06 October 2014

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: the Blues escape. Barely.

Is that it? Is that the best you can do? C'mon, Chelsea. Even I expected more than this. A penalty to open the scoring, and a (class, admittedly) second one late on? After upgrading to the tune of a mere£94m, including the shrewd signing of that erstwhile prodigal of ours, I might have expected a bit more from you. Yes, you very nearly balanced your books (congratulations!), one must keep in mind that it's easy to sell assets if you've previously stockpiled them in the first place. These are issues for another day. It's to the pitch we should turn our eyes. At first glance, a 2-0 win should look and feel confident if not quite as triumphant as that infamous scoreline back in March. Then again, who would dare think that you'd again for a half-dozen goals after adding Costa and Fabregas?

Alright. Enough of the tedious "I'm writing to the Chelsea fans". Let's move on. Chelsea should feel relieved that they came away with all three points. I mean that. Despite Mourinho now surviving his 12th encounter with Arsène unscathed, despite the nine points that yawn between us and Chelsea, that 2-0 scoreline flatters our hosts by quite a bit. I say this knowing that we failed to put a shot on target for the first time since 2003. Set aside the joking and the banter over us not being behind 3-0 and down a man after 17 minutes (Ox was on the bench at that point; even Atkinson couldn't make Marriner's mistake). We were playing tolerably well, and Mourinho was insecure enough despite the pyschological and financial advantages of the day to ask ball-boys to give him the ball on a throw-in instead of giving it to a Gunner. What's wrong, Mou? Your boys need a few seconds to get into position? Fine.

One would think that a manager with all of the advantages that Mourinho has at his disposal (a sqaud two players or more deep at every position, a third squad out on loan that might compete for a top-five finish...) would comport himself with a bit more dignity. Instead, were it not for the braggadocio of Eden Hazard, lording it over the overmatched 19-year old Calum Chambers (who started the day with four yellow cards and ended with five), we might have had a very different result on our hands. His brilliance on the wing made all the difference, and he earned the penalty against Koscielny, who might have been lucky to avoid a red-card. He slotted home coolly, not even looking at the ball as he struck, and that was about it for Chelsea on offense. Five shots taken, three on target. Hardly the stuff of dominant, invincible squads playing at home against battered rivals.

We had our chances, but we failed to convert, and that's the difference. Wilshere was through on goal but his first touch was heavy and Cech snuffed it out. We looked lively and were unfortunate not to convert on that or on a number of other chances. By the time Fabregas found Costa on a counter in the 78th minute, it was easy (and perhaps) accurate to believe that Mourinho and Chelsea were on the back-foot, and this counter was their saving grace. We were chasing a game and had nothing to lose, and for as much as we might have feared Fabregas, his only real moment of glory came because we were chasing the game. Yes, his pass was pitch-perfect, and yes, Costa's touch was the same, but it was a solitary moment in an otherwise humdrum performance.

Long story short, there's something in Arsenal that still seems to intimidate Mourinho's Chelsea. Although we've not beaten Mourinho in those twelve tries, there's something in this result that suggests that the apparent dominance is superficial. How would it have turned out differently if Cahill had been seen red, as befits a studs-up challenge? What if Wilshere's touch hadn't let him down when he was through on goal with only the keeper to beat? What it Atkinson had seen Fabregas's arm deflect Wilshere's shot? What if, what it, what if...

There's only so much lipstick I can apply to this pig. I'm a relentless optimist, but the more-rational side of me sees this result as a temporary setback. I'm not talking about any false equivalencies with that 6-0 result. On its face, I genuinely feel like we should feel aggrieved at the chances we wasted and at the calls that might have been, and this on a ground where we haven't won in just under three years.

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