Date: 11th December 2006 at 1:54pm
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I think given the notable absences in our side, most Gooners would have taken a draw before kick off yesterday. In the circumstances, we perhaps did not see fluent Arsenal in full flight, but the boys showed battling qualities against all odds. So take a look at us now!

One has to commend the team for coming through a tough 8 days unscathed given the shaky form that proceeded. I think lady luck has also looked to redress the balance in our favour slightly, given the fact that our woodwork has been rattled five times in the last two games. But reviewing games such as Manchester City away and CSKA Moskva at home, we were due to dip into our credit account at some point! I think dissenting Chelsea fans would do well to look at the sheer amount of deflected goals and ricochets that have smiled on them in the last two seasons and perhaps concede that you were due one of THOSE days.

My day began as all Chelsea away days do, with a few refreshing Bombadiers in a fine upholstery called the Sporting Page (situated in the heart of the millionnaire’s playground that is Chelsea). My fellow Gooners and I were not in any particular relish, most feared a thrashing with a very inexperienced back four against an in form Drogba. The security upon arrival at the Matthew Harding Stand was stringent as promised as my friend’s Ashley Cole banknotes were promptly removed and a stern verbal warning followed, the statutory steward frisking was also somewhat more rigorous than usual!

On Saturday I posted an article summising my fears that the atmosphere would be an unpalatable cauldron of hatred. I’m delighted that these fears were allayed, Cole got a hostile reception and was the target of stick, but at a level which did not compromise the support of our team. The atmosphere in the away end was absolutely superb, I hope it transmitted to television viewers and wireless listeners alike, because on the terraces, Arsenal embarassed their hosts. A non stop cavalcade of support, the proverbial wall of noise was consummately provided by a boisterous entourage. Cole was roundly booed, but in general I feel the travelling support sensed a team shorn of experienced campaigners and rallied in unflinching and partisan support. (Though I accept the chants about Cheryl Tweedy were out of order). Fake wads of money were smuggled into the ground and turned into confetti at regular intervals, but inflatable mobile phones were quite sparse. (I guess hiding a 30” inflatable phone in your back pocket is a thankless task).

The first half was a war of attrition in many ways, Chelsea enjoyed a five or ten minute spell where they looked certain to score, with Lampard hitting the post and Lehmann uncharacteristically flapping at crosses. But one thing you really have to say about Chelsea is that if the goal has not arrived early, they are incredibly capable of turning the heat up! Essien was the picture of industry in midfield, yet the performances of Lumplard and particularly Ballack were insipid. The lotto Chavs looked a much different prospect for the introduction of Arjen Robben, the Dutch winger roasted Eboue at will and your esteemed writer feared the worst! But in true smash ‘n’ grab fashion, Mathieu Flamini gave Arsenal the lead and the pocket of Gooners in the Shed End writhed in ecstasy. Unfortunatley, Essien had other ideas with a sumptuous strike. I recall a few years back after an Henry piledriver against Man City, then manager Kevin Keegan exclaimed that if you can’t take a little joy in seeing a goal like that you should not be in football. I duplicate those sintiments, I was diagonally behind Essien when he struck it and the goal literally took my breath away. There was nothing that could have been done to prevent it and you cannot argue that Chelsea did not deserve to lose the game. Usually conceding a late equaliser would have me despondent, but somehow conceding a goal of that quality soothes the pain.

To say the concluding moments were heart pounding would be a gross understatement! First Essien rattled the bar and then in the dying seconds, Lehmann spilled a low shot, which Lampard collected but incredibly fired against the inside of the post. As soon as Jens dropped it I felt my heart sink, but the feeling of relief that underpinned me when it cannoned back off the upright nearly knocked me off my feet. Hleb likewise wasted a glorious chance to wrap it up in the dying seconds with a Johnny Wilkinsonesque conversion. The final whistle was greeted with huge relief by the travelling ranks.

While it is true that we were up against it for most of the game, I would commend the side for turning in a valiant and defiant display. Djourou was outstanding at the back, comfortably marshalling an out of sorts Shevchenko (he will come good, trust me) while Adebayor made John Terry look the second rate mug that he is, it’s just a shame that most of Adebayor’s work was either out wide or too far from the Chelsea goal, because he had Terry in knots. Clichy appeared to be buoyed by facing Ashley Cole , and turned in an excellent display. But man of the match was clearly Gilberto Silva who marshalled his troops and protected his young charges expertly. His reading of the game is unrivalled and anybody still questioning his worth to our side, follow these instructions i) get tape of yesterday’s game, ii) watch Gilbo iii) eat large slab of humble pie.

A few inevitable moans though. Firstly it appears Didier Drogba’s theatrics are back with a vengeance, his histrionics really are quite pathetic and most of the time confined not just to the penalty area, which means they are performed with the express intention of getting others into trouble. For someone who dives with such alacrity, he’s really laughably unconvincing at it. Similarly, Emmanuel Eboue simply has to stop holding his face all the time, it really is something I don’t want to see. My biggest whinge is reserved for the England captain who is a dispicable example to children watching the game. I have never seen a player so relentlessly crowd and intimidate officials as him, even when Chelsea scored he was having a moan at Wiley (who had a superb game). Every single decision, regardless of whether Chelsea got it or not Terry was inches from the eyeballs of the officials, spewing spittle and bile everywhere. Perhaps the indignity of being put on his arse by Adebayor rattled him, but this is by no means a recent tread in Mr.Terry, who is an appalling professional. LD.