Chelsea nearly steal one

6 05 2007

In what’s been a closely fought Premiership race, Chelsea came to Arsenal today knowing they needed to win to keep alive their hopes. They didn’t, but thanks to the tactics Chelsea have become famous for, they very nearly managed it. I’d like to begin by congratulating Manchester United. It might sound odd, coming from an Arsenal fan, but unlike Chelsea, who’ve maintained their thuggish approach to football this season, Manchester United have at least tried to play good stuff, and for the most part, have managed to do so. They’re worthy winners, as much as I hate to admit it. If only Arsenal had been as efficient as them at taking their chances, we’d surely have managed to regain our rightful place as Champions. And on a similar note, I’d like to give credit to Jose Mourinho for showing a tiny shred of class for once in his miserable life and taking time out during his pre-match interview to congratulate us for a magnificent stadium and pitch. It really is the best in the country.

The game started, unsurprisingly, with Chelsea on the attack and dominating the early exchanges. They needed to win, and naturally came out of the blocks flying. Yet, despite controlling possession and spending most of the half in Arsenal territory, it’s hard to think of a clear-cut chance they created. As the half wore on, Arsenal came more into it, and the key moment of the first half came when Boulahrouz fouled Baptista in the box. There was absolutely no doubt it was a foul, and no doubt it was a penalty, the only real decision was whether the Chelsea man should be sent off. My personal opinion, especially having been on the wrong end of a professional foul decision in Paris last season, is that if a penalty is awarded and converted, or if by playing advantage the team that’s fouled manages to score a goal, the referee should not send off the man. It seems harsh to penalise the offence twice. However, the rules being as they are, there was no doubt that the Dutch international had to go off. Gilberto, Arsenal captain in the absence of Henry, converted the spot kick.

At 1-0 down, and down to 10 men, the celebrations were already beginning in Manchester (and probably all over Surrey too). However when Joe Cole dribbled the ball out of play, miraculously Chelsea were awarded a corner kick. From the corner that should never have been, the ball was cleared, but it fell to Shaun Wright Phillips, adopted son of Ian Wright who turned his back on his family legacy for the sake of a few extra roubles in the pay packet. He delivered a fantastic cross (there really is no doubt about the boy’s talent, only his intelligence) and Essien managed to beat ex-Chelsea player Gallas to the ball and score. Doubts still exist over Gallas amongst Arsenal fans but he had three good chances to score against his old side and has unquestionably been Arsenal best central defender this season. It does make you wonder what Chelsea might have achieved with Essien in his favoured position of central midfield this season, though, and clearly Mourinho made an error in starting the season with only three central defenders (Terry, Boulahrouz and Carvalho). Looking at the Chelsea squad it’s clearly far too weighted in favour of midfielders, at the expense of forwards (they were reduced to bringing on an 18 year old) and defenders. It’s definitely cost them this season too.

Thankfully, good prevailed in the end and Chelsea were denied a win they never deserved. I bet Ashley Cole feels he made the right move now.



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