An inauspicious beginning

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea

Didier Drogba - 8'
Didier Drogba - 57'
Francesc Fabregas - 65'

You know, despite the English press tripping over themselves to poetically fellate this Chelsea side (and to anoint them champions of this season already), and despite the at-times humbling nature of this contest, I still come away from this with perhaps more hope and determination then many of my colleagues would. I'll explain why, but first the lineups...

The Gunners: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Philippe Senderos (Pascal Cygan 72), Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane (Justin Hoyte 78) - Robert Pires (Gilberto Silva 45), Francesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini (Aleksandr Hleb 45), Fredrik Ljungberg (Jose Antonio Reyes 72) - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp (Robin van Persie 45)

Funded With Russian Blood Money: Petr Cech - Asier Del Horno, William Gallas, John Terry, Paulo Ferreria - Claude Makelele - Damien Duff (Joe Cole 74), Frank Lampard (Njitap Geremi 90), Arjen Robben (Shaun Wright-Phillips 69) - Didier Drogba (Hernan Jorge Crespo 59), Eidur Gudjohnsen (Cardoso Tiago 58)

Yes, two defensive mistakes from young Phil Senderos (and some poor attacking play in the final third) consigned us to defeat in a game that we otherwise could have won in relatively easy fashion. Seriously, besides the two goals (both preventable when we're on form) and the Lampard thunderbolt (that Lehmann did well to parry away), what exactly did the great Chelsea contribute to the match, otherwise? I can't seem to find anywhere on the net to find actual statistics for the game (seriously, is "stats" a dirty word in Europe?), but the final shots on goal tally was quite in Arsenal's favor, if memory serves. That said, don't get me wrong. I know that Chelsea's game isn't the same as ours...we're the Mike Tyson-type knockout artists, they're a Bernard Hopkins-type counter-puncher. And, it has to be said that they play their style very well -- they deflect and dodge their way out of the worst danger, and then put away most of the counterattacking opportunities that they get. In a sense, it's why they're far more frustrating to play against than anyone else...even Manchester United doesn't have that aura of invincibility any more.

But, if this is the best they got, then they'll be vulernable against us, the aforementioned pricks who also wear red, Liverpool, and maybe even Middlesbrough and Newcastle. As good as Makelele and their back four are, as good as Cech is in goal, they can't get four shots on goal per game (or whatever it was) and expect to coast by the other big clubs in the league. Look, I know that if they play Charlton and Wigan 100 times, they'd probably win 80 and draw 19, even on today's form. That said, despite the media cocksucking for Chelsea and what I'm sure will be the usual from the Arseblog Forum Moan Brigade (we're shit, we should have bought another 20 players, we should sell Senderos for 20 quid and a bag of balls, and other assorted nonsense), at the end of the day, you can't tell that much from a friendly where both teams are emptying their benches by the 75th minute. If Chelsea turns us over again in two weeks' time, then we'll have something to discuss. But, even with that, I think that this year's title race will come down to who loses the least amount of points to the teams that they shouldn't be losing to or drawing with. You know what killed us last season? It wasn't losing twice against the Manchester Buccaneers...it was drawing Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Brom. It was getting 1 point out of 4 from Bolton.

Anyway, the particulars of the match. Despite the fact that the boys in yellow came out a bit flat, we would have been all right if we could have gone 15-20 minutes scoreless. Unfortunately, Senderos misjudged a ridiculously-long pass from Del Horno, allowing Didier "He's Still a Waste of Money" Drogba in behind him. To his credit, Drogba finished well with his chip over Lehmann. Still, 95% of the time, Senderos clears that away with no problem. Worse than going down 0-1 was going down 0-1 just 8 minutes into the fray. That meant that we were forever chasing the game, which is very difficult to do against Chelsea's defensive front. If it were scoreless, they'd have to push more men forward, and that would leave more open spaces for Arsenal's passing attack. That said, if Arsenal were on form in the first half, there would have been more chances. The passing lanes were there to be had, but it seems like every third pass would end up juuuuuuust out of the range of its target. That'll happen from time to time, of course, but this was chronic and consistent. So, once they went up a goal, Chelsea spent much of the first half with 9 men back. To their credit, they did a great job of fending off what little danger the Arsenal could muster.

