Over and Over and Over Again
There is a famous old Irish ditty that you hear at Arsenal away games (we don't sing at home games anymore), 'Bejesus said Paddy you sung it so well, I think I'll get up and I'll sing it again, so Paddy got up and he sung it again, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN,' ad infinitum. There has been much talk of an Arsenal anthem over the last few months, but really, the ultimate line of that song encapsulates us at the moment. Our inability to finish teams off has cost us a significant number of points this season and it was to haunt us again yesterday. The stuttering start to the season in concert with our inability to locate the backside of cattle with large stringed instruments ultimately saw our title challenge peter out before santa started doing his rounds. Reading an interview with Alex Ferguson this morning, a sentence just jumped out at me like a set of Essien studs, 'The key for us was our good start, once we got that momentum, we never really lost it.' Wenger has spoken at length about our cumbersome start to the campaign and he will realise the importance of hitting the ground running next season.
As for yesterday, my day began with thumping temples after a third consecutive night on the lash. For my incomparable sins I know some Chelsea fans who were in attendance at the game so we slightly altered our pre match ritual with a beautiful Greek lunch in the Olive Tree taverna, yards away from our usual pre match haunt the Arsenal Tavern. Guinness and dry roasted were replaced by Kalamari and keo as I arrived at the ground in good spirits (that might have owed much to the spritis that were still nestled snugly in my bloodstream). Wenger elected for a narrow model in midfield, with Diaby and Fabregas on either wing and the yellow booted Denilson patrolling the centre. It looked to be a mistake to me as the shape of our midfield looked awkward and Fabregas would really have been better off pulling the strings from the centre. With Chelsea looking neat and compact at the back, Hleb would have offered much more of a threat with his unrivalled dribbling. Chelsea began the game with more gumption upfront, Joe Cole proved to be a nuisance, (not just because of his laughable hystrionics either), but with Kalou more inclined to drift wide, the lack of Drogba's awesome physical presence left Chelsea without a focal point. Some neat football in the final third saw Joe Cole find a space between Eboue and Fabregas, Cole pulled it across the six yard box but the anonymous Lampard could not get on the end of it.
With Fabregas moving into the centre, Arsenal began to look more dangerous. Fabregas, Denilson and Diaby played a series of quick, one touch passes that created a glimmer of light between the compacted Chelsea ranks, but Adebayor snatched at his shot which Cech saved comfortably. With neither side looking like scoring, Arsenal fostered a breakthrough. Ironically enough, for all of our neat passing, it was route one that would undo Chelsea. A long Lehmann kick looked to be headed for limbo until Boulahrouz allowed his eyes to drift from the ball and made the most cataclysmic error possible for a defender- he allowed the ball to bounce. The Beast eyed up his prey and latched onto the clearance, leaving Boulahrouz to clumsily trip him in the area. Even for a referee of the appalling quality of Alan Wiley it was a basic decision to award a penalty and send Boulahrouz off for a professional foul. Gilberto consummately tucked away the penalty and Arsenal were in the ascendancy.
Terry decided to berate the official from one side of the pitch to the other as the sides came off at the break, quite what his gripe was I'm not sure. When he was finished spewing his bile, his assistant manager showed the kind of moral leadership one associates with Chelsea nowadays by preventing the referee from entering the tunnel, behaving like a power drunk bouncer in a Croydon nightclub. Terry would continue his despicable actions throughout the second half, time and again screaming in the referee's face. Of course, being England captain, he is insulated much in the same fashion as fellow petulant thugs Beckham and Shearer were. Terry not being cautioned by the official means that Wiley is either entirely incompetent, or that the word 'dissent' is just a figment of the collective imagination. The referee emerged from the tunnel in the second half laughing and joking with the Chelsea players.every time a Chelsea player hit the ground Wiley awarded them what they told him to. When Fabregas was penalised for the hainous crime of jumping over the ball one sensed the referee's authority had been usurped. When Essien and Joe Cole performed the exact same action within minutes of one another without reprisal it was confirmed. A Terry forearm in the face fo Adebayor (albeit not a swinging forearm) bought no foul at all and Terry might as well have been given the whistle and the black shirt at that point.
