A real feelgood factor reverberates around Stamford Bridge at the moment. A clearly delighted owner (who is STILL not bored — sorry!) is entertaining Chelsea alumni and American movie stars in his box, the current Chelsea team are playing with smiles on their faces and a swagger that only top spot and an average of two and a half points a game can give you and a manager is flinging himself with unbridled joyous abandon into the welcoming arms of the adoring SW6 faithful.
After Alonso’s goal settled the nerves, the Chelsea fans serenaded Arsene Wenger who sat stoically in the East Middle — he was probably wishing his own fans were as keen as we were on his continued tenure at Arsenal. Meanwhile, the various anti/pro Wenger factions traded blows in the away end: this is a club in disarray and potentially on the brink of a full-on civil war.
As an outsider looking in, I find it bewildering that not only is Wenger still in a job but has actually been offered yet another extension. I understand that given what he has achieved with the club he wants to leave on his own terms and ideally on a high, but he has had ample opportunity to do that and has stubbornly refused. Those in charge must realise that Wenger is no longer the man to move the club forward — no longer captain of the ship — he is now the helmsman steering the ship towards the iceberg. It almost makes you feel sorry for the Arsenal fans.
But Arsenal fans are, on the whole, an unpalatable lot. On Saturday, they mocked Fabregas as he warmed up — a player they really should regard as a legend — a player they had the opportunity to re-sign but chose not to; a player still head and shoulders more talented, more competitive, more ambitious than many of their current players. He showed his class by not rising to the bait or celebrating his goal. A goal which was as ridiculous as Hazard’s was sublime — a goal for gleeful gloating and mirth, and for abject misery and humiliation, depending on which side of the fence you sit.
But let’s focus on the sublime — Hazard’s extraordinary solo effort reminded me so much of another diminutive Chelsea genius — the day Gianfranco Zola gave Julian Dicks twisted blood — although the Belgian didn’t leave just one player in his wake but at least six Arsenal players looking around asking “what the hell just happened?”
Hazard hadn’t even had a particularly good first half — he looked as though he was carrying an injury — but then, boom, he does that. It was one of those goals where you watch almost in slow motion; he feigns past two players, you half stand, he rolls a third, you grab the arm of the person next to you, he shimmies past four and five, your eyes go wide and finally he bewilders the final two by deftly threading that ball through the eye of a needle and into the back of the net — cue pandemonium where you end up on the floor three rows ahead of where you started from, with shins that are going to be black and blue in the morning. You’ve lost your phone and you have a ridiculous smile on your face.
So nine points clear and some Chelsea fans are trying to work out where we’ll win it — Everton seemed to be the consensus of many — but I will not enter this very dangerous debate. Of course we are in an amazing position and it would have to be quite a fall but all fans should know that you never tempt the footballing gods of fate. They can be a mischievous bunch, just ask Stevie Gerrard. One thing is for sure, you won’t be seeing Chelsea FC Premier League champions 2016/17 scarves and t-shirts outside Stamford Bridge until the other teams need snookers.
Conte’s job is now even trickier — keep up the confidence, work-rate etc, but ensure we don’t fall foul of arrogance and a belief that the job is all but done. But he’s obviously a man with a sensible head on his shoulders, and a man of experience — we seem to have hit the jackpot as far as managers this season. And to think Abramovich pursued Guardiola so relentlessly — given the opportunity now, would he swap?
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