Chelsea’s 4-0 victory against Brentford was a poignant one because it came just 24 hours after Arsenal’s miserable exit at the hands of Blackburn Rovers, a match that ended with Wenger being booed and suggestions from some quarters that it may be time for him to move on.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez has become used to exactly the same kind of treatment since he arrived in West London but not even his harshest critic would suggest he is a man who fails to understand the value of silverware.
The Spaniard trotted out his routine patter about ‘taking one game at a time’ and ‘finishing in the top four’ being the priority in his post-match press conference but the team he fielded against opponents who play in League One proved he understands how important the FA Cup can be to a side’s development — and a manager’s survival chances.
On paper the four-goal victory looked routine; for the last half hour it probably was. But Brentford, led magnificently in midfield by former Republic international Jonathan Douglas, proved tactically-adept competitors and would have gone ahead before half-time if referee Neil Swarbrick had been more alert. Marcello Trotta had the ball in the net for the Bees only to see play brought back for a free-kick to his own team when the correct decision was surely to play on.
It took a moment of magic from Juan Mata to turn the game watched from the stands by Roman Abramovich on a rare visit.
The Spaniard’s sublime finish from the edge of the area justified his manager’s decision to start his star player rather than offering him a rest in contrast to Wenger who left Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla on the bench against Blackburn and paid a heavy price.
The goal broke Brentford’s resolve, with Chelsea eventually sweeping to victory as Oscar and Lampard scored from close range and John Terry — returning to the side after being omitted for the Europa League trip to Sparta Prague — headed home a fourth.
“We knew they would work hard and we know that scoring the first goal could be the difference,” said Benitez. “So I was pleased to score four goals and create chances.
“Mata is a very important player for us but also I was pleased with Oscar and the rest of the team. We have good players and if they can find each other then they can make the difference and Mata is the link. But the main thing is the team doing well, winning games; four goals and a clean sheet!”
Benitez also shot down reports, printed in a Sunday newspaper, that he had fallen out with captain Terry following a dressing-room argument over the defender’s form.
“We were surprised with the comments. It was totally rubbish,” he said. “We didn’t have any problem. We were talking just about football with the team, he was training yesterday and everything was fine. So I was really, really surprised and disappointed with the story.”
Terry, too, was back to his diplomatic best, saying: “It was good to get on the scoresheet and good to be back. The manager knows me and I want to play. I have been out for two or three months [with a knee injury], but the other two [centre-backs] have been doing well. It’s good to have competition.”
Only time will tell how long Terry’s patience will last; especially as Benitez re-confirmed his policy that the former ‘untouchable’ will have to fight hard to earn his place.
Unlike Arsene, Benitez can at least see light at the end of the tunnel; because that’s what the glitter of silverware can do for you.
CHELSEA: Cech 6, Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Terry 7, Cole 6, Luiz 6, Lampard 7 (Bertrand 80), Oscar 7, Mata 8 (Benayoun 76; 5), Moses 7 (Hazard 65; 6), Ba 6.
Subs not used: Turnbull, Ramires, Torres, Azpilicueta,.
BRENTFORD: Moore 6, Logan 8, Craig 6, Dean 6, Bidwell 6, Adeyemi 7, Diagouraga 6 (Reeves 73; 6), Douglas 8, Forshaw 8 (Saunders 78), Donaldson 7, Trotta 5 (Forrester 56; 6).
Subs not used: Lee, Barron, Hodson, Hayes.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).