20 September 2015

Plucky 12-man Chelsea squeeze past nine-man Arsenal

STAMFORD BRIDGE—In a stirring display of tenacity, grit, and acumen, an undermatched and historically underfunded rag-tag collective of misfits bravely overcame all odds, drawing on every single ounce of moxie at its disposal in order to narrowly eke out a win that will be talked of through the ages. Despite never catching a single break in this match or in any other prior, and despite having to watch each and every halfpenny for decades. Chelsea's dozen screwed their courage to the sticking spot and road Lady Luck's coat-tails to victory over Arsenal's nine. Never before and perhaps never again will we see one side overcome such short odds to achieve victory.

Alright, enough of that. Clearly, quite a few things went Pete Tong on Saturday. It was Gabriel, not Costa, who got sent off just before halftime despite Costa clawing, elbowing and chesting Koscielny to the floor. Yes, Gabriel was stupid in issuing an innocuous and flimsy kick to Costa after each man was booked; he should know Costa's wind-up tactics and rise above them, even if Costa did say something unforgivable in Portugeuse.  That Costa was still on the pitch was Dean's worst failure. The Spaniard should have been sent off for barging Kos to the ground moments before. Zouma should have been booked at a minimum for throttling Gabriel during the melee. Instead, Costa managed to convince Dean that Gabriel's response to that string of provocations deserved a red card. Madness. Moving on, Ramsey committed some kind of ghost-foul to set up the free-kick that gave Chelsea its first goal. To be honest, Cazorla probably earned his red card even if Fàbregas did make a meal of the moment by writhing around as if his leg had been broken—an injury that, if memory serves, he's seen a teammate or two suffer in the past. Those were the days.

Still, I come away from this one feeling pretty damned good. Chelsea needed every last advantage Dean could offer them and still barely came away with the victory. Don't let the scoreline fool you, for it flatters Chelsea: the second goal came in the waning seconds on a fluky deflection. Hazard, for once managing to keep his feet despite being in the penalty area, struck hard only to see it deflect off of Ramsey and in. That's not entirely undeserved, but when you spend 45 minutes with a man-advantage, and fifteen minutes with a two-man advantage, you deliver more than this. Hell, Chelsea were lucky that Alexis didn't equalise moments after Zouma's goal (might have had something to do with the horse-collar Zouma offered...).

We know what to expect when we combine Mike Dean, Diego Costa, José Mourinho, and Stamford Bridge. Anyone who did more than hope or believe that we would win is probably a bit deluded. This is not three points dropped. Losing at home to West Ham? That's three points dropped (thanks, Hammers, for winning at the Etihad). Losing at home to Crystal Palace is three points dropped. For as wonderful as it would have been to win, we had to know that the dice were loaded. Costa did what he does. Dean did what he does. Even if we'd come in on a run of form, which we didn't, there's little chance that we could have found a win. As it stands, we're still lacklustre at best, struggling to find form, and so I don't mind this result at all. I mind the method.

I'd imagine that most Chelsea fans are quite content with winning by any means necessary and will mock Gooners for moaning about the result (ignoring how loudly and persistently Mourinho moans after his squad loses). No matter how they gloat and try to lord it over us and others, they know that there's an emptiness there too vast to fill, no matter how many players are rented or how much silverware is bought. If you don't fight for something, it's hard to feel like you've earned it.

The larger concern for us is coping with Gabriel's absence over three matches. Mertesacker didn't make the bench for this match (still ill or recovering from the car crash), so it might come down to Chambers. Worse, Coquelin could be out for a few weeks with a knee injury, exposing a gaping hole in our defense. We three away-matches in the next have ten days, a midweek League Cup clash at White Hart Lane, then a visit to King Power Stadium to face Leicester, and a Champions League group-stage trip to face Olympiacos. Too bad Arsène couldn't quite find that other DM we now need a bit more than we did 24 hours ago. However, this is the squad we have, and there's little to gain about whingeing about that now. We'll have to dig a little deeper (for courage, not for transfer-fees) for now, and make the most of what we have.

At the end of the day, Chelsea are still looking up at us on the table. Long may it stay that way...