Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday December 17 2007
I would like to open with an apology to all Chelsea supporters (termites, as I affectionately refer to them). For the last eighteen months I have passionately refuted Chelsea F.Cs suggestions that William Gallas threatened to score against Chelsea if they did not treat him with greater respect and release him from his contract in a timely manner. Yesterday afternoon, it was proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Willy was prepared to make good on his promise. On reflection I feel I must apologise to Chelsea fans, who I wrongly believed were simply a misled, head in the sand bunch of illusionists. But mostly, I must apologise to Messrs Greenberg, Kenyon and Abramovic who instigated the claims. I had long felt that these were twisted words that turned to bitter orange wax in my ears, the classless riposte of a morally bankrupt franchise. How wrong I was
Our match day began with an official Gooner Christmas lunch in the Olive Tree restaurant on Blackstock Road. Having stuffed myself absolutely full of calamari and several large bottles of keo, it was with an uncomfortable bloatedness that I made my way to the ground. The butterflies desperately trying to circumnavigate my intestinal lining fighting manfully with the twin forces of battered squid and lager. The match kicked off with an expectant roar, but most of the first half was played out in a damp squib. Chelsea effectively stifling Arsenal`s forward play with their new, exciting brand of sexy, stifling football that they are playing under Avram the undertaker. Or so we`re told. It makes me giddy with joy that I only have to watch Chelsea strangle the life out of games twice a season. Ironically, for all of Arsenal`s crisp passing in the first half, the only real chance came from a spot of route one, as Clichy volleyed the ball forward, Adebayor bore down on Alex, whose panic stricken header looped over Cech and narrowly wide of the post. Pre match I had reservations about Arsenal playing one upfront, as I don`t think the system has given us any great joy of late, and a team with the defensive nous of Chelsea was always likely to make light work of a lone striker. Too often Ade was isolated in our approach play. Chelsea`s forays forward likewise looked blunt without lynchpin Didier Drogba. Almunia spilled a long range Shevchenko effort and made an impressive reflex save from Wright Phillips` deflected drive.
But what the game lacked in technique, it certainly made up for with needle, the dislike between the two clubs becoming evident when bastion of sportsmanship and all round nice fella John Terry ploughed through an already grounded Fabregas, which caused a light melee. It was a cowardly challenge from a player they nickname 'the Iron Man`, yet such acts of cowardice seem to punctuate his career. Terry was at it again three minutes later, having already been booked; Terry hauled Adebayor down before kicking out at Eboue. Wiley was firmly entrenched in Chelsea pockets by this point, easily taken in by their siege mentality (particularly Joe Cole, who spent the entire game in the referee`s ear) and amazingly awarded poor ickle John a free kick! With the referee failing to remove Terry from proceedings, he would soon find himself leaving the pitch prematurely anyway. Eboue attempted to charge down Terry`s clearance and followed through onto Terry`s foot. I honestly don`t believe there was intent to injure on Eboue`s part, though going in with his studs up was unnecessary. Had Eboue really intended to hurt Terry, he would have gone in a lot stronger than he did, as it happened the force of Eboue`s challenge was exacerbated by a collision with Terry. Whether you think differently I don`t know, Eboue gets a very bad press from Arsenal fans no matter what he does, so I suspect in most cases you don`t. In any case, Joe Cole would later remove Eboue from the game.
With the match petering out in anticipation of half time, Arsenal won a corner after Clichy had nearly sent Rosicky racing clear. Fabregas swung the corner in; Cech came and missed it and none other than William Gallas was on hand to nod the ball into the empty net. It was his third goal in consecutive home games and Willy has always had an appetite for important goals. I`m sure Chelsea fans will wax lyrical about his last minute winner against Spurs and his opening goal in the title clincher versus Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. (Of course, these goals arrived around the time Chelsea allege he was threatening to score own goals). A difference in decorum was also apparent in his celebration. Ashley Cole spent the pre match handshakes sarcastically blowing kisses at the Arsenal fans; he would finish the match making suggestive hand signals at them. Gallas scored a goal in front of the massed visiting supporters but took no notice of them, preferring to celebrate with his team mates and current supporters. Wenger would talk post match about the spirit of Arsenal taking time to penetrate into Gallas, I think that celebration demonstrated it perfectly.
