This game annoyed me, almost more than a defeat would. This was despite the fact Arsenal played pretty well, showed maturity defensively, didn’t get caught on the counter-attack as they have done too often this season, and managed a credible draw against a team that’s ten points clear at the top of the table and who will deservedly win the Premier League this season.
There were plenty of positives for Arsenal. Per Mertesacker showed great powers of recovery to be fit for the game and defended well with Laurent Koscielny, as the two seem to have recovered their mojo as a partnership. Both full-backs, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, were also solid. When the Gunners went for it more in the second half, they didn’t leave themselves exposed to get sucker-punched on the counter attack, and when necessary, the players were willing to take a yellow card for the team to stop goal scoring chances. Both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil showed some good touches in a congested midfield, and on another day, the Gunners could have scored the elusive goal to nick a win.
Indeed, had Ozil or Danny Welbeck applied the finishing touch to Nacho Monreal’s cut-back in stoppage time, we’d be lauding a disciplined and well-judged performance from Arsene Wenger’s team.
Had I been in the shoes of the manager, I wouldn’t have done much else different to Arsene Wenger in how he set the team up for the game. That starting XI deserved a crack at Chelsea considering they have been the core side that have been on an excellent winning run. Given the way Arsenal did get the full-backs forward more in the latter stages of the match, I’d have been tempted to get a proper winger on the right to allow Bellerin to double up on Azpilicueta slightly earlier that Wenger did, but otherwise I completely understand why the manager picked the team he did. Realistically, even a win wouldn’t have changed much in the title race, so a draw should feel like a decent result for the Arsenal.
But this game still annoyed me. It annoyed me as a general football fan. Chelsea didn’t have to win the game, Arsenal have been in excellent form and have emerged as a danger to the Blues, so I completely understand why they played in the way they did. It did, however, sum up why they’ll never be popular winners, especially with Jose Mourinho as the manager.
Every time there was a foul, by either side, Chelsea would take time out of the game by complaining to the referee about something, before players walked away waiting for someone else to take the kick and waste time. There were niggley fouls, especially by Ivanovic on Alexis Sanchez that should have been punished more severely. For throw-ins, someone would threaten to take it, then leave it for someone else, taking 30 seconds out of the game. Two of their players dived to try and win a penalty, one of which got a yellow card. The goalkeeper would always take the goal kick from the opposite side to where the ball went out. It all added up to the feeling that they were killing the match.
Is it professional? Yes, I guess it is. But as a paying fan, it’s turgid to watch. If Arsenal were in the same position in the league and only needed a few points to seal the title, of course I wouldn’t be complaining if the Gunners reverted to that style of play. But there would still be some attacking intent. Even at Manchester City, when Arsenal did take on a more defensive set-up, when they got the ball, they went for the hosts and still showed the intricate combination play around the box.
Especially in the second half, Chelsea showed no interest in going forward. The players they have are good enough to play some great football, but they always looked to play the ball sideways or backwards. Arsenal almost sat back at times to try and entice them forward to create a bit more space, but Chelsea never seemed to commit more than three players forward, leaving plenty back to rule out any quick attacking play from Arsenal.
Football is both an entertainment business and a results-based business, and that itself always means there’ll be clashes of styles and cultures. That is what happened on Sunday, and unfortunately one was stifled by the other. Chelsea are very good at what they do, and they’ll win the league because of it, but it is not good to watch.
It’s probably because I’ve been spoilt a bit by growing up watching Arsene Wenger’s teams, so my footballing disposition will always be one that appreciates play that is pleasing on the eye, but I can’t imagine having to watch that every week and enjoying it. Plus, when it’s dictated by someone with the lack of class of Jose Mourinho, it only adds to the disappointment that his team are going to win the league.
Finally, a quick word on Cesc Fabregas. The booing then applauding of him leaving the field was slightly strange, and while I completely understand why people wanted to thank him for the good things he did for Arsenal, I was on the booing side of things. He was the captain of the club, forced his way out, and then when he wanted to come back, the club had moved on and had filled the midfield. And anyone who takes part in a performance like that one from Chelsea, and looks incredibly chummy with Jose Mourinho and John Terry, won’t be getting any applause from me. Sorry, Cesc.
Somehow, despite it only being a draw and knowing Chelsea will win the league, the match just emphasised how glad I am that I’m an Arsenal fan.