April 22, 2012
Well so much for optimism – it messes with the mind. I said yesterday that I thought that we’d be really up for this game and, unusually for me, I made my way to the ground reasonably confident that we would take the three points. The thing about optimism though, is that when it’s misplaced, it really can come back and punch you right in the back of the head. Now instead of munching my Sunday morning cornflakes while enjoying the re-run of MOTD, I’m sitting here in a fog of depression, going through all different permutations in my head of how we might not make it into the Champions League.
Right now, the most terrifying one (and therefore the one that I can’t block out) is how Spurs over-take us for third on the last day of the season, and the Chavs somehow manage to hold on for two more draws in Europe, win the thing on penalties, and therefore condemn us to the Europa League. Not content to stop there, my imagination likes to work through all the consequences…RvP, the Verminator, and Chesney all decide that they want Champions League football and leave for the money offered by the Chavs. Arsene decides that the squad we have is strong enough with Fabianski in goal, provided that we can convince Igor Stepanovs to come out of retirement. Pin-pointing my own crucial mistake of being over-confident and somehow transmitting this to the players (not sure how exactly, sometimes my imagination can be a bit sketchy on technicalities), I blame myself, and my life descends into a spiral of self-destruction, as I lose my job and my friends. I end my days shaking my head and whispering over and over again “Why did we play with the handbrake on?”
At the end of yesterday’s game, my brother commented that we’d just witnessed a typical “end-of-season” match. On leaving the ground I also heard “lack-lustre”, “lethargic”, “thinking about their holidays”. All pertinent comments, but I don’t really understand how either club could have let that happen. This was a London derby with the Chavs, with both teams needing points to try to secure Champions League for next season.
In many ways, the signs were there from the kick-off. Chavmeister Terry won the toss, and decided to swap ends so we had kick-off. I tried to remember a time when I’d seen a game kick-off and the opposition not touch the ball for the entirety of the first four minutes. It was obvious Chelsea were going to be content to sit off and let us have the ball. I think we were a little bit surprised by that. Faced with an opposition that didn’t really want the ball, we had no one to hassle and harry, no need to inject pace into our play, and inevitably the pace dropped. Watching both teams roll the ball around the back four, it was like watching an International qualifier (ie. slow and boring), and I had the feeling that this would be a game of few chances.
By slowing down the game,Chelsea also succeeded in subduing the atmosphere. In recent games the Emirates has found its voice, pushing the team forwards as the sound rolls down from those immense stands, willing a winner to come, as it eventually did against Newcastle. But the Emirates is still a youngster and its confidence is easily dented. When the players are pumped up and flying into tackles, the crowd breathes in that energy, fills its lungs, sticks out its chest, and throws it back out to the team to spur them on further. When the game slows however, and the players are in need of inspiration, the Emirates can become nervous and quiet, and I think the experienced Chelsea players used that to good effect yesterday.
Chelsea had set themselves up not to concede, with two defensive midfielders (Essien and Romeu) in front of the back four. They were hoping to catch us on the break, or get a set piece, but as I mentioned yesterday, Torres is no Drogba (he looked almost as slow as Terry), and I felt that Chelsea rarely looked a threat. As Arsene pointed out on the BBC, it was a surprising tactic
They locked the game completely. They had to win as well but tried to lock the game, catch us on the break…the draw was not good for them either…we were a bit unlucky with our chances. We knew would have few chances but they had none, zero.
It is true that we did have a few good chances. In the first half, the Ox won a free kick, and Theo whipped in a great ball to RvP at the far post, where any kind of contact would have put us into the lead. I still can’t believe he missed it. Again from a free kick, Kos hit the bar with a very good header, but the rebound was scrambled away. In the second half, RvP snatched at a couple of difficult chances. They were the kind of opportunities where you wouldn’t expect a striker to finish, but RvP has set the bar so high this year that you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.
The other major taking point was our shout for a penalty. Gervinho (who I thought added something to our play when he replaced the injured Theo) crossed for RvP, and as he was moving towards the ball there was contact with Cahill and he went to ground. I wasn’t surprised that Mike Dean didn’t give it. For a start, it wasn’t Gareth Monkey Face Bale or Ashley Young hitting the turf. But the way Dean justified his decision afterwards made me think that he may well have got another big decision wrong. By pointing out that he had clearly seen RvP back into Cahill, it reminded me of how he repeatedly insisted that he’d seen contact on Bale when he’d given him the penalty against us. We know that wasn’t true, as there obviously wasn’t any contact that day, and looking at the replays on MOTD this morning, you can clearly see that Robin doesn’t push into Cahill at all but Cahill does give Robin a shove in the back. Typically, MOTD decided not to analyse that incident at the end, which makes me even more convinced that they have a camera angle that shows it was a clear penalty.
It was not to be, and that left us to trudge away from the stadium thinking about what might have been. My biggest fear was that Arsene would start banging on about how we played with the handbrake on again, and true to form he didn’t disappoint. I don’t know why this analogy annoys me so much. Maybe it’s because he has used it so many times this season, and for me, most of the time, what he should have been saying was that we didn’t show enough desire to win the game. Strangely, I actually thought the analogy worked yesterday, as although I felt the players were prepared to put in the necessary effort, there was a little spark of something that was missing (the kind of spark that hopefully next year little Jack will be able to provide).
And so I was doomed to my night of depression…except that salvation was provided from the most unlikely of sources – Spurs contriving to lose against 10 man QPR. A more optimistic friend texted me last night to try to add a little bit of perspective, saying that he would be surprised if Newcastle caught us (so would I considering that they tried to time-waste their way to a 1-1 draw after just 30 minutes when they played us – hardly Champions League material in my book) and adding that Spurs look like they have snatched a Europa League spot from the jaws of 3rd place. Let’s hope so, and let’s hope that even in our darkest days we will always have Spurs to laugh at.