Right, Zagreb is done and dusted. Everybody has an opinion about what happened, fair enough. What matters now is we are facing a match that has some significance on Saturday lunchtime. Chelsea, let’s face it, have had a hold over us for some time now. In seven Premier League meetings we haven’t beaten them since that wonderful 3-5 triumph at the bus stop in Fulham four years ago.
But at Wembley in the Community Shield in August Arsene finally got his first win over Mourinho. That, added to the wins in Manchester last season, has hopefully given this Gunners squad incredible belief that we have found a way to play the big matches. In fact, we have done to them what they had got used to doing to us. Sensible, organised defence, and counter-attacking with pace and purpose.
How do we transform into that team from the ragtag and bobtail outfit in Zagreb? All Arsene can do is go back to the team he had been fielding ahead of that nightmare. Recalls for Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, plus probably Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott.
The timing seems unfortunate. The Gunners defeat on Wednesday and subsequent return in the early hours of Thursday has effectively given them one day to prepare for the biggest match of the season thus far. Chelsea, themselves in disarray domestically, finally showed something of the form expected of them in dismantling Maccabi Tel Aviv at home on the same night.
The press spent today (Friday) attempting to whip up a war of words between Wenger and Mourinho. They are chalk and cheese, that much is clear, but the match will not be won by them, It will be the team that takes their chances, or perhaps get that huge slice of good fortune that often decides the big games. Who gives a flying fig if they shake hands or not? Both sets of fans want the bragging rights that will accompany victory. To the hacks who don’t get that, it’s all about the football, stupid!
The Gunners could see their six point advantage over the reigning champions halved, or put the Blues three points further adrift of defending that title. We haven’t yet clicked into gear, but Chelsea have been, frankly, shocking. The Chinese whispers hint at an uneasy mix of relationships between Mourinho, the medical team he has hung out to dry, and the players with whom they both worked.
A bad result for us would not surprise the pessimists, but over in West London a good result for them is far from assured. I know I have said it of a number of matches down the years, but this one really could go in any one of a number of ways. Let’s hope Petr Cech will be celebrating again after the final whistle, as he has so often in this fixture.
The ‘holic pound
You know I have to punt on a win for the club I have followed through thick and thin for over half a century. In recent seasons it has been with a degree of hope, rather than belief, that I have made my suggestion. Wembley says we have a chance. Chelsea’s appalling domestic form says we have a chance. If we score first we have a massive chance. The punt on a 0-1 to the Arsenal on Wednesday may have been a match early. Paddy Power offers 10/1 against that outcome this weekend and I’m on it.
I will be in the Shed again tomorrow, but my post-match movements will be determined by the result. Don’t expect a review of the match until some time on Sunday, particularly if we win and I am comatose by teatime! If you are there too, say hello by all means.
Have a good one, ‘holics.