Do you remember the last time Chelsea played Arsenal in a competitive match and the football did the talking?
From comical identification mistakes that left Phil Dowd, sorry Andre Marrinier, sending off Kieran Gibbs despite 40,000 fans screaming otherwise, to one of the number of humorous albeit childish rows between Mourinho and Wenger, when you see that Chelsea are playing Arsenal you can almost guarantee a social media meltdown that has nothing to do with the quality of football.
Today was no different.
When a nonchalant cross from Azpilicueta fell safely into the hands of Petr Čech the game erupted in to new life despite already being an enthralling match up until that point.
The events, which should have seen Costa sent off for a flailing arm in the face of Koscielny, eventually saw a naïve Gabriel receive two yellow cards before play had even restarted from the initial incident.
First, Gabriel saw yellow, along with Costa, for getting involved in the initial ‘ruckus’. Then, before play had even resumed, Gabriel received a second yellow for appearing to drag his studs down Costa’s leg.
Chelsea had three points in the bag before the first whistle
The Costa/Gabriel incident will ultimately be what dictates the headlines and dominates fan forums and social media. In fact, it is what has governed the initial part of an article that was not even supposed to focus on the controversy. However, I think there is a point that will not, but should be dominating the headlines more, and that is once again Jose Mourinho had the better of Arsène Wenger right from the moment the team sheet landed in the hands of the officials.
The team Mourinho selected today was nothing short of perfect. Not particularly because it is the best team he had at his disposal, but it was the best team he had to beat the predicted Arsenal XI that would ultimately take the field.
Many Arsenal fans speculated that Walcott would be used as a lone striker to exploit the lack of pace from the two Chelsea veteran centre backs who would ‘inevitably’ start. Sanchez would also be used to technically outwit an inexperienced Baba Rahman who would ‘certainly’ come in for a poor Ivanović after his successful showing in the Champions League.
However, when the team sheet appeared in front of Wenger, and Terry had been left out for Zouma and Ivanović started at right back, he would have known that Mourinho had won the first battle of the day.
Zouma had been fielded to counteract the pace of Walcott while the ‘old shoulders’ of Cahill were there to tidy up any inexperience. Ivanović would come up against Sanchez who has always tried to cut inside and play through the middle, which would play right into the strengths of the full-back despite his poor form, which has seen him being left standing by just about every quick winger he has faced.
Change the team sheets and Arsenal dominate Chelsea in the first half. If Giroud starts, he tests the inexperience of Zouma. This would allow Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain to play out on the left and move Sanchez over to the right to give Azpilicueta a real test. One could then argue that Arsenal would win two of the three key battles in the final third as opposed to none. Essentially, Mourinho’s team selection had neutralised any Arsenal threat going forward and Wenger didn’t want to make wholesale changes to his team right after the first whistle sounded.
Sure, the events on the stroke of half-time would eventually see Chelsea handed an insurmountable advantage, but up until that point everything was a little bit foreign to the Stamford Bridge faithful anyway.
As the attacking threat from Arsenal was all but eliminated, Chelsea no longer had to think about breaking from the back, which they tend to do most of the time, even at home against the bigger teams under Mourinho. Instead, the blues had more of the ball, double the number of attempts on goal, and forced Čech to make four times the number of saves when compared to Begović.
Take out the red cards and personally I still couldn’t see any other result than a Chelsea win.
Although he’ll ultimately avoid the spotlight due to on-the-field events out of his control, surely the predictability of Wenger against Mourinho should be more of a focus come the return fixture at The Emirates on the 23rd January 2016.
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