Who could wish for more from Santa the Gooner, than a nodding Arsenal bulldog to adorn the dashboard of my motor and 3 points from our encounter with the Blues, which guarantees that the Gunners will ring in the New Year, if not as top dogs, then at least as the capital’s big kahuna. Despite the unremitting positivity of a new car mascot (that doesn’t do negative!), the optimism hardly abounded as we headed for the ground on Monday night, banking on the law of averages as our best bet for finally breaking our infuriating hoodoo against the Premiership’s big fish.
I suppose if you eat the competition's dust sufficiently often, there must eventually come a time when your desire to avoid the bitter taste of defeat will ensure that you are just that little bit more ‘up for it’ than an increasingly complacent opposition. Admittedly it would’ve felt slightly more fulfilling if a less flaccid display from Ancelotti’s side had forced the Arsenal to produce their scintillating best to beat the Blues, but it feels as if it’s been so long in coming, that absolutely nothing was going to spoil the euphoria of finally getting one over on Abramovich's plaything and the satisfaction of putting those Kings Road upstarts back in their place, in such emphatic fashion.
Although I’m not sure everyone welcomed the return of Flappy Handski, Arsène proved spot on with his team selection, with a centre-back pairing that went into this game without any of the baggage of Drogba’s recent bedevilment and with the inspired choice of Theo Walcott in his starting XI. Aside from the fact that Theo is a far more willing grafter than Arshavin (who’s work ethic nowadays amounts to little more than the energy our diminutive Ruski expends counting his obscene weekly wage packet!), it seemed as if the disreputable Cashley Hole was so focused on his forlorn attempts to bully his replacement as the brightest star in the Gunners firmament, that the Chelsea left-back completely forgot the raids down our flank, which have proved such a crucial facet of the Blues recent success against Cashley’s former employers
Additionally Ancelotti’s defensive selection served to our advantage, as Ivanovic is a far greater threat as a raiding full-back, than he is a bulwark at centre-back and in beating Ferreira, after giving him a three-yard start, Samir Nasri made the Portuguese stand-in look positively sluggish.
Still for forty minutes on Monday night it seemed as if the rope-a-dope tactics that Chelsea have perfected in recent contests might prevail once again. Mercifully the Gunners appear to have learned the lessons of various fruitless, one-dimensional attempts to pick an intricate path through the massed Blue ranks at the heart of the Chelsea rearguard, by at long last adding a bit of variation to our forward play.
By being equally willing to use some width to try to go around the Blue backline, instead of incessantly attempting to tippy-tappy their way through the middle of the park, or by mixing it up with the occasional long ball, Chelsea were unable to rest on their laurels, leaving us to retain possession, secure in the knowledge that our flyweight attacks would bounce back off the Blues’ heavyweight fortification.
Compared to a far bigger, beefier opposition, Jack Wilshere still looks more like the club mascot when he comes trotting onto the pitch. But if ever there was a player to make a mockery of the ‘men v boys’ analogy, with his increasing influence on such crucial clashes, Jack is the man. In fact considering our skipper had a bit of a stinker, by his world-class standards, in a match littered with Cesc’s misplaced passes, I was somewhat flabbergasted on returning home to find Fabregas had been awarded Man of the Match, when there were at least half a dozen more deserving candidates.
When you consider how Chelsea have communed with their travelling faithful, after grinding out results on the road in the recent past and how I’ve been envious of this allusion to a winning spirit within the Blue’s dressing room, you only had to look at the faces of the four lonely losers who came over to their corner of the ground at the final whistle, while the majority of their teammates trudged off the pitch without even acknowledging the away support, to appreciate that everything is far from hunky-dory in the Abramovich house.
The question is whether the Gunners can build on the momentum gained on Monday, by acquiring the sort of swagger that might have the likes of Wigan and Birmingham quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing host to the purveyors of such quality football. All our good work on Monday will amount to naught, unless we consolidate our success with the sort of honest endeavours, which will be necessary to endure on the road in the next few days and without which my nodding dog might end up lobbed out the car window in frustration, disappearing in my rear-view mirror, along with any remaining aspirations of an Arsenal title challenge.
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