Seemingly along with Paddy Power, who were offering new punters outrageous odds of 10/1 on an Arsenal win, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about our chances of success. But then sadly we’ve grown so accustomed to such miserable outings to the King’s Road in recent seasons that a lack of expectation is hardly surprising.
Still, hope continues to spring eternal and much like lemmings, we masochistically traversed the capital to endure the perennial punishment of this particular pantomime, in the belief that surely Mourinho’s hoodoo over Wenger has to be broken one of these days?
Gooners will point to Mike Dean as the person most responsible for pulling the plug on any prospects we might’ve had of hammering another nail into the coffin of Chelsea’s unconvincing start to their campaign, by finally vanquishing Arsène’s nemesis. It’s always incredibly galling when the man in the middle needlessly ruins the spectacle for the watching millions. Yet it was even more infuriating to see Gabby get his matching orders, when it was patently obvious to the entire planet that the principle protagonist was far more deserving of censure.
However, for all our bleating about Costa’s culpability, I’d love to have just such an animal playing in red and white, Although Gabby might well possess a streak of much-needed nastiness, we were no less irate at our Brazilian centre-half’s naivety, in falling hook, line and sinker for Costa’s customary antics. Should the resulting hoohaa result in a crackdown, sadly it will only be our competitors who are likely to profit against the Blues.
As was the case in Zagreb in midweek and on countless more occasions over the past decade, Saturday’s farce only served to highlight that the most significant missing link in our squad is, as always, the absence of a genuine leader. Our downfall against Dynamo was down to a comatose Arsenal, arrogantly sauntering around, as if they need only turn up to secure all three points.
A vocal captain might have inspired a more concerted and focused effort and his team-mates wouldn’t have dared display such a disrespectful attitude for fear of incurring his wrath. If we’d had a proper leader out on the park on Saturday, he might have intervened sooner to prevent Gabriel from becoming Costa’s patsy.
Yet I fear that without a massive stroke of luck, until such time as someone invents a means of measuring character on an Excel spreadsheet, Arsène will never chance upon a player with real personality.
Without this vital element, the Gunners might be doomed to remain in our Groundhog Day loop of underachievement. In a week when it was confirmed that we have £200m in the bank, it feels as if Arsène’s niggardly chickens might be coming home to roost.
Our Stamford Bridge medicine was much easier to swallow, when it was being dispensed by monster opposition, but thus far, this season’s incarnation of Mourinho’s outfit has proved mediocre. Consequently we appeared fairly comfortable at the back prior to Gabriel’s early bath, seemingly determined to thwart Chelsea with the sort of composed display, which might provide Petr Cech with the clean sheet that he must have been desperate for, on his first return to Stamford Bridge.
Sadly we were far from at our scintillating best going forward. Compared to the way in which we peppered the Potters’ goal last week, we were positively shot-shy on Saturday, with only Walcott’s half-hearted attempt to show for our first-half efforts. Nevertheless, it was an evenly-matched contest until Mike Dean took centre stage.
Having firmly established himself as the most essential cog in the Arsenal engine, Coquelin was the very last player any of us expected Arsène to sacrifice at the break and our prospects of grinding out a draw evaporated when Franny was withdrawn.
Seeing Zouma rise unchallenged to head home the opening goal, I had to wonder why Wenger bothered bringing on Chambers. As porous as Chelsea’s defence has been, at least their centre-backs demonstrated on Saturday that they are sufficiently well-drilled to know better than to leave the opposition’s aerial threat unmarked!
Santi’s expulsion quashed any remaining vestige of hope and we had to settle for spending the remaining 10 minutes venting our staunch defiance vocally, in an effort to aid a nine-man Arsenal over the finishing line with our unstinting support, teasing the hushed home crowd with a chorus of “is this the Emirates?”
Normally I wouldn’t be too desperate for success from a second XI in the Mickey Mouse Cup. Yet it would be unconscionable to follow our defeat in the Champions League and against Chelsea with a cup exit at White Hart Lane and I really wouldn’t fancy travelling to Filbert Street with our tails between our legs, to meet a buoyant Leicester.
I wonder what price one could have obtained from the bookies before the season started for Ranieri to finish the campaign looking down on the Gobby One?