However, with this being the first of five awkward awaydays, immediately following our midweek Europa League adventures, there was no mistaking the significance of yesterday’s encounter, as a third successive defeat on the road might well set a calamitous tone for our entire season.
Despite our FA Cup and Community Shield success against Conte’s side at Wembley, horrific memories of recent humiliations at the Bridge made for a less than optimistic mood, which was hardly bolstered by the pre-match revelation that neither Özil nor Alexis featured in the starting XI. I could perhaps understand the logic of including a workaholic Welbeck, with Alexis sadly still such a long way from firing on all cylinders. Yet as demonstrated, in an otherwise dire display against Cologne in midweek, even when at his worst, the wantaway Chilean is still capable of conjuring up that one inspirational moment of world class genius that Sunday’s encounter was crying out for.
By contrast, seemingly shorn of all last season’s confidence, Iwobi’s benign display against the Bundesliga outfit, left us all baffled by his selection and Wenger only compounded this apparent error, by failing to acknowledge Iwobi’s impotence until his 80th-minute substitution.
Without the psychological baggage of our abysmal record of late against top six opposition and our lily-livered performances at the Bridge in particular, I was counting on the likes of Lacazette and Kolasinac, as the most likely source of a game changing contribution. In truth, if I was a Chelsea fan, I would’ve been disappointed by the home side’s failure to try and take more of an advantage of the Gunners’ recent fragility on the road, by steaming into us with a little more intent right from the off.
There was a cagey timidity about both sides early on, which spoke volumes as to their limited confidence levels and the fact that neither outfit has produced the sort of prolific flowing football coming from the Mancunian competition. After our embarrassing capitulation at Anfield, most Gooners would’ve gladly settled for the draw against Chelsea that might at least enable us to redeem some badly needed pride. And it was somewhat refreshing to see a Gunners side set their stall out, focused first and foremost on not throwing the game away.
Kolasinac’s “tank” nickname couldn’t be more appropriate and the Bosnian’s rugged style seems to be rubbing off on his colleagues, as the Gunners have finally begun to remember how to push back.
Albeit that this was the source of much frustration in our corner of Stamford Bridge, as ref Oliver appeared to be suckered into awarding free-kicks, every time Morata and co. hit the deck at the slightest physical contact.
We spent most of the first-half paying homage to our subs as they stretched their legs on the sidelines directly in front of us. Not that our obdurate manager was about to be influenced into introducing some more firepower at the break, by our adoration of first Alexis and then Giroud. By contrast, the only reference to Walcott was by way of teasing Hazard “you’re just a sh*t Theo Walcott”.
It was perhaps indicative of the Premiership’s direction of travel, where the fear of defeat has become so incredibly intense that the two most talented players, Hazard and Alexis, were both left parked on the bench. While neither player was deemed sufficiently responsible to graft for 90 minutes, both managers eventually called on their star turns for a 20-minute cameo, in the hope they might take advantage of flagging limbs and convert one point, into three.
Wenger never fails to confound with his “give with one hand, take with another” substitutions. Yet while we might’ve failed to sufficiently trouble Courtois, there was plenty of consolation in the resilience shown at the other end of the park and with far less arduous opposition to come, the point earned from an all too rare clean sheet affords us some much needed confidence to build on.