Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 25 Jan 2018
Having lived through Groundhog Gunners, Chelsea fan Giles Smith likes the look of the fixture schedule ahead, as he explains in this week’s column…
Is it me, or have we spent most of 2018 failing to beat Arsenal? As I sit here and scour my memory, I’m finding it hard to recall a moment this year when our team wasn’t, at some level, trying to find a way around a north London-based team under the charge of Arsene Wenger, and not managing it.
Oh, hang on: now that I really put my mind to it, there were those 90 glorious minutes of release against Brighton the other day, in the bracing sea air, with the frontline skipping around and pinging it about in a way not frequently seen outside of PlayStation games and the scenarios in advertisements for deodorant. There were four goals in that one, as I now recall, and at least two of them were candidates for end-of-season awards. And (correct me if I’m wrong) Arsenal weren’t anywhere to be seen.
Oh, yes, and didn’t we also spend a while playing Norwich in the FA Cup? I believe we did. Extra-time and penalties, wasn’t it? Something like that. And without Arsenal being involved at all.
But the truth is, it’s a real effort to pick those few, tiny, trembling details out in what is otherwise an unbroken sea of Arsenal, stretching from the dawn of time (or certainly the dawn of January) to the present day. Chelsea supporters have been condemned to spend the year so far trapped in some kind of terrible, Arsenal-related ‘Groundhog Day’ – one in which we play Arsenal on a loop-tape, over and over again, running all over them quite a lot of the time, and still don’t score. Or, to be more accurate, still don’t score enough. And, in this particular ‘Groundhog Day’, there is no Bill Murray, so it isn’t even funny.
Peculiar times – times, indeed, in which you start to question your own sanity. The year is but three and a bit weeks old and we’ve already endured a Premier League fixture away at Arsenal, the first leg of a Carabao Cup semi-final at home to Arsenal, and then the second leg of a Carabao Cup semi-final, away at... guess where? No! Wrong! It was at Arsenal. And we didn’t win.
I guess this is what tennis would refer to as ‘an epic three-setter,’ but what football refers to as a slightly unfortunate scheduling coincidence. ‘Slightly unfortunate’, that is, if you believe that variety is the spice of life, or certainly the spice of the football fixture list. And if you don’t much enjoy not beating Arsenal.
Indeed, I would possibly even go so far as to argue that this month has given us all the best glimpse since Dante (1265-1321) of what purgatory might look like. And what purgatory might look like is a Davide Zappacosta longshot coming back off the crossbar in the final minute, forever. Or it’s Alvaro Morata, one-on-one with Petr Cech, for the rest of your eternal life. Or it’s Eden Hazard speeding clear through to face David Ospina and somehow finding that one of his legs has tripped up the other one, in perpetuity. And, in that time, we never beat Arsenal.
But look on the bright side. Sunday is another game – and it isn’t against Arsenal. Moreover, whatever happens when we face Newcastle in the fourth round of the FA Cup this weekend, a Nacho Monreal header isn’t going to bounce freakishly against two of our defenders, changing direction twice, and end up in the net. Of that we can be sure.
Actually, the laws of science and probability combine to indicate that that isn’t going to happen again, ever, against anyone. You will, quite simply, never see a goal like that again. It’s something to take forward from Wednesday night’s experience.
And on the even brighter side, we can’t play Arsenal again until August, at the very earliest. Really. Trust me: I’ve gone into this in some detail, and I can guarantee you that it’s simply not possible for us to meet a north London side managed by Arsene Wenger between now and the end of the summer. Not in the FA Cup, because they’re out of it. And not in the Champions League, because they were never in it. And not in the league because we’ve already played them 14 times in that.
Or does it just feel like it?