Taking the day after the match off was a good idea. Leaving the post until the morning after equally so. A strange day ended with us nine points, but not light years, behind Chelsea. You have seen the match, and read other match reports. I’ll give an impression of the day from one perspective rather than add to those.
It turned into a strange day. My inability to read a ticket, and my assumption about the size of the fixture, meant I planned for a 4pm kick-off, only to be told by text that it was the early match while I made a tortuous journey to south-west London. The anticipated sightseeing and lunchtime session turned into a hurried couple of pints before joining the queues to get into the Shed. We were held outside for what stewards advised was an ‘incident’. Once inside all became clear, or rather not. A hint of red in the air, acrid smoke. Some thoughtless plum who presumably knows nobody with COPD or asthma thought it fun to let off a flare in a confined space by the bar.
The resulting shut down of the refreshment facilities meant an early ascent of the upper tier steps to a cramped seat. You can’t all sit at Chelsea, even if you wanted to, and so stand and sing we did. You will have your own take on how it all unfolded, and I will not change entrenched views. Suffice it to say this was far from the embarrassing surrender of last season. We were encouraged early on, but that is to be expected, I suppose. Mourinho has his way of playing big clubs, which involves having all eleven players in their own half for large swathes of the contest, and breaking with lung-bursting pace.
It isn’t pretty, as a million tweeters confirmed, but I can’t help to think back to the latter years of the George Graham reign, when we would do the same to the big sides we faced. Once again the tactic worked, and until Arsene registers a win away to a rival it will continue to be a stick to beat him with. The spat with his irksome opposite number, amusing at the time, is a sign of the tensions he still feels on such occasions, and totally understandable too.
The incident that sparked that confrontation was a vile lunge on Alexis by Cahill. A clear red card offence to all but the hapless official. I’ll be quick to point out others should have followed and he was totally incompetent for both sides. It was a day Atkinson will want to forget, although hopefully his bosses will not let him do so when assessing his performance. That was however a game-changing moment, whereas Welbeck’s equally poor challenge at the end of the match wasn’t.
We had looked more likely to score in the opening 27 minutes but our failure to do so handed Chelsea the opportunity to succeed with their rope-a-dope tactics. Creating little, it was not a surprise they got the advantage with a penalty, when Hazard was alllowed far too easily to make a mazy run into the box and square up Koscielny, drawing the inevitable clumsy challenge. It was a clear penalty from over a hundred yards away on a narrow perch in the gods. Another decision for St Francis of Assisi to duck.
In the aftermath Jack Wishere was quoted on www.arsenal.com thus…
“We are playing against teams who, when you are on top, you have to make it count or they will punish you. That is what they did.”
A perfect summation of the day, and so many recent awaydays against good sides. Had we scored first Chelsea would have faced a decision about when to open up in search of an equaliser and present us with an opportunity to double our advantage. They didn’t need to, and the second-half followed a similar pattern to what had gone before. Jack himself missed the clearest opportunity to level matters, but a rare heavy touch at the wrong moment cost us dearly.
Yet more controversy after the break when Cesc Fabregas batted away Jack’s drive with a flailing arm. That would be a penalty nine times out of ten. This was the tenth. Calum Chambers let fly but cleared the crossbar. It wasn’t our day, a fact confirmed when Costa lobbed the hesitant Szczesny. Presumably the ‘keeper feared another red card situation?
That there were frustrations among some of the traveling faithful can’t be denied. To an extent that is understandable, although the abuse dished out by a very few to our own is not. As stated earlier, until we beat a title rival on the road the undercurrent of dissatisfaction will continue to flow unabated. So huge and diverse is the fanbase it would be remarkable in the extreme if we all largely agreed about the state of the club, at any given point in time.
So once more we ventured out onto Fulham Road, a little despondent rather than distraught. A couple of pints of HSB at Paddington cheered briefly. Match of the Day highlighted Chelsea’s disruptive rotational fouling, and although that is a valid point, we have to learn to deal with it because they are not the only team to engage us so.
There will be better days to come at the Bridge, for sure. I hope I am there then.