So, Arsenal proved themselves as a better team than Chelsea last night – a feat accomplished only by Manchester United so far this season, and it is a measure of Jose Mourinho’s legacy that you find it awkward to accept that Chelsea are not capable of winning the Premier League title.
Chelsea’s decline can be attributed to a number of reasons – Mourinho’s departure, the strengthening of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and the league in general (look at how far teams like Everton, Blackburn, Portsmouth and Manchester City have come along in recent years), opposition learning how to play against ‘Chelsea-football’ and their inability to find able deputies for key players (an area that Arsenal and to a certain extent, Manchester United, have excelled in).
It’s quite interesting to see how top teams change their strategies when playing against other top teams – even Arsenal, a team often criticised for not having a plan B, are seen shifting gears when the go up against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. Arsenal’s playing strategy against Chelsea is worth mentioning – they have learned, from the Carling Cup final at the start of this year to the clash at the Emirates last night (and, I believe, from watching Chelsea’s last two encounters at Old Trafford), that getting under Chelsea’s skin by standing up to them physically and giving them a taste of their own medicine is winning 50% of the battle.
It’s not easy but with players like Fabregas and Flamini (both feisty fighters, a characteristic that Silva and Denilson lack and Diaby cannot channel properly) in the middle, Eboue and Clichy (again, two strong-willed characters) and Gallas (a egotistical bastard but one who responds to big challenges) leading from the back, Arsenal have undergone a transformation in the last two seasons that goes far beyond ‘getting over Henry’s loss’.
This is an Arsenal team with balls of steel, and while they’re not invincible (as recent matches have shown), they are a damned improvement over the Arsenal side of the last 2 years, and for that Arsenal fans will feel that they have an excellent chance at the title (and in the Champions League) this season.
And Chelsea? Chelsea are too good a team to be outside the top four at the end of the season and will do well in the Champions League one feels, but Roman’s refusal to let Mourinho run Chelsea his way coupled with the improvement of their main rivals means that they are, as far as the Premier League is concerned, third-best.