Tinkerman's tactics turn momentum against Arsenal

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The Independent Football

Finally the Tinkerman had his day. The tactical machinations of Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea coach, have, rightly, been puzzled over for so long this season that in place of a pattern there has simply been pack-thread.

Finally the Tinkerman had his day. The tactical machinations of Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea coach, have, rightly, been puzzled over for so long this season that in place of a pattern there has simply been pack-thread.

Suddenly last night a tapestry unfolded. In his self-confessed madness there was a method and it proved to be Arsenal's downfall. Never before has a more cogent, a more public, argument been made for the merits of the squad rotation system. Every switch, every change worked against desperately tired opponents.

And yet Ranieri had logically, but perversely perhaps, given the fixture congestion at this time of the season, started with the same XI for only the second time since August. With 15 midfielders on his books, he preserved the four who had performed so efficiently against Tottenham. It meant a start, on the right, for Scott Parker.

At times in the first-half the young England midfielder looked like a little boy lost. At times he looked like an embryonic Roy Keane. The problem was simple ­ he was neither one thing nor another because he had been asked to fulfil two roles. Against Spurs it was fine for Parker to pop up everywhere, to track infield and to still patrol the right. Against Arsenal it was a more onerous task.

Not that he made a bad fist of it while it lasted. As Arsenal's weary players pull themselves out of bed this morning to inspect the damage of the night before, one distinct imprint will be mottling their legs: the studs of Parker. Four times inside the opening half-hour and the 23-year-old had dumped Robert Pires, Ashley Cole, Jose Antonio Reyes and Patrick Vieira. As the Arsenal captain rose gingerly to protest, after being burgled on the halfway line, he noted the play had passed on. As with Parker's other tackles no crime had been committed. The only commitment was commitment.

To achieve supremacy Chelsea had to do one thing ­ stem the fluidity Arsenal search for down their left-flank through the smooth connections of Cole, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry who naturally drifts in that direction. Manchester United had succeeded in doing this by stringing five across their midfield and through the quick feet of Cristiano Ronaldo ­ against the callowness of Gael Clichy.

Chelsea chose the bludgeon rather than the rapier ­ at least until they fell behind. Given his prodigious workrate, it was only a matter of time before Parker ran out of steam. But, with the rapidity of Arsenal, it came sooner than expected.

Gaps appeared in the Chelsea defence and they appeared down the left. Chances were spurned by Pires and Reyes before the dam eventually burst and with it the little boy was washed away.

After the break ­ and the introduction of Jesper Gronkjaer ­ Chelsea suddenly had more pace and more options. A goal down, they stretched the play. Gronkjaer ­ for all his obvious foibles ­ presented Cole with a problem because he is just so quick. Parker was never going to beat him on the outside, his replacement did three times within 15 minutes allowing space to appear for Damien Duff on the other flank. And it was from there that the equaliser came.

Chelsea sensed blood. On came Joe Cole and he presented a further problem ­ the ability to turn aching limbs. The momentum was with Chelsea now. Hernan Crespo replaced Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and the tempo rose further. Arsenal appeared swamped and, for the second time in four days, Arsène Wenger and Arsenal had been physically ­ and tactically ­ out-manoeuvred. The Tinkerman had found the finishing touch.

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