Thanks to a smart Olivier Giroud header, a #throwback bit of goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski and a pinpoint finish from Joel ‘Get out while you can’ Campbell, Arsenal left Wales with three points in the bag.
And while it was disappointing to see Manchester City, Arsenal’s only rival in the the title-race, snatch victory from the jaws of drawing, many an Arsenal fan was delighted to see the Gunners extend their lead over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea to a chasmous 14 points. Twitter overflowed with banter.
And while this column could have just easily been a deluge of vines, gifs and memes (#content), I feel like actually saying something substantive.
Mourinho, for all his warts (So. Many. Warts.), is one of the finest managers of all-time. That cannot be debated. You can hate the man, you can make fun of his legitimately concerning paranoia, his delusions, his comparing Eden Hazard to Lionel Messi, his sometimes unpleasant brand of football and how disrespectfully he has treated players (his own or otherwise) and officials alike, but at the heart of his relevance is his quality. And that is why seeing him, and by extension Chelsea Football Club, wallowing in…
…15th-place(!!!) brings Arsenal fans, Liverpool, fans, Manchester United fans, Manchester City fans, neutrals, etc so much pleasure. The pantomime villain is a great source of entertainment, but invulnerability is a boring character-arc. David and Goliath is only interesting because David wins. Pick a film, book, video game, etc and you’ll find that it can be boiled down to ‘protagonist finds a way to defeat heavily-favored antagonist’. The best villains in any piece of media are impeccably built-up before being torn down by the hero.
And here we are, aye? Arsenal are surely going to finish ahead of Chelsea and have, at least, a 50:50 shot at winning their first title since the Invincibles managed to do so in 2004. But, and this may sound like nonsense, it doesn’t *quite* feel right. Arsenal lost to Chelsea in ridiculous circumstances, have been embarrassed in the League Cup and Champions League, have dealt with all sorts of injury issues, and yet are comfortably superior to the reigning champions. It almost feels too easy, thus robbing the achievement of some luster.
Winning the title this season would be a great achievement regardless of Chelsea’s competitiveness, but the most memorable and heartfelt victories aren’t 5-0 drubbings or lapping your opponent, but rather eeking out victory against a worthy rival. Take Tottenham Hotspurs – most years it’s accepted that Spurs are terrible and Arsenal will cast a shadow over their neighbors. The years when Arsenal lap Spurs and finish 30 points above them just aren’t that special. But that 2011/12 season when Arsenal were 9 points behind Spurs and had to come back from 2-0 down to win 5-2? That was special. That was remarkable. That was a victory, a season, an achievement I savor.
Finishing above an imploding Mourinho and his players that no longer go to war for him just isn’t as self-gratifying as beating a well-drilled side that defend like religious warriors and attack with all the ruthlessness of a Diego Costa stamp. And, it saddens me to say, but the idea of Mourinho getting the sack and never coaching in England again would all but rob Wenger of truly exacting revenge upon Mourinho years of lop-sided results.
I feel the same way about Sir Alex Ferguson retiring in 2013. Wenger gave Ferguson hell between 1996 and 2005, but once the austerity period began, Arsenal were just no match for United. Ferguson began piling up victories and trophies, each result and conquest slowly draining the life from Arsene. He doesn’t strike me as a man who lusts for vengeance, but deep down I’m sure Wenger wished it was Ferguson, not Louis van Gaal, in the dugout during Arsenal’s voracious 3-0 victory.
Each loss to lowly club after lowly club draws Mourinho one step closer to getting the sack, thus completing his humiliating fall from grace. That being said, I have no doubt that I’d derive greater pleasure from beating Mourinho at his best instead of laughing at him as he’s dragged out of Stamford Bridge. After all, what’s the point of defeating a villain if they’re not that good?
Oh well, I’m sure the banter will be lovely, at least.