The Gunners' had the bit between their teeth at the beginning of the second half. A fabregas free kick was headed out as far as Adebayor on the back post, the lanky Togolese forward chested it down and volleyed goalwards, but Gallas just could not stretch a limb far enough to divert it in. Another Fabregas set piece was met by William Gallas, but the ex Chelsea defender headed over when he had lost his marker in what would have been a goal of a justice so petic, it could have been the seventh stanza of John Keats' 'To Hope.' From that point, one must admire Chelsea's insatiable resolve, it truly is the big difference between out two teams at the moment, the ability to let pure gits and grit carry you when the lactic acid is screaming for you to stop. Having endured an adrenaline sapping 120 minutes at Anfield, which culminated in heartbreak, down to ten men away at Arsenal with your title on the line with several players missing, most would have wilted. It is to Chelsea's credit that they did not, it was a show that reminded me of the awesome power they displayed at the Mestalla, the late comeback at Goodison, their second half at Old Trafford, at hometo the Spuds in the F.A Cup (though those guys seem to ENJOY wilting on the big occasion don't they?) and their comeback against us at the Bodge in December. Unfortunately, one's admiration is once again compromised by the moral arrogance that permeates the club, a poor challenge by Ferreira on Denilson saw Mourinho run over to the prone Brazilian to taunt him as he lay injured. In fact, the speed with which he made his beeline towards Denilson put one in mind of Gary Lewin's life saving antics in Cardiff in May. Or perhaps Jose was making a point to the Thames Valley ambulance service? Either way, we await your apology Jose.
With twenty minutes remaining, Chelsea got a deserved equaliser. Wright Phillips' pinpoint cross was met with a brave diving header by the brilliant Michael Essien. How this guy did not feature in the Premiership team of the season, frankly, beggars belief. Chelsea smelled blood and looked to be the team with a man advantage as Arsenal hung on for dear life. Thankfully, Gael Clichy was in fine fettle at the back, this boy has just come on in leaps and bounds this year, demonstrating the tenacity that is often missing from periods of our play. Essien hooked narrowly over from another Chelsea corner, Lampard's dipping shot was clawed away by Lehmann and Joe Cole's precise curler was chalked off for offside. But with Chelsea pressing froward, gaps appeared at the back, an excellent Essien interception prevented Adebayor from going through on goal. Hleb was denied by Cech in stoppage time, then a Sinclair run on the left saw Cole notch through to the unmarked Kalou, but he could only sidefoot down the throat of Jens Lehmann. There was time for one final hurrah, Wenger elcted to push Eboue onto the wing for the final minutes and it was a decision that nearly paid huge dividends. Baptista found Fabregas, who pushed the ball into the path of Eboue, the Ivorian connected brilliantly and smashed an absolute rocket against the cross bar.
The final whistle went to a brief cheer from the Arsenal fans which I found slightly embarassing. Regardless of whether we denied them the title (it would be a downright lie to deny that that did not give me some sort of pleasure), the fact is we drew with them with ten men and could easily have lost. I support Arsenal and what other sides do is of no consequence to me, next year I want Arsenal's involvement in the title race to be significant for us. My distaste for Chelsea is no secret, but to blatantly rejoice in the result is not my style. I pointed out to several posters on here lastw eek that the absent Ashley Cole does not deserve our abuse, the universe has a funny way of rectifying these matters without the need for bitterness. Click on the Chelsea archives for an article penned by merlin dated March 7th about our Champions' League exit for confirmation that, while rivalry is the spice of sport, unabashed schaudenfreude will always come back at you in the end. Unlucky Chelsea and congratulations to Manchester United, hopefully next year our say in the title race will be mroe telling for Arsenal Football Club. It's just a shame that John Terry felt the need to leave the pitch in disgrace for a second time, making obscene gestures towards Arsenal fans gathered in the East Lower. Being England captain he will fear no punishment as he continues to flaunt his sickening lack of etiquette. I would like to finish by wishing the all conquering Arsenal Ladies side the best of luck in their F.A Cup Final this afternoon which could see them complete an unprecendented quadruple without having lost a single game. Good luck to you gurls, you're a credit to yourselves and our football club. A football club is an all encompassing mechanism and the success of the Ladies should not be dismissed. LD.