Arsenal's Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of Chelsea's Parts

Last updated : 23 February 2004 By Bernard Azulay

These poor, long-suffering souls sing their hearts out, week after week, playing their part in trying to pull their team back from the brink of relegation, with the retention of their precious Premiership status being their only possible reward. I am sure it would have sickened them to have heard a "supporter" of supposedly the best team in the land, slagging his side off for the entire second-half, despite the fact that we were winning, away from home, in a London derby against one of our closest rivals, accomplishing in the process one giant stride towards a Premiership prize, that is just one of THREE remaining pots which the Gunners are still playing for. With our other main rivals blowing two more points in what should have been a "home banker", you would have thought we would have been dancing in the aisles.

Don't get me wrong, I screamed myself hoarse during a second-half in which I bellowed my head off, begging our boys to push out. There might not have been an agreement in the dressing room at half-time, but one sensed a tacit undertaking to hang on to what they had, without exerting any more energy than was absolutely necessary. I can hardly recall us venturing into enemy territory after the break and with memories still fairly fresh of our disastrous inability to hang on to such a slender advantage, the tension became unbearable as the clock ticked down.

In the context of what transpired last season and the dissolute manner in which we disposed of a supposedly unassailable lead, our edginess was understandable. After all it wasn't so long ago that this side shared something of Man City's attributes, in that our only form of defence was attack. I've always been a firm believer of the simple credo that you can't concede a goal if you keep the ball at the other end of the pitch and I confined my exhortations to offering just such encouragement.

Whereas the constant complaining of the adjacent ingrate Gooner was getting on my "thrupenny bits" to such an extent that I ended up trying to block out his brainless barracking by boosting the volume in the earpiece of my terrace tranny. Even possibly the most gifted Gunners side ever doesn't make us exempt from this sort of sour mouthed moaner. Every regular match goer will recognize the type. I often wonder what sort of mayhem or even murder might ensue, if they weren't able to vent a week's worth of frustration, road rage, office squabbles or the absence of domestic bliss, by taking it all out on their favourite football team.

Considering most of us would have gladly settled for a draw at the start of the day and that we would in all probability be soaking up the pressure in the second period, we would have like to 'git while the gitting was good', 2-1 up at half-time! Yet if our hearts were missing a beat every time we repelled another wave of the Blue tide after the break, it must have been absolutely heartbreaking for the home fans. It was as though the Arsenal invited the Blues to "give it their best shot" and quite patently from Saturday's evidence, their best is just not good enough. It seems our team were a whole heap more confident in their King Canute impersonation than we were.

Apart from consolidating our grip on the Championship by extending the gap to 7 points, this was probably the most positive aspect to Saturday's triumph. For the second week running we renewed some much needed faith in our ability to shore up most of the holes at the back and bring home the bacon in a manner which is almost reminiscent of the "boring, boring" Gunners of a bygone era. It's quite remarkable when you think that the same pundits who are somewhat prematurely putting their hands up to offer to dust the silverware in Arsène's trophy cabinet, were writing writing Wenger's team off back in August, because of his apparent failure to bolster our balsa wood backline

Sure our defensive unit has developed the sort of telepathic understanding which is a result of the repetitive actions of the same four or five players, week in, week out. We've not become watertight by any means but that there is a certain assuredness to most everything our defence does which is a direct result of the confidence surging through the squad with this remarkable unbeaten run.

"Dream on" was my response some weeks back when it was first remarked upon that Leeds and Liverpool's all-time record stood to fall on the day Utd are due at Highbury if we could continue our unbeaten streak until then. The closer we get to this opportunity of making the Mancunians visit so memorable for more than one reason, the more expectant I become of the law of averages losing patience and wreaking its wrath in response to such presumptuousness.

I keep studying the fixture list, with my incredulity stretched ever further, as each more likely pitfall passes without the expected failure. Those Gooners looking beyond Charlton next Saturday in the Premiership have pinpointed Blackburn away as probably our biggest hurdle in our quest for more statistical superlatives. Meanwhile some thought the team might have also lost their Oone game at a time' focus last weekend. Yet there was little sign of them thinking ahead to Spain's warmer climes in the way they squeezed the life out of this game, with the sort of controlled display which was a perfect definition of the 30 point difference between the Arsenal and the amusing Oanything can happen in the last half hour' exploits of our North London neighbours.

With Clichy coming in for Cole, Chelsea attempted to probe for a weakness down this flank but the game Gaul proved a more than capable replacement. With confidence running so high, the cogs of the Gunners slickly greased engine all seem to become interchangeable (although no-one has yet to fathom why we've got Gilberto on the right flank?). Mr. Abramovich might have learnt from his £120 million lesson that the Arsenal's whole is far greater than the sum of Chelsea's individual parts.

Despite Vigo's dire domestic season I don't expect the Spaniards to be quite the pushover suggested by some pundits. As I write, Vieira is doubtful and there was a time when his absence would have left me wondering whether it was worth even bothering travelling to the airport. It is a sign of such scintillating times that I am more worried about the freshness of the seafood in the second biggest fishing port on the planet, than whether our players are in the pink.

If there is a weak link in our championship chain, some Gooners will point to Lehmann. The gobby goalie would be giving lip to the bricks in his efforts to have a barney in an empty room! With such an apparent advantage in height and weight, I wonder why he doesn't dominate his domain by matching his mouth with his muscle and claiming a few more crosses. Our opponents prevent him coming for corners by putting a man right under his nose, but the likes of Schmeichel would have barreled right through such lightweight obstruction. Much like Robbie Savage, he's the sort of antagonistic larrikin that other fans love to hate. However with the German's goat definitely there to be got, many think it inevitable that the loudmouth's laryness will eventually prove costly. My old man would have said that we've no right to complain since "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!"

Hopefully we might be able to afford his monkey business because astonishingly, aside from a few sublime instances (like Bergkamp caressing the ball with the outside of his foot to create Vieira's goal, or the effortless 40 pass period of possession) the Arsenal are so far managing to leave all in their wake without having hit top gear. It is perhaps a reflection of our opponents inconsistency, but heaven help them all if we should hit overdrive!