Chelsea vs. Arsenal : 21 January 2020.
The bookends to the week were the two trips to the north, to the river cities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Kingston-upon-Hull. Tucked in the middle was the home game with a team from North London. Islington-upon-Woolwich anyone?
If anything, the Chelsea vs. Arsenal game could have come a day later. My head was still full of the fun memories of three days and two nights in Newcastle in the way that such trips take over our thoughts and minds for a while. The Tuesday evening game came a little too soon for me. On the journey into London I admitted to PD, Parky and Simon “good job this is against Arsenal, a match with a much lesser team would leave me rather underwhelmed.”
A lot was being made on all of Chelsea Football Club’s social media sites about it being the two hundredth game between the two sides. I quickly did some research, I delved into “the spreadsheet” and discovered that the game would be my sixty-seventh such game, though that included the pre-season friendly in Beijing in 2017, so I am sure that the club were not counting that one.
So it would be “officially” match number sixty-six out of two-hundred.
That made me gulp. But I am sure I must know of fellow fans who must be close to 100 of the 200 games. Fantastic stuff.
So, sixty-six Chelsea vs. Arsenal matches with games at Highbury, Stamford Bridge, Cardiff, Wembley, The Emirates and Baku.
Six venues. The most that I have ever seen us play another team.
The first game? Easy. That season opener in 1984. It was so famous that a book has been written about it.
Game sixty-six followed the usual midweek pattern.
Pub one, pints of lager, pub two, bottles of lager, game.
The kick-off time for this match was 8.15pm. Another “I hate modern football” moment coming up. This is 2020 – and 2015 in 2020 – and not many football fans live close to their home stadia these days. This isn’t 1930 when most of Chelsea’s match-going fans lived a short distance away, and Stamford Bridge was reachable by foot, by bus, by tube. In the pubs, we had spoken to friends from Wiltshire, from Warwickshire, from all points of the compass.
8.15pm, fucking hell. I wouldn’t be home until 1.30am.
We were in with a few minutes to spare. I spotted the appearance of a new – I think – crowd-surfing banner drifting along in The Shed Upper.
“PRIDE OF LONDON” with cups a-plenty.
Six of them.
A beautiful sight.
A quick run through of the team.
Azpilicueta – Rudiger – Christensen – Emerson
Kante – Kovacic
Willian – Abraham – Hudson-Odoi
Arsenal were their usual assortment of bit players with the letter Z in their surnames…Luiz, Lacazette, Ozil, Guendouzi, Martinez…like the last players to be picked at school football maybe?
A relatively cold night, people were wrapped up, some with quite hideous and ill-fitting headwear.
“Fuck me, it’s not that cold” I thought to myself on many occasions.
After the heartache of the last minute loss at St. James’ Park, one thing was agreed in car and pub.
“We gotta win this one tonight.”
Three thousand away fans and I could not spot a single flag nor banner.
I bet they could not be Arsed.
We began well.
The first player to catch the eye – and it pleased me – was Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right. He was playing with tons more confidence, tons more urgency, tons more energy. It was if he had been given a kick up the arse. He looked a different player to the reticent one on Saturday.
“We need to feed him.”
It was all Chelsea in the first fifteen minutes with a few raids and chances created. It was a promising start. Efforts from Kovacic, Christensen and Abraham threatened Leno in the Arsenal goal. Then, a lofted “dink” from Hudson-Odoi from an angle fell on top of the bar. We were not completely sure that he meant it. But it was certainly a bright start.
I wasn’t particularly happy with all the boos that David Luiz was receiving from a sizeable section of the home support.
But then it seemed that he became the focus for a few minutes, involved in a couple of rugged challenges.
I commented to Simon alongside me “he’s going to implode tonight.”
And then Arsenal came into it the game and enjoyed a little spell.
On twenty-five minutes, a ball was pumped up early for Tammy to run onto. Mustafi made a hash of a back-pass, and our centre-forward pounced. His first touch took him past Leno, and it appeared that he just had to keep his composure and stroke it in to an unguarded net. He knocked it wide, took one or two touches but was then flattened from behind by David Luiz.
An easy penalty.
And a red card to the player in red.
All of a sudden the Chelsea choir changed tunes.
“Oh David Luiz, you are the love of my life…”
Would Jorginho keep to form and hop his way towards the ball, stop, then punch the ball to Leno’s left.
This is exactly what happened.
Leno had done his homework, but Jorginho’s placement was perfect. The dive was strong, but the ball won.
Chelsea 1 Arsenal 0.
Alan, though : “They’ll have to come at us now, blood.”
Chris, though : “Come on my little diamonds, fam.”
Very soon, a new song.
“David Luiz. He’s one of our own.”
The Bridge had not exactly been a riot of noise, but at last the home support was stirred.
“Super Frankie Lampard.”
…mmm, we haven’t heard that for a while, eh?
