Nothing To Fear But.....Well Nothing Actually!

Last updated : 03 January 2005 By Bernard Azulay

It was as if Henry's legerdemain (or should that be "legerdepied"?) on the pitch was merely redressing the Blues unfair financial advantage off it.

I've always contested that the team ethic necessary for success over the course of a long, arduous season simply cannot be bought. However I have to admit that if Abramovich continues throwing money at his Premiership plaything, there could conceivably come a time when the ability available to the Chelsea manager is simply too overwhelming for any domestic opponent to be expected to compete against.

You only had to look at the names listed on the back of Sunday's programme and note those not included in Mourinho's starting line-up, players of the calibre of Cudicini, Bridge, Johnson, Cole, Drogba, to appreciate the strength in depth of the Chelsea squad. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling somewhat jealous of their seemingly limitless funds. Some of the Arsenal first-team have looked a little jaded in recent weeks and I've no doubt Wenger would have loved to have been able to freshen things up by resting some of the regulars. What's more there is little incentive for our lot to raise their game, when nearly all of them know full well that their name's will be on the team sheet each week, come what may and that there are only about two position on the park where there is genuine competition for places.

A case in point is Jose Reyes whose sensational start to the season suggested he was worth every penny of the £20 odd million we'd invested in the Spanish prodigy. But over recent weeks we've witnessed an equally dramatic deterioration in Reyes' form. It was in the second half on Sunday when he was playing down our side of the pitch that I was able to study his involvement in this high octane encounter. Out of the entire Arsenal team Jose was the one player who seemed to lack the remarkable intensity of the others. Even Robbie Pires was throwing himself into challenges like a man possessed, when normally I'd be expecting him to jump three foot in the air to avoid them.

With the tackles flying in at 90 mph perhaps Reyes found the environment a little intimidating. Although it's hard to believe that derby encounters on the continent are any different. Possibly the main difference between our domestic competition and Spanish equivalent is the intensity of almost every game as far as the opposition is concerned. His obvious ability aside, one of the aspects to Reyes' game which made him such an immediate hit amongst us Gooners was his wholehearted attitude. I therefore wonder if the youngster wouldn't benefit from a brief break, so that his appetite might be renewed watching from the bench and he might be transformed back into the committed sensation who started the season.

Unlike Chelsea however, circumstances have ensured that Wenger doesn't have the luxury of resting the young legs of the likes of Reyes and Fabregas or any other players. Injuries and suspensions have dictated Wenger's team selection for virtually the entire season. Then again the likes of David Moyes might dispute the benefits of squad's strength in depth, as I discovered over the weekend that Everton have achieved such lofty heights using the least amount of players in the entire league. Although I suggest that the proof will be in the pudding of Everton's Premiership position come Easter.

You could sense the mood of trepidation amongst us Gooners before kick-off on Sunday. Few of us could fathom Arsène's decision to gamble on Almunia in goal. Perhaps our German keeper is not particularly popular with his team mates but in the stands we would have been much happier with the 'devil we know'. On the evidence of his performance against Chelsea, the Spaniard is undoubtedly a decent shot-stopper, but after conceding another couple of goals from crosses, as far as his decision making is concerned, the jury is still out.

My feeling was that it didn't really matter which of these two played on Sunday. If it came down to counting on our keeper we were going to be in trouble with either Oschlemiel' between the sticks. With the triumvirate of Lampard, Duff and Robben in such fabulous form I always felt that this match was going to be won, or lost in midfield. I was terrified that Fabregas and Flamini would be too lightweight against Lampard and Makalele but no-one is more pleased that the two youngsters proved me wrong.

Flamini was like Ray Parlour on drugs, putting himself about all over the pitch, with the short of crunching tackles which caused a sharp intake of breath on the terraces and which could have easily resulted in a red card, or at least a booking from the unusually lenient Graham Poll, if the ball hadn't been between Flamini's studs and the opposition's shins. While Fabregas performed with the same sort of freedom we'd seen at the start of the season, when he was partnered with Gilberto. David Dein certainly wasn't the only Gooner watching from the terraces, delighted with our display in the absence of our colossus of a captain and as a consequence, wondering what we might have done with the thirty odd million quid Real Madrid were prepared to pay for his services.

Obviously I might be just a little bit biased, but as far as Chelsea were concerned Robben was the only player who really impressed me (as he has done all season). I like to think that the limited impression the likes of Lampard and Duff had on the match was mainly due to an outstanding effort on our part to deny them the space and time to do any real damage. With Vieira, Ljungberg, Gilberto and Edu all sidelined, the Blues are unlikely to have a better chance to achieve their first Premiership triumph at Highbury. But as it turned out, the only team to benefit from a point apiece is bound to be Man Utd.

The build-up in the media was ridiculously over the top for a match taking place in early December. For the neutral it was an amazing display of Premiership football at its best. Yet for the partisan, despite having said that I'd gladly settle for a point, the humungous pre-match hype ensured that the draw felt like a somewhat unsatisfactory anti-climax. Nevertheless with both the Blues' goals largely due to a momentary lapse in concentration, I do feel that we've gained a certain psychological advantage. I now know for sure that we've no reason to fear Chelsea's overwhelming resources because no amount of money can buy the sort of team spirit which demolished any inferiority complex at Highbury.

If I was fearful on Sunday, I am positively looking forward to the real "Judgement Day' when the battle is rejoined at the Bridge in April.