EPL 2007-2008: Arsenal 1 – Chelsea 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 17th, 2007 • 6:07 pm

What a massive, massive victory. This was truly a clash of titans, and a really entertaining game to watch. I didn’t get to see the Liverpool – Manchester United game, but this one definitely lived up to the “Grand Slam Sunday” moniker. Technically, it was a bit subpar by Arsenal standards, with lots of stray passes, but I guess you can credit a combination of constant Chelsea pressure and lack match fitness for Fábregas, Flamini and Hleb.

Other than that, however, the game had all the right ingredients. A tight first half, a big mistake by the normally impeccable Cech, and yet another crucial goal by Gallas. And then a hectic second-half with end-to-end stuff, and many opportunities for the Gunners to double their lead, which they somehow managed to fail to do, through a combination of questionable refereeing (the first disallowed goal might benefited from an offside position in the build-up, but how was Adebayor’s play on the second one a foul?) and incredible goal-keeping by Cech, who surely redeemed himself.

There was loads of tension throughout the game, with a flurry of yellow cards, most of them fully deserved. I fully expected one of the Chelsea players to be sent off, but of course none was, again because of questionable refereeing and the on-going leniency shown toward the big Chelsea bullies. Speaking of which, I guess that, if referees don’t do their job, fate has to intervene, and John Terry got a nice taste of his own medicine from Éboué. I do not condone deliberately trying to injure players, but if anyone is guilty of this, it is Terry rather than Éboué, who has many faults but but is hardly the big bully type, barging into his opponents and generally being cynical at every opportunity.

To me, John Terry epitomizes what’s wrong with England today and why they are not going to be there at Euro 2008. I know that there is a certain admiration for the physicality of this type of player, but I only admire physicality if it comes with restraint and without the constant cynical fouling that effectively kills the game of football as a game and turns it into a battle of studs. John Terry knows very well what he’s doing and knows that he will get away with most of it because of the way the game is refereed in England. It does not make it right. So the sooner he gets off the pitch, the better as far as I am concerned.

But Chelsea without Terry and even without Drogba and Essien remains a considerable challenge, simply because the entire team plays with the same “philosphy,” which is the only one with which they have been able to win anything, But this time the Gunners were up to the challenge, and got their just rewards.

Like I said, the game was somewhat disappointing because of the lack of technical quality at times, but it more than made up for it with the unrelenting pace and motivation of the Arsenal players. Even after having goals disallowed twice, they did not give up and never attempted to close up shop. It’s just not their style, and it does not work when they try it.

It made for thrillingly watchable stuff from where I was standing, i.e. 5000 km from the action in my father-in-law’s living room during a nasty Canadian snow storm. (We’ve already had a December month that will no doubt lead a few to question: “Global warming? What global warming?” And winter hasn’t even started yet…)

Almunia was very impressive in goal, in spite of one single rather unorthodox block that still did the job. The defense was solid. The midfield was electrifying at times, like it can be with Fábregas and Flamini and Hleb and Rosicky, even though three of the four were just back from injury and were struggling at times. Éboué was still too theatrical for my taste, but at least worked hard until he got injured by yet another cynical challenge by a Chelsea player (Joe Cole this time). Adebayor and later van Persie played vital roles, even though they did not end up on the score sheet, and Bendtner and Gilberto did well when they came on.

Oh, and Ashley Cole got a really nice reception from the crowd and the Arsenal players :-).

It lasted until the very end, when, amid much confusion and silliness, he was stupid enough to slap Fábregas in the face. Even though it was stupid and not malicious, I still hope that the FA looks after him, since the referee did not appear to see that particular part of the incident. A three-game ban would do nicely, thank you very much.

The most important thing, however, is that the Gunners proved the doubters wrong after a mini-slump and the first league defeat of the season. We knew they were not going to go through the season unbeaten, but we were wondering just the same how they would respond after the first defeat. Well, they have responded in style. And a lot of credit should also go to Wenger, of course, for properly managing the injuries and making sure that Fábregas, Flamini, van Persie and Hleb would be there on the crucial day, even if it maybe cost us a few points in previous games.

Now the vital thing is to build on the momentum provided by this victory, and return to winning ways in a regular basis in the league, because of course Manchester United are right on our tails. It is far too early to be talking about a two-horse race, but there is no doubt that, whether two, three or four horses are ultimately involved, it’s going to be a tight one.

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