Where are they now then, the doubters and doomers, the carpers and cavilers?
There’ll be barely a squeak from them today and what little there is will be drowned out by another sound.
Do you hear it?
That low, grinding rumble?
It’s the sound of tectonic plates shifting; of seismic change in the English Premier League.
An edifice that hitherto had seemed rock-like and immovable is revealed as friable and fragile. Its place is suddenly vulnerable to a hard, new force that has been quietly forming and solidifying.
Or, to mix metaphors, the Roman empire is facing decline and fall, while Arsene Wenger’s belle epoque is about to begin.
Does this sound like hyperbole?
I don’t care. Monday December 27th will come to be seen as the day the Arsenal reclaimed its rightful place as London’s top club. (Yes, I know our history and record of trophy winning puts us streets ahead of any other club in the capital but, on the field of play, we have indisputably been second best to Chelsea for the best part of five years).
It was only one game, but the symbolism was immense.
Chelsea’s tired old warriors were out-played, out-passed and out-fought, while their younger colleagues looked weak and ineffectual. Arsenal exhibited fire, hunger, energy and skill.
The Chelsea bench had all the depth of a toddlers’ paddling pool. Arsenal’s bench, by comparison, was the Marianas Trench. Just look at the respective line-ups:
Arsenal: Szczesny, Squillaci, Diaby, Rosicky, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner.
Chelsea: Turnbull (who?), Bosingwa, Van Aanholt (who?), Bruma (who?), Ramires (what a waste of money), McEachren (who?), Kakuta (who?).
The victory was thoroughly deserved and the margin should perhaps have been bigger. But if you look beyond this single result the evidence for a shift in the balance of footballing power in London is even more compelling.
Chelsea have a relatively small stadium and often have trouble filling it. Their billionaire owner (whose roubles are the only reason that they have been able to compete at the top level) has snapped shut the wallet. If the rumours are to be believed, he is now focusing on the 2018 World Cup in Russia and is losing interest in his malfunctioning toy.
To replace ageing players of the calibre of Terry (30), Lampard (32), Drogba (32), and Cole (30) they will need to spend tens and tens of millions, because they certainly don’t have any real quality coming through the ranks.
It’s unlikely that Roman Abramovich will make the money available. And even if he did, who’s to say the new acquisitions would gel with the rest of the team, or that Chelsea would be able to compete with the even bigger billionaires at Man City (and, possibly, at Old Trafford, if the Qatar Royal Family story turns out to have legs)?
Any way you cut it, Chelsea are in for a period of decline. They won’t collapse like a house of cards, they will still win some big games and stay in touch with the championship race this season, but their time is over.
Our time, however, is just beginning. Arsene Wenger has brought together a squad of supremely gifted players at very little cost, nurturing talent from within and balancing the budget while moving us to a new 60,000 seater stadium and keeping us in the Champions League every year. In the future this achievement will come to be more widely appreciated for the astonishing piece of management it is. If you don’t believe me, just look at the fuss made about Old Twitchy and his Posse of Cocks for getting into the Champions League just once, despite having spent tens of millions more than Arsenal on players over the last 10 years.
The ‘Arsene Out’ brigade really needs to take the blinkers off and look at the big picture of what is being built at our club.
Yesterday’s result showed that our young team is finally ready to claim its destiny.
I have rambled on for too long now, so there will be no full match report, just some observations:
- We were fantastic. A true team performance in which we completely outplayed the champions.
- Djourou was immense and limited our nemesis Drogba to scraps and crumbs.
- Chelsea’s goal came from a dead ball situation and, apart from that strike, they rarely threatened (and certainly not from open play). So much for our ‘weak defence’.
- Playing Theo against Cashley was a Wenger masterstroke, nullifying the greedy traitor’s attacking threat.
- The biggest factor that decided the game was our work rate. Every single Arsenal player bust a gut to help his team mates.
- In other words, for a change, we played as well when we did not have the ball as when we did have it. This is the trick Barcelona have mastered.
- We were better without Arshavin. I love the pocket Russki, but Theo’s defensive work (aided by his recovery speed) was a refreshing change and gave extra support to Sagna.
- One man bossed the game from start to finish: Alex Song, take a bow.
After such an outstanding and emphatic win I don’t want to dwell on negatives but, like an impoverished Japanese home owner, I have a couple of small carps:
- Cesc is still blowing hot and cold (he made some careless misplaced passes and was caught in possession a few times) but the ‘hot’ bits were scorching.
- Koscielny could have done better for their goal, failing to get a proper challenge in on Ivanovich.
- Fabianski’s position was poor for the goal – he neither came to claim it nor stayed on his line to save. Instead he came into no man’s land and seemed to try the unusual trick (for a goalie) of making himself small.
But, as I say, these are only small complaints in what was an all-round team performance of great confidence and power.
This should now give us the boost we need to go on a run of great results, starting tomorrow at Wigan.
Come on you Reds!
Fabianski: Chelsea hardly troubled him, but he might have done better for their goal. 6
Sagna: excellent game from our Mr Reliable. 8
Djourou: at last we have a CB who refused to be intimidated by Drogba. Towering performance by the big Swiss. 8.5
Koscielny: lost Ivanovich for their goal, but apart from that did very well and made some very important tackles and interceptions. 7.5
Clichy: still prone to charge forward when we should be protecting a lead, and was dispossessed too easily a couple of times, but his forward thrust did help keep Chelsea pegged back. 7.5
Fabregas: some outstanding play from the skipper, including the glorious pass for Theo’s goal. His passing is still not back to its very best – but it will soon get there, and what an awesome prospect that will be. 8
Song: what can you say? He was immense, scoring the vital opener (and yet again making me eat my words for saying he should not go forward so much) and breaking up Chelsea’s moves for the entire match. 9 MoTM
Wilshere: made a few mistakes through inexperience, but the fact he held his own in such a big game at the age of just 18 is so, so encouraging. Imagine what he’ll be like at 21! 7.5
Walcott: kept Cashley confined to defensive duties and suckered him beautifully for the second goal. Was always a threat and took his goal well. 8
Nasri: almost scored with a sublime chip and was constantly probing at Chelsea’s right flank. Not as influential as in some recent games, but that was partly because we sent a lot of play down Walcott’s wing. Fluffed a great chance in a one-on-one with Cech. 7.5
van Persie: started very sharply and displayed good movement, but never quite got the game by the scruff of the neck. Tried a couple of ambitious shots that went well over the bar. 7
Diaby (for Walcott, 73 mins): didn’t really get into the pace of the game, but that’s hardly surprising after such a long lay-off. 6
Chamakh (for van Persie, 76 mins): slotted in to his usual centre forward role without fuss and held the ball up well. 7
Rosicky (for Fabregas, 88 mins): used his experience to help run the clock down, but not on long enough for a rating.