Unfortunately, that meant little entertainment in an environment that, to put it frankly, sucked ass in the first place. For whatever reason, the most vocal of the New York Gooners were not present...combine that with the fact that there were a metric ton of stupid cunts in blue shirts who probably didn't know what Nevada Smith's was two years ago, and it was a little much to take at times. Much like the Arsenal team on the pitch, most of the Arsenal supporters at the pub sat there and took it as the Chelsea "supporters" gleefully took the piss for 45 straight minutes. It wasn't any fun, I'll tell you that much.

By the way, a word about the referee - I thought that Howard Webb allowed "letting them play" to degenerate into "rugby match" far too often during this game, but the one thing you can say for him is that he was consistent. He let the same stuff go for us that he did for them, though I think he made some mistakes for both sides.

On the bright side, Toure forced a tremendous save out of Cech - it's only too bad that it was him who had the time and space instead of Henry or DB10. A better finisher would probably have buried it, but it was nice to see that Kolo can be a threat as well. Also, I thought that Lehmann had a fine outing today...there was nothing he could have done on either goal, but he saved perhaps several more by rushing out at the right times, and he looked very good in his forays out to catch crosses.

So, halftime then, and it wasn't exactly a half to remember. The midfield looked very lightweight in the center with the pairing of Fabregas and Flamini...perhaps in 3 years that will be our first-choice pairing, but for the moment they just can't handle the likes of Chelski together. Flamini was downright invisible, as were Pires and DB10. Wenger astutely subbed all three out at halftime, with the major difference-maker being Gilberto. Hleb had a pretty fine outing himself, and van Persie was decent as well. But, Gilberto immediately added strength and presence to the midfield, and from then on, most of the action was in the Dark Side's end of the field.

Then, the stake in the heart.

Again, another long ball into our area caused confusion, as both Senderos and Toure were caught in no-man's land. Somehow, Drogba beat them both to it, and fended off the attempts of Senderos and Lehmann to slow him down. I hate to admit it, but I wouldn't have complained that much if Webb had called a penalty after Senderos' challenge. That said, while Drogba got past those two, Lauren had a real shot to clear the danger away, and he simply out-and-out missed it. To be honest, it was a shoddy piece of defending, and it's the reason why Drogba scored. So, 2-0 then, and an almost visible pall fell upon the Arsenal supporters in the pub. It's always a major letdown when your side only gives up 2 shots on goal in 60 minutes, and yet you find yourself down two goals. That said, Senderos was quite a bit at fault for both. But, my feeling is that this is the worst game he'll play all season...good thing that he got it out of the way in this competition instead of one of the meaningful ones, eh? After the second goal, Chelsea were almost punchless in attack - it's odd to imagine from a club that brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips and Hernan Crespo and still had Duff and Lampard out there. But, they spent most of the balance of the match defending, and going offside the rare times they got the ball. Again, with nobody actually bothering to include stats in their match reports, I don't have an exact number of how many times they flailed against the offside trap and lost...my guess would be somewhere between 8-10, though.

The chink in Chelsea's armor showed just a little bit about 5-6 minutes later, though. Some nice passing found Freddie alone on the right, and while his cross wasn't the best, it bounced around to Fabregas. He didn't have the best of games besides, but Cesc did very well to turn the loose ball into the net to give us something to cheer about, and to make the rest of the match a lot more interesting. The worst thing that could have happened was a 2-0 loss that the cunts in blue made look easy...it's all we'd hear about for 3 months afterwards.

After that, though, the subs came on in force, and the match lost more than a bit of its bite and spark. Cygan replaced Senderos, and instantly, Chelsea looked that much more threatening. Sure, Senderos had two mistakes that cost us, but forgotten in that was the fact that he also made some great challenges, and generally looked pretty decent otherwise. Cygan, for his part, looked exactly like the shambling automaton that he is, and I'm more than a little shocked that we didn't concede again with a back four of Cole-Cygan-Toure-Hoyte.

All of this said, we'll see what the story is in two weeks. I am more than a little confident that those cunts in blue (both on the pitch and in the pub) won't be singing in quite as fine a voice when we come back around. See you then, bitches.


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