Everybody knows one. Their most common basking ground is usually in working offices around England. Sometimes they are a friend of a friend. Disguising their bogus love for Chelsea is carried out by investing in CFC stationary, CFC woolly hats and CFC coffee mugs. One way to sniff out a counterfeit Blues fan is by asking them what teams are in their Champions League group, at which point a red face will be staring back at you. Once or twice a year, after Didier Drogba silences Arsenal, they come to the surface and begin to feast.
So what can be done about the Drogba dilemma? How can those pests be repelled who overrun our working day whenever he scores against Arsenal?
It would seem there is no answer. Whatever Arsenal try, Drogba finds a way to upset his favourite opponent. The media whisper in his ear that Arsenal are a soft touch. In the other lobe Drogba hears Arsenal cry foul about the roughness of the Premier League. Together it only feeds his craving for success every time this London fixture rolls around … as if he needed a second invitation.
Play too deep and Drogba will shove, pull, harass and hound a defence, right on top of their goal. His heading is exceptional and long balls are a danger. Play a high line and Drogba will reveal his pace through a willingness to make runs. He is able to do everything and over the years Arsenal have been stumped by this So valuable an asset is Drogba, that Chelsea can defend when they need to, and attack when they feel like it. Not only is Drogba technically gifted but he forces his opponent into changing the way they play, a puzzle that Arsenal are yet to crack.
Arsenal’s own game plan often ends in the same sorry fashion as say, one of Muhammad Ali’s opponents. Like Sonny Liston, George Foreman or Joe Fraizer, Arsenal worked hard. Not just through work rate, but by switching their brains on and thinking of ways to breach Chelsea; reading the game, that sort of thing. That too is work rate. Arsenal came in short sharp bursts, landing jab after jab, yet never fully finding an opening to put a haymaker on the home team.. John Terry and Alex were the size of Ali’s forearms. Nothing got through. In the later stages Arsenal’s tiredness showed. Chelsea won a cheap free-kick, they seized upon it and Arsenal hit the canvas.
Chelsea’s understanding of the game though was much simpler and required less mental input. Arsenal’s way of playing comes in great bursts over many broken periods in a season, a style that is hard to keep up for the full course. Chelsea’s way is much more economical. Sit back and soak up the pressure then make sure to put a sting in the tail by taking chances when they emerge, especially in clashes against the leagues strongest opponents. Is it no wonder then that Arsenal have a perpetual injury list? Might this be one reason for our backlog of strains, tears and pulls? While possession is ideal, it also means Arsenal receive plenty more tackles than they hand out.
Could Arsenal have followed up their short arm jab with their own killer blow had Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or even Thomas Vermaelen been on the pitch? A friend was pessimistic, insistent it was down to Arsene Wenger’s game plan and not the quality that was there. The last time North London trumped West though, it was via a special brace from RVP. Sure, Vermaelen would have given Drogba a run for his money, I mean, when was the last time the Frenchman had it hard playing against Arsenal? On the day Samir Nasri, one of Arsenal better finishers couldn’t hit the target. Even if RVP had played and delivered, the likelihood is Chelsea would have assessed that and altered their ways. Arsenal chose not to change a thing despite their unrewarded splendour.
Ali never just beat his man with conviction; he bore humiliation and added mockery to the parade. It mentally damaged, weakened and almost stripped a man of his masculinity, leaving them destabilised when they returned to the public eye. Arsenal are staring at the same problem. They have proven in past seasons that they can put aside the mental scars after major defeats and weave together unbeaten runs that slowly top up the confidence levels. Still, how much longer can they take a beating and recoil? Arsenal’s pride was dented enough before Chelsea floored them with the same old tactics on Sunday. The worry now is that this was one round to many for Arsenal to respond.