Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal

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Match reports

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Of the many surprises this eventful season, the sight of Avram Grant outwitting Arsene Wenger ranks right up there. Short of Ashley Cole becoming a referee or Didier Drogba surviving a game without medical attention, the season may not produce any greater shocks than Grant getting his substitutions as right as in the 72nd minute here.”

The Times, Martin Samuel: “Roman Abramovich may wish to reconsider his quest for the beautiful game after this. In the first half, Chelsea played the fast, one-touch passing football that is closest to their benefactor’s heart, and it got them nowhere. A goal down with 20 minutes remaining, they converted to the direct, aesthetically unappealing approach that has been the root of so many bad vibes from the owner’s box at Stamford Bridge, and clawed victory from the clutches of defeat. The result: Chelsea are now established as the biggest threat to Manchester United’s supremacy this season. Avram Grant, football genius, as they don’t like to sing around these parts.”

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Here was the Premier League season in miniature for these clubs, with Chelsea doggedly clambering upwards and Arsenal taking a tumble just when it looked as if they had a secure footing with the opening goal. The departure from normality lay in the radical effect that Avram Grant had. If his substitutions had to be deplored when Chelsea slithered to a 4-4 draw at Tottenham then the changes he made yesterday must be applauded.”

The Indepedent, Sam Wallace: “The dust settles on another Grand Slam Sunday and the head says that this time these two games have almost lived up to the preposterous hype. There was a 3-0 victory for United over Liverpool after Javier Mascherano ran roughshod over the Football Association’s new guidelines for showing respect to officials and was dismissed. Then a Drogba-inspired Chelsea victory after Bacary Sagna had given Arsenal the lead at Stamford Bridge.”

Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues … won a vital match against fellow title race challengers to keep our own chances very much alive. Man United are five points ahead with a visit to Stamford Bridge still to come.”

The goals

59′ Sagna 0-1
73′ Drogba 1-1
82′ Drogba 2-1

An omen occurred before the game that seriously made me think it might be my, and therefore our, day. At the Derby game I lost a bracelet. Not an expensive one, but one I liked all the same. It came off whilst clapping at goal number 4… or 5… or 6… who knows. I knew it couldn’t have gone far but try as I might I couldn’t find it anywhere near my seat that night. Despite the result I was upset at losing the bracelet. Then today, five minutes before kick off as I took my seat I glanced down and there trapped between the seat in front’s upright and the concrete stand, was my bracelet, wedged in tight. I smiled in disbelief, picked it up undamaged and put it in my pocket. This could be our day I thought…

The good

  1. The game. Now if the doddery old fools at Premier League and FA HQ want to sell the game abroad, then sell this as an example. Despite Arsene Wenger’s usual post match bollocks, the game was as equal as the league positions suggest. A magnificent tightly contested game between two highly skilled and competitive teams. Arsenal arguably had the better of the first half chances, but either team could have gone in with a goal. Whatever Arsenal can do football wise… we can do as well if not better.
  2. Claude Makelele. The old boy seems to be relishing the fewer games he gets because he was superb. Great forward runs, lovely little turns and jinks to fool the opposition, and playing higher up the pitch than normal in a role and game he simply loved. Top hole old boy, top hole.
  3. Didier Drogba. There were times when he looked like drifting off to his bad old ways, but then during the second half the beast that is an untamed Drogba sprung into the player we’ve come to love and hate in equal measure. He won every header, tackled like a terrier, held the ball up better than anyone I’ve seen and should have had the match ball, so close was he to a hat-trick.
  4. Joe Cole. On any other day him and Maka would be involved in a brutal, blood and sweat drenched, stripped to the waist fight for the Man of the Match award. Absolutely world class. The new Zola. Awesome.
  5. Mark Clattenburg. Okay, so he might have been harsh on the imperious Michael Ballack and Joe Cole, but he let the play flow, let the game be played like it should and kept control of what was a potential flash fire. He is rapidly becoming one of the more sensible and common sense grounded refs around.
  6. Ashley Cole. Unlike everyone else I didn’t think he deserved the press vilification he got this week. Football is a passionate game and I don’t want to watch automatons with no personality. Squandered a great chance to shut the travelling ‘Cashley’ haters with a typical left-back’s header, but other than that he deserves a mention for a very good game in a blue shirt.
  7. The tactics. Yep, for once Avram Grant can take a bow. Now, don’t get me wrong I still think he’s the wrong man for the job, but today he needed to stand up and be counted and to deliver against one of the big boys and he did this. Now, a cynic might say the players did it themselves, but someone picked them and barring the decision to play Michael Essien at right-back we were doing okay against a very dangerous and slick team. We went a goal down because apparently we don’t practice defending set pieces, but Bacary Sagna was never likely to be the first scorer and Frank Lampard did fall asleep to let him get in front for the header. Whatever you all think is the real reason for the win, players or coach, Grant took a big scalp and deserves my praise.

