All 12.30 yesterday it all looked so good. Just back from a bracing cycle. Chelsea v Arsenal – Arsene’s 1000th game – then Saracens v Quins at Wembley, the afternoon rounded off with West Ham v Man Utd at 5.30. Wasn’t that hopeful of a good result for any of my teams, but thought they were all in with a shout. Whatever happened, an excellent menu of TV sport.
It didn’t take long to go badly wrong!
There was a puzzle at the off at Chelsea v Arsenal. A must-win game, defensive solidity essential. Why wasn’t Flamini playing? He was fit and on the bench. When they were already missing so many of the first choice midfield – Wilshere, Ozil, amsey – this seemed reckless. Clearly they were going to go for it.
Three minutes in, Rosicky puts Giroud through. Not a simple chance, but good enough for a striker on form. Giroud isn’t. He shot tamely and Cech saved.
A minute later Oxlade-Chamberlain gives the ball away, Schurrle breaks quickly, threads it to Eto’o. No mistake from him. Curled in: 1-0. Another three minutes, Schurrle breaks up the right again. This time scores himself. 2-0, not another Liverpool, surely…
Well, by the end, it was worse.
It about 15 minutes in, Chelsea break forward again. Hazard curls a shot beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain decides he should try to stop it with his hands. It’s a spectacular save, even though the shot was probably going wide. A red card offence – although you could be pedantic and say, if it was going wide it isn’t stopping a goal-scoring opportunity, so should only be yellow. No matter, I think all viewers assumed the Ox was off. Except the ref, Andre Marriner decided it was Kieran Gibbs who handled it – and sent him off! And he refused to listen to all the players, including Alex himself, who said it was him. If ever an incident showed the need for a Television Match Official, as in rugby, this was it.
Farce heaped upon disaster, for Arsenal. Things settled down after that, but over the rest of the game, Chelsea scored another three against Arsenal’s ten men. 6-0!
In the three games away to their top four rivals this season – Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool – Arsenal have conceded 17 goals and scored 4. They have beaten most other teams with ease, but clearly lack something when it comes to the crunch, against the best. Still brittle.
Arsene took it badly and refused to appear at the press conference afterwards. He has been silent since. You just wonder whether the conjunction of the 1000th game and this implosion might just make him think, I’ve had enough. I hope not. I’d rather see him bow out, if bow out he must, after winning the FA Cup in May. It is there for the taking.
But, blimey, if they lost to Wigan….
And so to the rugby match, Quins up against Saracens at Wembley. A Saracens home game. The mystery here was why Conor O’Shea didn’t recall all his England heroes. Joe Marler played (having missed the Italy game because his wife was giving birth), but Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Danny Care were rested. Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola, on the other hand, were in the Sarries team.
It’s not as if Quins didn’t have good alternatives: Luke Wallace, Olly Lindsay-Hague and Karl Dickson are all excellent players. But I just wonder whether Quins were thinking, we will struggle to win this one: let’s keep the players fresh for the run in to the end of the season. Another five league games, all tough. All to be won if we are to make the play-offs.
As for the game, after a bright enough start, Quins defended like Arsenal. Two intercepted tries for Sarries, both the result of over-ambitious long passes. Another couple of tries where the Quins defence just seemed to go missing. So unlike them. So many knock-ons when in good attacking positions. Just a really bad day at the office. Saracens won 39-17 and Quins have slipped to sixth in the table.
So could West Ham spring a surprise victory against Man Utd at Upton Park? Make it all OK? They’ve done it before, and now was surely a good time, when Man Utd haven’t been very good. Boosted by winning their Champions League tie against Olympiakos, but missing Robin van Persie, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
No they couldn’t. 2-0 to Man Utd. Rooney in imperious form and scoring a wonder goal from the half way line. West Ham again mono-dimensional, their one tactic to get the ball on to Andy Carroll’s head. I’ve fulminated against Big Sam’s tactics before so shan’t bore you again. But hard as the team tried yesterday, they were just going nowhere. After three losses, the relegation zone looks near again – only six points away. The main hope is that there are plenty of other mediocre teams. Big game on Tuesday against Hull. Yes, that it what it has come to. Desperate to beat Hull.
So the TV armchair, the sofa, the couch, was not a happy place yesterday.
But then I went off and wrote a piece for my book about Cornershop and started on Sigur Ros and everything was OK…