This review will contain very little it terms of actual team news and possible line-ups for Sunday. These have been brilliantly covered by Andrea and Tim already, do I decided to focus on something else entirely. Bear with me.
This year I’ve witnessed a rather unusual and, therefore, interesting phenomenon. I’m not even talking about 2014-2015 season; I’m only taking the 2015 calendar year into consideration.
This phenomenon is the first of such kind in my memory of supporting Arsenal (the period which stretches over a decade). Namely: I’ve witnessed a change in narrative. For almost ten years the media hailed City, United and Chelsea in varying degrees. City’s successes have been rather peripheral over the said period. I’d even go as far as so say they have hugely underachieved given their resources.
United did a much better job of staying media’s darlings: for 7-8 years which saw us decline and before Ferguson retired United were dominant in the Premier League. Arsenal has last been in the mix for the Premier League crown in 2004-2005. After that we have (until last season) been forced to put up with financial restraints and our primary goal was to just stay in the top 4.
In 2006 Mourinho quit (or was fired from, depending on who you believe) Chelsea and the two-year stint of Chelsea’s domination drew to a close. United, led by Sir Alex Ferguson made their grand entrance and from 2006 till 2013 have won 5 (!) titles, only losing to Chelsea in 2010 and going out to City on goal difference in 2012. In 2013 Ferguson retired on a high, leading United to their 20th title, 13 of which happened to be under Sir Alex’s guidance.
In the summer of 2013 Mourinho returned to Chelsea and it was the lowlight of that summer. Words cannot describe how I hate the man. Whilst acknowledging his achievements, I reserve my right to hate him on a purely basic level as a disgusting person and human being.
The media, however, were drooling over the return of the Portuguese. I can see two reasons for this: 1) he was (and still is) regarded by many as a great tactician and a successful manager 2) his persona and personality were much needed to fill the void left by Sir Alex’s retirement. And so the media embraced Mourinho.
Fast-forward one-and-a-half years and the landscape has changed. Despite the Portuguese being on course to win his first title after coming back, media’s wankfest (forgive me) has dwindled down significantly. The reason? But of course, the Portuguese slime himself. Or rather, his nasty temper coupled with a thoroughly unattractive style of football. The first seeds of media’s growing tired of Mourinho’s antics can be tracked as far back as October. I can pinpoint the exact date, if you like – October 5th. It was the day Arsenal lost to Chelsea at Stamford. For me this will be remembered as the day we stood up to Chelsea on the pitch. Despite playing without several key players like Giroud, Arteta and Debuchy (and with a half-dead Ozil), it took Chelsea a penalty and a late goal when we opened up to snatch up the points, the points, dare I say, they didn’t deserve. We were the better team on the day and, were it not for two moments of brilliance from Hazard and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named respectively, we would have at least got a point.
However we didn’t and it was easy to see how the media could have continued with their usual tune of “Mourinho’s a tactical genius, Wenger is still to win against Jose etc. etc.” To my immense surprise, the media took our side (if we exclude rags like Daily Fail). At the very least, their cries weren’t as loud and pronounced as before. Mourinho’s despicable behaviour prior to that game definitely played a part. He carried on in his usual fashion after that and by February articles like this began to surface. Then, a week before Chelsea hosted United, Jeremy Wilson came out with an article on how Arsenal can overtake Chelsea. Whilst acknowledging the possibility of that was slim to say the least, I noticed something that I liked: the media was ready to cheer for Arsenal, unlikely as it seemed we could win the title. Because cheering for Chelsea became unbearable even for them.
These wounds are self-inflicted. Mourinho’s constant dissatisfaction, name-calling and throwing toys out of the pram is finally turning the public opinion against him. Even a section of Chelsea’s fans is discontent to see “Zouma and Terry head the ball away for 90 minutes, given the wealth of attacking talent at Mourinho’s disposal). They say you cannot force change, that it should come naturally. That people will embrace it when the time is right. And the time looks to have come. The stage is set for us to beat Chelsea on Sunday and reap the rewards. Here’s why else we should do it.
It will boost our chances to finish second immensely
This is the most obvious reason of course. Seeing as United didn’t get anything out of their match against Chelsea, the Red Devils still trail us by a point having played a game more. That means if we beat Chelsea and then win our game in hand, we’ll be at least 4 points ahead of United, meaning even a loss away at Old Trafford will keep us above them. There’s a small problem, however, as our game in hand actually comes AFTER we face United, but we’ll burn that bridge when we get there.
It will complete our personal “big teams’ scalps” collection
This season saw us turn a decisive point in our development as a team: we’ve learnt to adapt to our opponent. We now have several plans going into the game, can fall back on several formations and have enough quality players to carry out any plan Wenger is willing to utilise. This has led to us approaching games against City, United and Liverpool in three completely different fashions and come out on top in all three. Beating Chelsea will put to bed any remaining doubts about our ability to beat big teams.
Chelsea are a bunch of frauds waiting to be exposed
In three months Chelsea haven’t won a single game by more than a one-goal margin. They still have 6 wins in 9 games, but I think you quite clearly remember the manner in which they’ve beaten Hull, Stoke and QPR. United game is another story entirely. The Red Devils had 70% possession and took 15 shots to Chelsea’s 7. And look, given Chelsea’s long track record of parking a double Decker in away games against big teams, this would have been perfectly understandable. I am myself the advocate of such measures when they bring about the desired effect. When we had under 40% possession against Liverpool and City away I didn’t complain. We took 4 points out of two tough fixtures and could have taken all 6. Didn’t work against Tottenham, but again there was no reason to complain. We had a plan, sometimes these doesn’t work. It’s football.
But there’s one small niggle regarding that Chelsea-United game: Chelsea played at home. At Stamford Bridge, in front of their fans. Sure, they were devoid of Costa and Remy, however, they still had Oscar, Willian, Cuadrado (ahem), Hazard and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And they got men behind the ball, were totally dominated in terms of territory and possession and it was mostly down to luck that they got the points.
No doubt they’ll play the 7-3-0 at the Emirates even if Costa or Remy make it. I want us to beat them comprehensively not the least because of that. I have a feeling we would beat them in a fair end-to-end fight, except that they won’t play fair, therefore we’ll have to exercise caution and not throw men forward. I’ll even be content if Arsene decides to give Jose some of his own medicine by parking the bus and inviting Chelsea. Only we all know it’s not the Wenger way and I’m happy it isn’t.
That’s it for now. Keeping fingers crossed we’ll do what needs to be done on Sunday.
Come on you Gunners.