24 December 2013

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Mourinho, you stingy, cowardly...

Scrooge. It's Christmas Eve, and so I'd like to hold my tongue in the spirit of the season, but yesterday's match was such a tepid, timid, limp affair that I'm finding it hard. I'll forego the usual "here's what happened, here's who did well" kind of stuff for now, assuming that it's been done, and skip right to my gut reaction. What a disgusting, appalling performance that was. Not so much from us, mind you, though it is a missed opportunity. We could have, and perhaps should have, done better. We had our chances.

No, the bile that rises to the back of my throat is inspired by Chelsea's—and, more specifically, by Mourinho's—game plan. I get it; it makes sense; I've even promoted it from time to time when we've gone in to face an in-form, even superior, opponen: take a point from top-four opponents and take all three from those below. However, to make it the bedrock of one's season is cynical and insulting. Having brought in Willian this summer for £35m  and Schurrle for £22m, and having brought in Hazard for £40m and Oscar for £32m last summer, not to mention Mata for £27m the summer before that, I'd think Mourinho could afford to be a little more ambitious  than to sit back, eight or nine or ten men behind the ball, launching only the occasional counter-attack. Why, the Hazard-Oscar-Mata midfield alone should be enough to generate some possession, not to mention scoring chances.

Nope. 31% possession was all that Chelsea bothered to achieve. 31% is the kind of possession-stat we might see from Sunderland or Aston Villa or Cardiff (no offense, gentlemen), not from a top-of-the-table, contending-for-the-Prem-title squad whose payroll probably exceeds the GDP or more than a few nations. What a bloody kick in the teeth to paying fans, be they Chelsea or Arsenal, to have to sit through that farce of a performance in the miserable, rainy conditions that they had to endure. It takes a "special" kind of self-serving arrogance to assemble such a stable of players, only to trot out the kind of snooze-worthy, yawn-inspiring drivel that we saw on Monday. What a waste of talent. What a waste of resources. What a slap in the face to all of the other clubs that can't afford one player of the caliber of Mata or Oscar Schurrle, who didn't even start, the latter two not even subbing in until the last 17 minutes or so of the match.

People fork over some hard-earned cash to attend these matches, and while these are not performances put on solely for the entertainment of the fans, they pay on the expectation that they'll see something a little more engaging than the tripe they were served. Chelsea-Arsenal used to be an epic fixture, delivering famous results one way or the other. Not with Mourinho at the helm, it seems. It's been pointed out that Arsène has now failed to defeat Mourinho in ten consecutive matches. We're going to have to start putting an asterisk after some of these results if Mourinho refuses to play football. That wasn't football; that was more like table-soccer, except that Mourinho, that craven, fly-bitten, canker-blossom, snuck in the night before and took all of his foosmen from the midfield and attack rows and put them on defense. It's a strategy that's bound to work; how can one score through such a thicket of arms and legs and torsos? That we came as close as we did through Giroud twice (one he should've done better on, one he did as well as any one could)  is cold comfort.

We do share some of the blame. We had to know that Chelsea would come out and offer just such a parked-bus, brass-knuckle affair. That Willian or Ivanovic weren't sent off for cleats to various body parts embodies the cynicism of the evening.  However, we had to know that Chelsea were going to sit back and defend and absorb pressure, and we just didn't do enough to unlock them. Maybe Cazorla should have started instead of Walcott, or at least replaced him once the depth of Chelsea's stubbornness came clear. Maybe Giroud should have been dropping deeper for the build-up. Maybe we should have conceded possession more often to lure Chelsea forward and catch them on counters more often. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

One thing's for sure: Mourinho is a tight-fisted, boring old Scrooge. He got his draw, but he's hoarding talent and scrounging for points like the worst of misers. It's ugly to watch, whoever you root for. I can see it from clubs that lack the wealth that Abramovich has, clubs that hope for a famous draw at the Emirates or Old Trafford, but from Chelsea, one of the wealthiest, well-oiled, and deepest clubs in the world, it's more than boring—it's a bloody black mark on the game. You waste everyone's time, Mourinho—the players, the fans, the stadium-workers—and I really hope Abramovich tires of you sooner than he did with those managers who actually use the players he's splurged on over the years. I rued the departures of Di Matteo and Benitez, even Villas-Boas, among others, but I can't wait for you to get sacked. Lumps of coal in your stocking, indeed.