The Lightning Seeds once wrote a song called Sugar Coated Icebergs.
You may not remember it, hell, you may not even remember the Lightning Seeds. If it is a case of the latter, then I feel sorry for you. Not because the Lightning Seeds were an amazingly great band, although Ian Broudie did have a pretty neat touch with a melody, but because you almost certainly missed out on the heady summer of 1996. The summer of Seaman, Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce. The summer of Skinner, Baddiel & Three Lions. The summer of another bloody penalty shootout defeat to the bloody Germans. Back in the day when such things mattered to me, of course.
Hard to believe that was twenty years ago now, but there you are.
Annnnnnyway. Sugar Coated Icebergs comes to mind not for any particular reason, other than the fact that I was thinking about the latest dose of Chelsea Inflicted Pain and it seemed to fit quite nicely with the title of that Lightning Seeds single.
And… here’s the kicker, because that Lightning Seeds single sounded exactly like all the other Lightning Seeds singles. Oh, it was different. It didn’t tell you you were perfect, or marvellous, or lucky. But it might as well have done.
Like that Lightning Seeds single which was different, yet exactly the same as all the ones which had preceded it, you could, effectively, take any match report from any Arsenal v Chelsea game that we have lost and apply it to the story of Sunday evening’s encounter. Oh yeah, it was different, of course it was, but it was also the same.
A seething sense of injustice? Check one. A sense of watching a team which should know better shooting itself in the foot? Check two. Watching a team, your team, go a goal down and start playing its best football when it is far, far too late? Check three. Being absolutely gutted at the final whistle? To quote Inglorious Basterds,
And it didn’t have to be that way. There has been extensive analysis of what Arsenal did wrong elsewhere on this website, so I will content myself with saying this. Arsenal started the game badly at both ends of the pitch, we could have been a goal down inside a minute. The fact that we were open enough to let Willian stroll through our midfield and then feed in Diego Costa to run clear on goal after just twenty minutes of the game is something I find mind boggling in its naivety.
Then you have Per Mertesacker diving in on the cheatiest footballer these shores have known since the days of Ruud van Cheatalot. Per Mertesacker, an experienced German international, basically took a revolver and blew his own brains out with it. Of course, Costa made it look like he’d been snipered from the back row of the upper tier; of course he did. In doing so, he won Chelsea the match. That he was the one to profit just minutes later from Arsenal’s sense of disorientation felt like the very definition of Chelsea Inflicted Pain. Like Liverpool’s last minute equaliser two weeks back, we’d all seen this movie before.
I’d like to blame Mark Clattenburg for being over zealous with the red card, but I don’t think there’s a referee out there who wouldn’t have been fooled by Costa. Particularly, as Matthew Wade notes here, as he’s been fooling them all since his arrival on these shores. So protected is he by referees, I’m starting to think of him as an endangered species. That’s a digression, obviously, but basically I think Mertesacker sort of got what he deserved for diving in as he did.
There is, I believe a debate to be had, about the number of times Chelsea have benefitted from a number of red cards awarded to our players, but not theirs and penalties also given to them, but not us in numerous matches recently. I have little faith that debate will ever see the light of day somewhere it might actually make a difference. They get away with murder, we can’t even rob the cornershop. That’s just how it is. Until we learn to stop looking down every time Chelsea, metaphorically speaking, tell us our shoelaces are tied, that’s the way it will stay.
The manager’s decision to reinforce the defence at the expense of Olivier Giroud was greeted with predictable howls of derision. I can understand why this was so, but I don’t think Arsène’s explanation was so far fetched either. Giroud generally doesn’t seem to trouble the Chelsea defence much and, seeing as we needed to keep some pace on the pitch, I guess there was some logic to that decision. Especially as both Campbell and Walcott are more multifunctional footballers than the one dimensional Giroud. Obviously, it did rob us of the Frenchman’s ability to bring others into the game, particularly with Theo having one of his ‘feo’ (it’s a Spanish word, look it up) days.
Interestingly, I thought the rest of the game highlighted both the pros and cons of that decision as Arsenal did manage to cause the Chelsea defence some aggravation, despite the numerical disadvantage. Crucially, though, we lacked the man in the box to apply the finishing touch to a number of nearly, but not quite moments.
Of course, defeat has seen the usual number of reactions. As I have been known to overreact myself on occasion, I can’t laugh too hard at some of these. However, from Claude calling for the head of a manager who began the weekend looking down on all he surveys, to the article suggesting Aaron Ramsey should be sold, it seems everyone’s angry. I shouldn’t be surprised, this is – after all, the fanbase who got into a mental when Patrick Vieira dared to suggest Jose Mourinho was a bigger influence on him than Arsène Wenger. A bit odd from Patrick, granted, but was it really worth slating one of the greatest players to wear the red and white over this? The irony is, I bet many of the people getting angry about this are the same ones who want Arsène to board a plane to France and never, ever come back.
The fact is, we have survived injuries to a whole host of key players and still sit level on points with Manchester City, just three points behind this season’s feel good hit of the winter. Alexis showed enough in his 35 minutes on the pitch to suggest that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season and, crucially perhaps, Le Coq is on the way back. Over the coming weeks, with further reinforcements running over the hill, we should see the full strength of this Arsenal squad brought to bear and not a moment too soon.
Winning the title isn’t supposed to be easy. You will notice that only one team, one manager has managed to do it without losing a game. You all know who that team was and who they were managed by. How about we get behind the boys, and that manager, and see where the next 15 games take us?