Where to even start?
Usually when I write, besides some preliminary research about the fixture and the odd snippet that springs to mind over the course of the game, I’ll write the day after because it brings some balance and/or sanity to my reflections. I have absolutely no interest in doing that today.
This is one of those few times where you can just revel in the moment – it might be another draw but it is the absolute best kind of draw. First half red card, compounded by a converted penalty. Brazilian wonder-kid pegs them back in exactly the kind of manner we’ve come to expect from him. Game on.
Azpilicueta and that shit-eating grin. You fear the worst. Flashbacks to 28th December, more late heartbreak. ENTER CAPTAIN. Absent for much of the season, controversially replacing Ainsley who has been fantastic under Arteta, and he steps up when it matters most. Wipe that off your face César, and the rest of those muppets in the stands relentlessly booing Arsenal despite the fact Chelsea had two opportunities to play the ball into touch so Abraham could be treated. It was fairy-tale stuff and went some ways in healing the wounds from the first fixture.
This is what sprang to mind as soon as it went in. It might have been a different corner, but Chelsea seem to have form for letting our right backs waltz into a shooting position and have a go with their left foot. Nigel Winterburn also famously banged one in from distance but for the sake of consistency, today is about paying homage to our fan-favourite right backs.
It was so much more than these individual moments though – as a collective, they fought tooth and nail for that point and that is what the Premier League demands. Every player on that pitch put in a performance tonight – even Mustafi (and we will get to him, rest assured…), and I’d even go as far as saying that we looked better after going down to 10 men.
If I had to pick some standout performers, I’d be hard-pressed to even narrow it down. Martinelli for just doing all of the right things yet again, Saka for playing beyond his years, Hector for the ceremonious return, Xhaka for playing fantastically as a makeshift centre-back, Leno for keeping us in the game as he’s so often done.
As a starting player in our last victory at Stamford Bridge – back in 2011 – Arteta had some idea of what we’d be needing on the night. Any idea of what that might have entailed was quickly defenestrated, though – to the point where it’s almost pointless to discuss our performance prior to the sending off (we actually improved Post-Luiz).
And of course it would be Luiz – against Chelsea – to be on the receiving end. Obviously, the blame doesn’t lay at his feet though. The blame lies solely at the feet of a man who just bleeds calamity. You could argue that Luiz makes a bit of a meal of the challenge and should perhaps just let Chelsea score, but in the heat of the moment, you do your best and all eyes were on him after his surprise move north of the river.
And look – we’ve seen what can happen with scapegoated players having turnarounds, as has clearly been the case with Granit Xhaka under Arteta and while I don’t want to exclusively point the finger at Mustafi, I don’t feel that he’s as malleable (or salvageable). His propensity to make catastrophic errors has been proven time and again and no amount of emotional outpouring on social media seems to be able to rectify that. There just comes a point where you have to say “enough’s enough”, and Mustafi has long overstayed his welcome. It’s a shame because there’s so many technical qualities in his game; very good in the air, capable on the ball, he’s fairly quick and robust. It’s also a shame because other than the incident (and one or two misplaced passes after), he actually had a very good game – even bagged an assist! You just can’t say that outright though because of what happened. The one quality you absolutely, do not want in a defender, is calamity and nothing seems to change with him.
Under Emery, we very much felt like the architects of our own downfall. Arteta’s early reign seems quite the opposite so far; I really do feel like we’ve had some awful luck in these first run of games under him. Losing Chambers so early with a horrible injury, a few opposition red cards short – those lunging tackles on Pépé – a few penalties we might have had, penalties against us that weren’t.
The response after the red card really felt like a turning point. Besides a few nervy minutes as we tested the waters, we tightened up across the pitch and finally woke up. Much like the post-Jorginho portion of the match at the Emirates, Chelsea were keen to press and as much as they enjoyed possession, we stayed in the tie. You wondered who the sacrificial lamb might be, and Martinelli looked poised to make way but such was the response from the collective, Arteta resisted the urge to tinker.
You could say the manner in which we scored the first goal was fortuitous – the one day in his life that N’Golo Kanté makes a mistake. Take absolutely nothing away from Martinelli though, because what he’s done and what he continues to do is bordering on incredible. Having anticipated what was unfolding faster than Emerson, setting off from inside his own box, he only seemed to have one thing on his mind. Such is football, you rarely get opportunities to see such a lengthy sprint from a player, especially when they’re carrying the ball the entire length of the pitch (which is no easy feat when you have players bearing down on you). He was just completely unfazed though, to the point where I’m struggling to understand how we’ve landed this kid. Pépé was even to his right and while I’m sure he knew he was there, he only had eyes for goal. Given the occasion, the venue, the run and the finish, it’s one of our best goals of the season for me and if not for Bellerín’s timely entry, was the loudest I’ve celebrated a goal in quite some time.
And while we’re on the matter, what a moment for Hector. 367 days since that injury – against Chelsea – and he goes and does that. You know it’s a good finish when it nestles into the inside of the side netting, and to do that on your weak foot is no small feat. Chelsea’s reluctance to close him down also reminded me of one Ray Parlour, back in the 2002 FA Cup Final, with Tim Lovejoy proclaiming “it’s only Ray Parlour”, as he proceeded to curl one in from 25 yards. With any luck, Tim was also watching last night.
Arteta was glowing after the game, and rightly so. He spoke about belief and leadership and contrary to the narrative we so often have to endure, there was an abundance of fight. While I have my doubts about certain individuals within this squad, as a collective under Arteta’s stewardship, I’m optimistic. While our chances remain slim of achieving anything noteworthy this season, we are starting to show some signs of being able to compete again and I think that’s all the reassurance people needed. No one expected us to get over Wenger overnight, but we needed to see signs of progress and for the first 18 months after, we just didn’t see that. If at first, you don’t succeed…
Oh, and if they haven’t done so already, Raul and Co. need to throw money at Martinelli. Whatever the kid wants, give it to him. I don’t know how much money we’ve wasted on letting the likes of Sanchez, Ramsey and Sczcesny leaving on free transfers/pittances but even if we don’t see Martinelli’s best years, we need to make sure we’re compensated for his true value. It’s still very early days but I think we may have something special.
Until next time.