines at the Emirates Stadium Sunday as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea held his Arsenal side to a scoreless draw. It was the 13th time Wenger had pitted one of his teams against one of Mourinho’s and the Frenchman is still looking for his first win against the Portuguese.
And while Arsenal never looked in danger of succumbing to a demoralizing loss, like last season’s 6-0 hiding at Stamford Bridge, they also never really looked that likely to score either. A big part of the credit must go to John Terry. The Chelsea center back was exceptional at the Emirates, cutting out crosses, making clearances and being praised by his manager afterwards for having had his best game ever.
But as former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry said to Sky Sports, the North Londoners are still a few world-class players behind the likes of Chelsea. While the team has reinforced in key positions, signing Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, adding David Ospina in goal and recalling Francis Coquelin to the midfield, Arsenal were still unable to find a way through an airtight Chelsea defense marshaled by Terry.
Striker Olivier Giroud has improved greatly this season. Currently on 14 goals, he’s one of the hottest strikers in the Premier League currently. But against Chelsea, the Frenchman fell flat, as he had against Monaco in the Champions League. At one point, Alexis Sanchez slipped a ball through for him, only to find that the Frenchman hadn’t made the expected run. It was a brief illustration of the gap in quality between a truly world-class player like Sanchez and a very good, but not quite elite level striker. Giroud’s performance against Chelsea supported Henry’s view that Arsenal are still in need of a “top, top-quality striker” if they are to win the league.
Coquelin has returned from his loan at Charlton to provide Arsenal with some of the midfield bite that has been notably lacking. However there’s still a prevailing view that the Frenchman is something of a stop-gap and a truly world-class defensive midfielder, someone of Sami Khedira’s caliber, is required if Arsenal are to overhaul Chelsea for the title next season.
And while Mesut Ozil was singled out by Henry for failing to “step up,” the German has been quietly going about his business since returning from injury. Against Chelsea, the World Cup winner was understated but influential, creating more chances in the first half than any other player on the pitch. It’s hard to argue that with only 14 assists since joining Arsenal, Ozil hasn’t quite lived up to his price tag. But having built up his upper body strength, the German seems to be finding his way in the Premier League at last and is playing some of the best football we’ve seen from him in an Arsenal shirt.
Still on course for a second place finish and favorites to retain the FA Cup, this Arsenal side has undeniably progressed from last season. But as Henry suggests, more key signings will be necessary this summer if Arsenal is really to kick on and challenge for the title next season.
It’s become an all-too-familiar refrain over recent years that Arsenal needs three or four top-class additions if they are to win the title. Perhaps now that it’s coming from Henry, a player who embodies Arsenal’s past successes more than any other, Arsene Wenger may finally listen.