22 April 2015

Against Chelsea, there's no way Arsenal can lose...

I mean it. There's no way Arsenal will lose on Sunday. Set aside the 12 previous times Arsène has failed to beat Mourinho. Set aside the vaunted bus-parking that Mourinho adopts against his rivals—or the ominous dove-tailing of Chelsea's ability to hit hard on the counter-attack and Arsenal's propensity to concede on those counters—Chelsea can't win, and Arsenal can't lose. I'm not saying that the clash will end in a draw. Even if that is the Specious One's method,  it doesn't matter. Everyone, including most Gooners, expects a Chelsea victory. Not this one. Whichever way you slice it, Arsenal win.

Okay, so I admit it. I'm playing a bit fast and loose with my terms. Sunday is the battle; what lies beyond is the war. Come Sunday, every pundit, punter, and pussy-footer will have predicted a Chelsea victory, which might come in the form of an actual victory or a draw, each of which further strengthens Chelsea's death-grip on first-place. After all, they have a ten-point cushion with just six matches to play. Their coronation is all but complete. However, this only means that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Should they lose on Sunday, well, things get a bit more interesting, but that's not what I'm after.We can revisit that if it comes to pass.

For now, I'm taking a longer view of things. Come what may on Sunday, the longer-term symbolism still stands: Chelsea, for all of its transfer-market profligacy and chicanery, is now looking nervously over its shoulder at its antithesis and its nemesis. it might seem a bit odd to label Arsenal as "nemesis" when we've beaten Chelsea just won just twice in 14 tries and never against its current manager. Nonetheless, I'm asking you to look at the war, not the battles. Yes, in those battles, we've taken a few beatings, but most if not all of them have come during an era in which Arsène had committed the club to a strict financial regimen that forced him to sell players he might have hoped to keep in order to solidify a foundation for the longer term success of the club with which his own name is all but synonymous. Contrast that against Mourinho, who hoards all glories and shuns all shame, and who jilts one club as soon as another promises to make it rain that much harder: Chelsea. Inter. Real Madrid. Chelsea again. Yes, success has followed him as much as night follows day, but the real shock is that he hasn't snatched even more silverware, given all of the moneys showered upon him.

His short-termerism has, admittedly, produced an enviable record, and I'm not ashamed to admit that my own anger at him derives in part from being a witness to (and victim of) that success. However, there's something in Mourinho's approach, an insecurity perhaps, that no number of trophies or honours can sate. He's the rich kid who thinks that he can buy friendship while failing to notice that each new purchase only alienates those around him even more. He's Francis, which I guess Arsène Pee-Wee Herman: a loner. A rebel. There are things about him you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand.

Okay, so I lost the plot there for a moment. Where was I?

Ah, yes. The battle and the war. If Chelsea win, everyone more or less shrugs their shoulders and says, "what do you expect? All the money they spend on transfers and wages, of course they'll win the league." They win the Prem in a conclusion so ho-hum that the only real question is why we had to wait until the end of April to know for sure. Why, in other words, hadn't Chelsea sewn this up sooner? Yes, Chelsea started out of the gates like a bat out of hell with explosive diarrhea, but the risk of renting players is that they lose motivation in the long run. Over the last two months, if not longer, Chelsea have played just well enough to tread water whilst Liverpool and Man City sank. At this point, Chelsea are coasting on fumes, living off the fat they stored from fall and winter, and will count themselves lucky if those stores last through the spring.

Meanwhile, at our end, a win would upset more than a few apple-carts. Not only would it re-open a title chase that everyone had conceded to Mourinho's little pony, it would beg bigger questions about how to build a squad—and how to sustain a club. Arsène's fifteen-year project to relocate Arsenal to a bigger, more-modern stadium could lay waste to the the Abramovich/oiligarchy model by showing how to build self-sustaining club. If Arsenal win on Sunday, it might just pave the way for Arsenal to win the Prem itself, In the process, we could see the culmination of a different path to success, one built on more-patient spending—yes, we payed handsomely for Özil and Alexis, but those are exceptions rather than the rule—and the slower, more-gradual alchemy of forging an actual team. Critics will point to Özil and Alexis as evidence that Arsenal have gone the cynical route, but they're overlooking the overwhelming balance of transfer-dealings that we've done in the last ten years, in which only five players have been brought in for a transfer-fee of more than £15m: Özil and Alexis, of course, plus Chambers, Welbeck, and Cazorla.

None of this is to say that Arsenal will win on Sunday, but the growing chatter is that, win or lose, Arsenal might just be the team to beat next season. Whether Mourinho will bother to stick around and try to tough it out against us is another question. He's a bit of a flat-track bully and is more likely to tuck his tail between his legs and run than he is to stand and go toe-to-toe.

Long story short, I'm looking forward to Sunday with this mindset: win or lose, Mourinho's Chelsea are but a bump in the road. They might deter us one more time, but that does little in the long run, in which we look well-positioned to run away from them—almost as fast as Mourinho runs away as well!