A well-worked one-two between N’Golo Kante and Hudson-Odoi, but the volley was just too near Leno. Efforts from Rudiger and Kovacic did not trouble the Arsenal ‘keeper further.
Just before half-time, Arsenal made me chuckle.
“Is this a library?”
Fucking hell, talk about irony.
It would have been a lot funnier if they had followed it up with “is this The Emirates”?
At the break, there was the time-honoured worry about us only being 1-0 up despite having dominated. It just felt that a list of half-chances had gone to waste. But there were a fair few positives in that first-half. Kante was sublime, and Kepa was untroubled.
The second-half began. There was a typically errant piece of distribution from Kepa but it ironically set off a ridiculously long piece of possession that seemed to go on and on for ever. At last the move petered out. In fact, many of our moves did the same. Lots of possession, the ball being passed around on the edge of the box, but sadly no end product. The natives began to get restless.
It was, after all, eleven men against ten.
On the hour, and from a Chelsea corner down below us from Willian, the ball was headed out and Arsenal began a counter. Martinelli raced past Emerson, but just as the last man Kante was moving into position there was a fateful slip. The Arsenal forward had a clean route on goal. Inside the box he calmly side-footed past Kepa, bollocks.
Was it their first shot on goal?
A red flare was set off inside the away section of the Shed Lower.
I decided to stand for much of the rest of the game. It felt that I needed to expel some energy, some nerves, and – you know what? – I find that hard to do when I am meekly sat on a seat.
It just ain’t football to be sat for ninety minutes.
I needed to move my limbs, to get a bit agitated, to step up and down, to feel as though I would be better placed to join in with a song of support should the need arise. I wanted to head every cross, to kick every ball.
“Come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea.”
This was not a top quality game of football, but it had emotion and a drama, a little needle, and for once Stamford Bridge felt like a fucking football stadium once again.
Ross Barkley replaced Kovacic, and Mason Mount replaced N’Golo Kante.
We produced a few efforts on goal. Jorginho lofted the ball in to a packed box and a twisting leap from the substitute Barkley produced a header that deserved more. It was, sadly, well saved by Leno at his near post. The Arsenal custodian was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers.
“Come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea.”
Michy Batshuayi replaced Willian with ten to go.
“Two up front, good. Frank must have read my Newcastle blog.”
With only three minutes remaining, Tammy did ever so well to chase down a long ball and put an Arsenal defender under enough pressure to give away a corner.
I was certainly stood up now.
The corner was played short by Mason to Hudson and his low cross was aimed at a bevy of players inside the six-yard box. It was all a jumble of limbs, but Dave prodded home. Huge scenes, huge joy, and my immediate thoughts were of a strike from the same player in a similar position late in the Ajax game, and his ecstatic run towards our corner flag. I snapped away just like I did in November. After a while, I spotted Alan standing quietly…
Seeing his face dulled my emotions for a moment.
From what I remembered, Dave was onside. Surely not.
Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1.
And then, and then…with time running out, I watched as an Arsenal move developed. The ball was played to Hector Bellerin who shuffled towards the box. Two Chelsea players made half-hearted attempts to close down space, but one was the limping Tammy Abraham. I watched, disbelieving, as Bellerin stroked the ball through the space inside our penalty area. The ball rolled in slow-motion towards the far post. Just like at Newcastle on Saturday, I was in perfect line with the movement of the ball.
Inside my head : “this is going in.”
Chelsea 2 Arsenal 2.
Their second shot on goal?
Bizarrely, we still had one last chance to win it. A sublime cross on the right from Hudson-Odoi was played right in to the danger zone but Michy shanked it and the ball flew past the near post. It was a rare quality ball into the box. Throughout the night, during the second-half especially, our crossing was not up to much. Emerson again frustrated the hell out of me.
And again, we were up against ten men. They were playing with a man short for an hour. It was another frustrating night for sure, and there have been many this season.
No need for boos at the end though, eh?
After the midweek games, we would find ourselves six points clear in fourth place on forty points.
But no need for boos.
It’s Liverpool’s title. Leicester City and Manchester City are shoe-ins for an automatic Champions League place. We are ahead of the chasing pack.
Ah, the chasing pack. Not much of a pack, eh?
Manchester United are in fifth place on thirty-four points, just four points ahead of Newcastle United who are in fourteenth place.
It’s a lack-lustre season all round.
But no need for boos.
To be honest I am getting bored with many fans’ opinions about Chelsea Football Club these days. But here is the thing. The ones who are moaning about Frank, his naivety, his lack of nouse, his tactics, our dearth of quality strikers, our poor play…well, they are usually the ones that I find moaning on social media about TV programmes, about pot holes, about celebrities, about their work, about their play, about music, about schools, about youngsters, about the price of petrol, about current affairs, about modern life, about politics, about Brexit, about fucking everything.
Football used to be a release from the burdens and troubles of modern life.
Now it seems as if it is just a tedious part of it.
Come the revolution.
See you all at Hull.
Chelsea & Arsenal.