1 – 0 Oxlade-Chamberlain (24)
It was going to end one of two ways; a scrambled goal, bundled contentiously over the line or an explosive finish that burst the net. We got the latter. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s finish midway through the first half was enough to secure Arsène’s first win over a side managed by Jose Mourinho, something which has more important attached to it than lifting the Community Shield for the second season running.
Despite the faux protestations of the vanquished, Chelsea weren’t the better team and the victory saw them beaten at their own game. A strong start by Arsenal was matched by their opponents before Oxlade-Chamberlain cut inside to unleash his unstoppable shot.
Having established the lead, Arsenal were happy to cede ground and possession to the defending champions. In the past, that was the cue for sloppy clearances, nervous tackles in and around the penalty area and a backline which preferred a zig-zag for its formation. Not so yesterday. The bodies were there, hounding Chelsea to block any efforts on goal. The tackles weren’t last ditch, they were measured and purposeful.
There were nervous clearances, more noticeable toward the end of the game as fatigue set but more importantly than any of that was the back four held together; well-drilled in training, reassured by Petr Cech behind them. At times, they resembled table football players bound by an invisible pole, spun into action by their manager.
Arsenal looked better prepared than Chelsea, fitter and more cohesive as a team. Certainly, they were more attuned to how Chelsea would play with Mourinho’s men unable to comprehend that the devil-may-care attitude to defence was dispensed with. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise; it’s now more than 200 minutes since they breached the Arsenal backline. Arsène contradicted the Chelsea manager’ view that his side had abandoned their attacking philosophy,
That in no small part was down to Petr Cech. Genuine opportunities were few and far between for Chelsea; Ramires should have done better with a free header whilst Eden Hazard will surely feel he should have scored with a clear sight of goal, even with Laurent Koscielny’s attentions. The best of Cech came from an Oscar free kick, scrambling across goal to make a save that Ospina’s height – or lack of compared to the Czech – would have surely rendered impossible or improbable at best.
Yet perhaps the real difference came in a scramble when having failed to deal completely with the first effort, Cech followed the ball toward the left of his area and ploughed through John Terry to punch clear. There was no hint of panic, just a simple determination to get the ball come what may and in that instance, the contrast between last season and this may have revealed itself.
Arsenal too had opportunities but as with Chelsea, they were for the most part snatched efforts. Theo Walcott’s telling contribution came in dropping deeper to link up with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the goal but a header comfortably saved by Courtois was his only real attempt on goal. The midfield struggled to contrive opportunities to exploit the Chelsea centre backs lack of pace. Olivier Giroud began in a more spritely fashion but could not apply the finishes needed either.
The introduction of Gibbs last season in defending a lead tended to hint at rearguard action. Yesterday he had the opportunity to make the scoreline more emphatic as the full-time whistle beckoned, blocked by Courtois moments after Santi Cazorla suffered the same fate. Whilst not an end-to-end affair, it was certainly more open than the usual cat-and-mouse we see in the Premier League between the two clubs. If it makes Mourinho think more about Arsenal’s tactics in the lead up to the match in September, yesterday served a purpose beyond preparing the players for the season ahead.
Whilst Arsène played down the personal aspect of the win, he conceded that it had been in the players’ minds,
I must honestly say that it didn’t play on my mind at all. As long as I get it served every time in press conferences it can have an impact on the team. Certainly the way my team behaved during some periods in the game, it helped. It was important for them to get that hurdle out of the way.
I am sure they thought about it, just as you did, Arsène but fair play for not admitting it in public. Whilst the initial victory has now been achieved, there is still a long way to go before the record is forgotten. One win in fourteen is still appalling and it will take a few more seasons before that even looks vaguely decent; any hope he has that the record won’t be mentioned at press conferences in the future is surely forlorn, particularly with no attempt made to disguise the personal animosity between the two.
The headlines are grabbed by a body swerve and failed handshakes. Who cares? The pair have a barely disguised personal animosity, stemming back a number of years. There is a tiresome false bonhomie which football and the media likes to think exists but the look on the Chelsea players faces – and Mourinho – as Arsenal received their medals told the true story. They hated losing only slightly less than they hated losing to Arsenal. Perhaps it was a genuine recognition that Arsenal were capable of challenging for the title. Perhaps they had picked on their managers’ superiority complex. Whatever it was, the stage-managed procession of handshakes by the Chelsea manager means that this morning it is a sideshow which takes centre stage not the performance of the two teams.