Thursday 22 February 2018

Cech effect puts Arsenal's faithful fans in full voice

Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger at Wembley yesterday
Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger at Wembley yesterday

Jim White

As the Community Shield match neared its conclusion, the entire Arsenal end at Wembley, their flags fluttering in the late afternoon sunshine, broke into a jubilant chant. "One nil to the Arsenal," they sang.

It wasn't the imminent arrival of the least significant piece of silverware in the calendar that had so energised them. It was the nature of the opposition. It has been a long time since that particular chant has been heard at a match against Chelsea.

And how the North London thousands enjoyed their moment, enjoyed the reversal of apparently irreversible fortune, enjoyed a win over the champions at long, long last.

No one from the Arsenal contingent enjoyed it more than Arsene Wenger. As the chant reached its climax, the Arsenal manager strode to the edge of his technical area and pointed to the corner flag, instructing his players to head there to wind down time.

Never in his entire career can Wenger have semaphored out such negative instruction. But this time he was adamant what should be done. For the man who has long placed art above mere success, some things are more important than aesthetics.

Things like finally, after a decade of trying, beating a team sent out by Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho had claimed before this game that, as a manager, he had improved in every single way. Well, not in his wardrobe he hasn't.

When he arrived in England he was the most stylish manager in the Premier League, with his beautifully cut suits and his luxurious coat (remember the coat?). Now, here he was at a Wembley showcase in tracksuit bottoms and a football shirt, as if tailored by Sports Direct.

His attire, it was clear, was to let everyone know that this was nothing special, not much more than a glorified summer friendly.

Never mind the flame machines, the bombastic music, the fireworks that greeted the teams' arrival, Mourinho is a manager who has long reckoned it is the noise made at the end of the season that matters. Yet, even so, there were hints here of what might lie ahead.

Mourinho said last week that Arsenal had not changed since they lost 6-0 at Stamford Bridge to mark Wenger's 1,000th game in charge. Well, one thing had changed. Between the posts the Gunners had Petr Cech.

As it happened, Cech had nothing to do beyond the routine. A couple of effective interventions here, a punch there, a save from an Oscar free-kick in between.

But for the Arsenal fans how delicious routine was after a decade of nervy, error-strewn neurosis from their goalkeepers.

That sense of confidence seemed to be infectious in those ahead of Cech as Arsenal played quick, clever, incisive football, characterised by the effervescent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose delightful goal had Wenger dashing to the touchline pumping his fists as if it were the winner in the Champions League final.

Yet a more significant component in their victory was the fact that Chelsea are not yet the side they were last season.

Mourinho is a master of bringing his team to the boil at precisely the opportune moment. But here they looked under-seasoned, their performance summed up by Eden Hazard.

Last season's Player of the Year forgot to bring along his shooting boots - or indeed his dribbling or passing boots.


More worryingly for Mourinho, however, was what was going on ahead of his Belgian playmaker.

With Diego Costa once again absent with a hamstring problem, Chelsea started with Loic Remy, who spent the first half apparently determined to break the Wembley record for the most times being caught offside.

On four occasions, clever passes from team-mates found him provoking an assistant referee into waving his flag.

At half-time, the luckless Remy gave way for Radamel Falcao. Just as it hadn't at Manchester United last season, the ball never seemed to fall right for the Colombian striker, always dropping behind him, or spinning away from him as he tried to control it, or reaching a defender before he had the chance to get a foot on it. He looked, in short, for much of his debut like a player fortunate to share an agent with Mourinho.

He certainly did nothing to alarm the new man in the Arsenal goal. But then, it has long been clear, not much does alarm him. That is why Arsenal's supporters are so full of good cheer ahead of the real thing next week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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