Chelsea 0 – 0 Arsenal
The final score was as good as we might have hoped for. It might have been worse, it might have been better; it definitely was a re-run of September’s Premier League match with added VARiety. That joke, such as it is, may turn sour quickly.
It’s a place to start. Martin Atkinson made a great play of cupping his hand over his headset to let us know he was consulting the VAR, who for the evening was Neil Swarbrick situated in a bunker somewhere outside of London. Probably in the Teletubbies house and now that thought has entered my head, I so want it to be in the Teletubbies house.
“So, Neil, did I get that wrong?”
“Not according to Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po. However, if I look at Tinky-Winky, it’s a different story.”
Antonio Conte rushed onto the pitch post-match, to remonstrate over the lack of injury time added after` Atkinson listened to Swarbrick ruminating over his Tinky-Winky screen after Danny Welbeck tackled Cesc in the final minutes. We were still wondering why Hazard got a penalty when all we got was a Chelsea goal-kick under similar circumstances.
As it happened, Tinky-Winky didn’t squeal penalty and Swarbrick went for a Po.
If VAR brings consistency in the application of the Laws of the Game, it will be a success. Somehow I don’t think that is coming anytime soon.
Arsène fielded a similar side. Welbeck and Iwobi partnering Alexandre Lacazette in the ten-man defence which sporadically broke out into attack. Alexis came on to replace Lacazette in a predictable move and ran around a lot, passing it forward to Thibaut Courtois as Arsenal had for most of the evening.
The Past is the Present and the Future is Now
Post-match, Arsène said something about giving Alexis a breather in the middle of the season making him fresher for the remaining five months. Pep Guardiola texted his thanks shortly after that TV interview.
Wenger also confirmed Francis Coquelin’s move to Valencia which brought some bizarre redefining of his contribution to the Arsenal cause over the past few seasons. He was, however, a good example of Matt Hughes chiding in this morning’s Times which labelled the current team “journeymen”.
In many ways, it was a Graham-template performance which you may remember as much-maligned and mocked. Sell Alexis this month and we may get the mid-table finish to complete the retro look.
Chelsea once again spurned good opportunities to take the lead; Christiansen the offender this time while Ospina saved our bacon on more than one occasion. It wouldn’t be a Dave performance without a couple of brain farts and the Colombian didn’t disappoint his legion of fans on that score.
It wouldn’t be Arsenal without ruing missed chances. The evening’s biggest culprit was Alex Iwobi. A moment of redemption beckoned after a surging run but at the key moment, he was blinded by glory’s light. Courtois gently picked up Iwobi’s scuffed shot as the youngster resumed his role of cartoon villain.
He wasn’t the only one seeking some kind of rebirth after the weekend. Holding was assured(ish) in defence with Chambers and Mustafi, with the trio containing Morata and forcing Hazard to the periphery where he hit the deck to his heart’s content.
Meh Can Be Good
If this all seems a bit ‘meh’ that’s because it is. Don’t get me wrong, the result is good and achieved the aim of being in the tie for the second leg in a fortnight’s time. Good stuff but uninspiring. Which, after Sunday’s gubbing, is a good thing, an outbreak of common sense in team selection and tactics.
It came at a cost. Jack Wilshere went to block the ball and it cannoned off his foot causing an ankle ligament strain, and not a sprain as initially claimed. The weekend is too soon for him but Arsène’s notoriously unreliable medical reports claim it’s nothing serious. Stan looked at it and probably knocked £10k per week off the contract offer.
So there we have it. We got a draw (yay!) through a defensive performance (yay!) but it wasn’t convincing (boo!). With the VAR, we have a pantomime villain waiting in the wings for the second leg.