The bad

  1. The booing of William Gallas. He served us loyally, and played a vital part in two back-to-back Championships. Yes, he is a cry baby with some real mental and emotional issues. And yes he may well be something rhyming with ‘hunt’ but in my view we demeaned ourselves with the chanting of an ex-player. I’d hoped we could show ourselves to be above the Gooners and the Pikey Boys by not running down Abuse Avenue.
  2. Emmanuel Eboue. What a detestable, despicable, cheating, sneaky, insidious little shit. Bloody hell, even the Arsenal fans don’t seem to like him. Makes Luis Boa Morte look like a monk.
  3. Arsene Wenger . Because it makes a change from slagging off our manager and because he is just an ungracious prick who never gives any credit when his allegedly thrilling side of ball passers extraordinaire are beaten by a team who know all of the dark arts of football.
  4. The Old Trafford result – but to be fair did any of you expect anything else from the perennially piss-poor Liverpool? And just where was Captain Marvel [sic] Steven Gerrard when Javier Mascherano was talking himself into an early shower? Oh yeah… in the penalty area shaking his head instead of pulling his player away before the damage was done. Great leadership, Steve.

Player ratings

  • Carlo Cudicini: Could have done better for the goal but not much else was wrong – 7.5/10.
  • Michael Essien: Shocking at right-back, but improved vastly in the second half when he more or less decided to play where he liked until moved into a more familiar midfield role when Ballack went off. Maybe the clone has gone? – 7/10.
  • John Terry: More like the JT of old and showed real leadership. Colossal – 8/10
  • Ashley Cole: Must be getting loads because he’s really looking the part now. Should have scored a goal, but I guess his scoring abilities lie elsewhere nowadays – 8.5/10.
  • Ricardo Carvalho: Magnificent. Please be my son-in-law – 8.5/10.
  • Claude Makelele: He might well be closest to the bus pass but he was superb and looked justifiably unhappy at being subbed – 8.5/10.
  • Frank Lampard: A quieter game, but contributed to both goals and overall looks much more like the Frank we all know and love… well most of us, huh Jose? – 7/10.
  • Michael Ballack: Was looking like scoring and seemed in his element. Was pissed off at being subbed and I don’t blame him – 8/10.
  • Joe Cole: As good as Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney and on current form is our best player by some distance – 8.5/10.
  • Salomon Kalou: Grr… superb one minute, dire the next. Frustrating as we all know and should have scored at least twice. Needs to be less lightweight in the challenge – 8/10.
  • Didier Drogba: Seemed hungry throughout the game but couldn’t get much going first half. Second half he was an unleashed beast that Arsenal just couldn’t cope with – 9/10.
  • Nicolas Anelka (sub): A collective shiver seemed to pass through Arsenal when he came on and they struggled with his pace and fresh legs. Super little header to Drogba for the winner. A promise of things to come? – 7/10.
  • John Mikel Obi (sub): Came on for a few minutes at the end and looked cool and calm, which means his recent non-inclusions look baffling to say the least – 7/10.
  • Juliano Belletti (sub): Showed quick thinking to take the free kick for the goal and looked far more comfortable (as he should) than Essien at right-back – 7/10.
  • Overall team performance: At 1-0 down we wouldn’t have been surprised to see a capitulation, but instead they seemed lifted and really dug in like the Chelsea of old – 8.5/10.

Man of the Match

Didier Drogba. The beast is back. And… well… I’m a fully fledged card carrying heterosexual bloke who’s letching gets worse with passing age… but my god what a physique Drogba has. When that shirt came off I went all of a quiver…

Final thoughts

I’ve steered clear of commenting this week because the Spurs result and the Ranieri-esque changes made by our manager knocked my Chelsea mojo out of kilter. I find it tiresome to keep repeating the mantra that Grant must go, and I’ve made my feelings on him very clear from day one. That aside it’s impossible and ungracious not to heap praise on him and the players for pulling off what many thought was an unlikely result against the Premiership’s press darlings.

Yes, Arsenal pass well, yes, they play pretty football, but in the end circus football doesn’t win trophies. As Alan Hansen so adeptly put it on Match of the Day, “It’s not about winning when you’re playing well, it’s how you win when you’re playing badly”, a concept well known by Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson, but lacking in Wenger’s football tool kit. We used the full range of tools: Dogged defending. Hard tackling. On the floor passing. Long ball/route one. Scoring from behind. Guts. Determination. Spirit.

The big winners today arguably are Manchester United, but Ferguson will know better than anyone that this season is far from over and he’ll be far more worried about us breathing down United’s necks than Arsenal. All three teams could still do it, but even if we beat United at home, we still need them to slip up against a lesser team as well as winning all our remaining games. But such is the topsy turvy nature of this season that perhaps, just perhaps the third team to sit on top of the league might just be us at the right end of the season.

As a very famous coach once said, “It’s squeaky bum time.”

Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!

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