17 December 2015

Concede Fàbregas, nab Čech=Mourinho's sacked; it's all Arsène's plan...

Unless you've been living under a rock, you must know by now that Jose Mourinho was sack—er, left Chelsea by 'mutual consent', sad news indeed for those among us who wished to prolong his misery and see if his overweening ways would actually drive Chelsea into the relegation zone, if not outright relegation itself. I won't go so far as to suggest that Arsène is finally seeing the fruits of a master-plan, but it carries many of the familiar signs of just such a plan.

Although we watched in furious agony as that prodigal son Fàbregas returned to London and won a Prem title, there were signs of deeper plans. Yes, Fàbregas and that entire squad raced out to an early, could-they-match-the-Invincibles start to the 2014-15 season, and there was earnest/naïve talk of how Fàbregas might eclipse Thierry Henry's record for assists in a season. However, none other than Newcastle laid waste to the first, and Fàbregas, who had 15 assists in January, finished with just 18. For as good as he was in that first half, his disappearance in the second half begs certain questions. Did he elevate those around him, or was he hitching a ride? He's become Nosmas—Samson in reverse: the longer and more luxurious his hair grows, the more his strength wanes. More and more, it seems that letting him sod off to Stamford Bridge was a master-stroke by Arsène.

This past summer, we plucked Petr from under Mourinho's nose, exposing an apparent rift between the Specious One and Abramovich. At first, it might have felt like an underwhelming move (aside from the symbolism): it was clear that Courtois had become Mourinho's first-choice keeper, and Čech had been reduced to second-fiddle. However, I had suggested that Čech's departure would undermine Courtois in several ways: one, Courtois would no longer feel the challenge to earn the starter's role, even if Begovic is a solid keeper in his own right; two, Courtois would no longer have a master from whom to learn the subtler points of the position. I won't go so far as to suggest that the departure of Čech was akin to pulling out the wrong pin from a Jenga tower, but maybe there's something in that. After all, Chelsea's now conceded 26 goals from 16 matches after conceding just 32 in 38 last season.

A quick digression: in the last several seasons, Chelsea has seen the departure of Čech, Lampard, and Drogba, among others, depriving the squad not only of experience but of leadership. In the meantime, they've added any number of highly-talented players who can scintillate but can't take the squad by the scruff and lead it to higher levels. There's no chemistry, no spine, no grit left in this squad. The only man left in it who might possibly step in, John Terry, has undergone what is almost as much a Mourinho trademark as voyeuring Wenger: passive-aggressive manipulation. In recent seasons, it seems that Mourinho's ego could not be sated without the slaughter of a sacrifical lamb, someone to be made an example of in order to demonstrate Mou's power. Ask Casillas or Ramos. Ask Juan Mata. Ask John Terry.

That kind of manipulation and megalomania might deliver results in the short-term—and, let's face it, Chelsea did win the Prem last season—but look at the shambolic state they're in. They can thank f*ck that they've advanced to the Champions League knockout stage, or they might see a few players bolt in January. Whoever it is who replaces Mourinho—Hiddink has been mentioned as a caretaker, for what that's worth—will inherit a demoralised, depressed squad that's just as likely to throw it all over as it is to put its shoulder to the wheel. Most of its members have endured three—okay, two and a half—seasons of being bullied and belittled, and it's going to take some time to recover from that.

It's almost enough to convince the most-stubborn of Arsène's adversaries to admit that there's some value in planning for the long term. Fourth place, even if it's not quite first, has been nothing short of guaranteed for the better part of the last twenty years. We won't even go into the financial comparisons. We've been there before, and both sides of the debate agree to the facts.

Rarely has there even been as wide gap in class as there is between Arsène and Mourinho. Sadly, for as superior off the pitch as Arsène has been, Mourinho has almost always been superior to him on it. Then again, Mourinho has never committed to anything except the best squad someone else's money can buy. It's a pity then that we at Arsenal may have to settle for besting him in the Community Shield while he hides behind the Mike Dean-enabled "win" at Stamford Bridge. We won't get a chance to see Arsène beat him at the end of January, but that's what bullies-cum-cowards do. When the going gets tough, they turn tail and run to where the grass is greener. Arsène's never done that.

He may have missed his best chance at beating his nemesis, but losing that battle might just be worth winning the war.