So we went into the interval with a goal that, in truth, we scarcely deserved. But the timing could not have been better and now Chelsea would have to abandon their lifeless, mechanistic approach. Consequently, the second period was a much more open and enjoyable affair. Chelsea cranked the heat up, as they are so good at doing when their backs are against the wall. Almunia dived smartly to his right to beat out Mikel`s effort; Shevchenko`s rebound was characteristically weak. Arsenal struggled to retain any sort of possession as Pizarro replaced Makelele and Chelsea pushed on. Cole`s cross from the left skimmed the head of Gallas, leaving Shaun Wright Phillips completely unmarked on the back post, but he contrived to spoon his shot wide with the goal at his mercy. It was a chance that his father would have relished. Tempers would have cause to swell again when Joe Cole fouled Eboue leaving him stricken and resulting in the Ivorian being stretchered off. In truth, the challenge from Cole was reckless, but not a pre meditated assault, but having spent the entire match swan diving and whittering away in the referee`s ear, the temperature of the occasion rose once more. Chelsea fans mocking shush being met with a retort of "your ground`s too big for you," from the home support in the East Lower.
The arrival of van Persie redoubled Arsenal`s intent as he immediately provided an outlet upfront. He was involved instantly, turning Ferreira before Cech spilled his low shot. The Dutchman once again found his range, but curled well over on the edge of the box. But his next involvement would be even more critical. As Chelsea poured forwards, Rosicky dispossessed Mikel and released Ade on the left. The Arsenal sprint relay squad surged forwards in support. Ade`s low cross field ball found Hleb, but his touch to the expectant van Persie was a little light, causing RVP to lean back slightly and smash the ball over the bar when he really should have killed Chelsea off. Arsenal would again hit Chelsea on the break, Adebayor releasing Rosicky on the left only for the offside flag to render his pass to van Persie and van Persie`s consummate finish irrelevant. Replays showed that Rosicky was level, but when the margins are as watertight as that, it`s hard to feel consternation towards the linesman. Adebayor would likewise have a goal ruled out, having been adjudged to barge Ben Haim off the ball unfairly. The Gunners` would continue to break forward on the counter, Adebayor teeing up Cesc for a snapshot which Cech beat away, and Cech was up smartly again to repel Cesc`s follow up attempt.
The away side would threaten once more, Kalou`s right wing cross found Andriy Shevchenko in space, but his tame header was easily hovered up by Almunia. Drogba would probably have made light work of the opportunity. The niggly nature of the contest would again become apparent with the final act of the game. Indeed, the fractious relationship between Cole and Fabregas would illuminate itself once more. Cesc received a Bendtner pass in the box, shimmied around Cech but Cole brilliantly blocked his goalbound attempt. Fabregas followed up with a petulant challenge, pole axing Cole as he cleared the ball. Cole`s riposte was a faint slap to the face which Fabregas vastly over reacted to. I reiterate, had Eboue been guilty of the same offence, he would have received much more criticism than has been forthcoming to Cesc from Arsenal fans. (Which is why I was happy to see the below article from Paul, at least one Arsenal fan out there is prepared to speak out against all instances of Arsenal players cheating, rather than just using Eboue as a moral compass). Cole, sensing he was in trouble, then collapsed to the ground, afraid of his impending punishment. Funny how a challenge from an "unproven featherweight" such as Fabregas could leave poor Ashley in such agony! By then the referee had had quite enough and blew the final whistle leaving the Grove to breathe in a collective sigh of relief, mocking the departing Sovereign clad away fans with a rendition of "William Gallas is our mate." It may have taken Arsenal fans a little while to warm to him, but I don`t think any Gooners today would consider Gallas as anything other than the heartiest of chums.LD.
Date:Monday December 17 2007
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