The precedent came when Ian Wright whipped off his shirt to reveal a white vest with a bold red “179” emblazoned across it. The trouble was he was celebrating goal 178 at the time. You could draw the parallel to the replayed Sheffield United cup-tie. Arsenal agreed to replay a tie won by a dubious goal. The original result was scrubbed and the game declared ‘void’ for that season’s FA Cup. Personally I think the decision to replay the game was taken too quickly because there have been hundreds since decided by debatable moments; none replayed, of course. But that game is more of a problem in that it is counts toward Arsène’s 1,000. A game declared void apparently counts as a proper match. Like this morning’s playlist, football has 999 Problems And A Game IS One Of Them (also on the right sidebar under Dad’s Jukebox).
Which means Game 1K, as it is to be known, is next week at home to Swansea City and that is something I find altogether more agreeable in terms of the opposition, their manager and well, everything in general by comparison to the odiousness of Chelsea, their manager, and Manchester City. The feels like the ultimate battle between good and evil. That moral judgement is too strong for life in general, there is no doubt it is apposite. The perceptions of the managers involved in today’s clash fits entirely into the mould of The Magnificent Seven or any of the Star Wars films. If Mourinho is evil, then good will always triumph. It does because Hollywood tells us that and the movies never lie.
The football crew, the reporters might all sit in his awe, rapt by his every word but to the layman, Jose Mourinho yesterday was the lunatic lurching dementedly, shouting, “I AM NOT BITTER“, as he gracelessly offered his view on Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal. Perhaps he has a point; they are different men from different backgrounds with different mentalities and the same applies to the clubs. You would expect he and Wenger to have much in common with success absent in their playing careers, and, ah, there’s the rub, Mourinho isn’t a proper footballing man, never having made the grade. The translator, as he is disparagingly known in Barcelona, never was a player but possesses shoulders so broad he can carry a chip shop on each to compensate.
It is a return to the good old days, managerial spats feeding what had been a genteel celebratory build-up. Perhaps that is what was needed to snap the support out of a reverie, refocusing minds to the task in hand. We’ve had our week of reflection, now to the fight for the end of the season. However we may classify it – karma, manners or whatever – to achieve the win to allow the party to take place will need the players to concentrate fully this afternoon; anything less and Wenger’s wretched record against teams managed by Mourinho will continue.
This is a match Arsenal cannot afford to lose. Sitting four points behind with a game in hand, a draw really isn’t enough to wrest control of their own destiny but defeat ends the faint flicker of their title hopes. Manchester City remain firmly in control of where the champions are crowned but the fly in the ointment comes in the shape of their remaining fixtures with trips to Old Trafford, The Emirates and Anfield still to come. Three wins in the next week and Arsenal change that landscape. If Wenger felt that the last few seasons and the chase for fourth have been mentally tough, the same applies this time around. Except I am sure he is enjoying this season more.
Arsenal head into the fray with their bare bones suffering once more, Tomas Rosicky is a doubt with an ankle injury which flew under everyone’s radar until yesterday. Having settled the North London Derby with a superbly taken strike, the confidence would be oozing through a player who rarely lacks that quality. It would be a shame for him to miss today but if he does, presumably Podolski remains on the left-hand side instead of dropping out in a slight reshuffle. The midfield offers an interesting comparison, a sense of the baton passing for the national team. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has the potential to take Frank Lampard’s attacking instincts and put them into an altogether more refined style. If he has a similar goal return to the Chelsea midfielder, there will be few complaints from the stands.
The lack of options provides some comfort as well concern. From a settled side comes understandings and partnerships. That can only be of benefit on the pitch with players knowing where colleagues will be. It is naïve to believe Chelsea will be as ineffective in attack as Tottenham and Eden Hazard might be leaving Marc Wilmots disappointed with his contributions but Mourinho can have few complaints about his Chelsea performances. Arsenal cannot afford to retreat into their shells as they did at White Hart Lane, you feel that some of the attacks which develop as a result of that will be more effective than those faced last weekend. That said, the combative play from Aston Villa last Saturday offered the solutions. Perhaps Wenger’s settled side is not quite so settled after all with the match seeming to favour a starting place for Mathieu Flamini.
This afternoon requires big performances from all the Arsenal players but not least from Olivier Giroud. His off-the-field activities have distracted and I am sure affecting him on the pitch. A good performance today would answer some questions, particularly about scoring in big matches. As central striker, his role is to make a difference in the big matches not just those Arsenal are expected to win. It would certainly underline his value and importance to the side if he could find some consistency in these situations, especially with chances likely to be at a premium against what is still the Premier League’s most parsimonious defence. Chelsea’s problem has been at the other end of the pitch. Not that Arsenal are any better. If fact, they aren’t having scored three goals less.
I would expect the line-up to be:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini; Rosicky, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud
Mind you I think I said something similar last weekend and Arsène’s decision to select Podolski paid off with the three points travelling down the Seven Sisters in the right direction. Taking a similar extra load home on the team coach today would be similarly welcome.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.