Love In A Cold Climate

Last updated : 21 October 2003 By Bernard Azulay

Abramovich's couple of hundred million quid has bewitched the Kings Road crooners to the point where they are so full of Roman's romeo spirit that they were after enquiring "Shall we buy a ground for you!" The bloody cheek of Chelsea's Johnny-come-latelys provoked the obvious retorts of "Where were you when you were sh*t?"

Possibly a more poignant response from the Clock End came with a chorus of "Shall we win a cup for you?" The amazing Chelsea experiment has ensured an array of endless, albeit interesting conjecture. But perhaps the most moot point is exactly when will it dawn on Siberia's wealthiest son that he cannot simply buy his way to the championship which his new team have struggled to achieve for nearly half a century. Surely the law of diminishing returns will have been induced long before the January transfer window. So will he continue to plumb the depths of his apparently bottomless pockets before he discovers the folly of his fruitless investment?

Following an interminable international break, I was truly thrilled to be returning to Highbury for such a mouthwatering match. Although my excitement was tempered with trepidation at the thought that Arsène's undefeated run against the Blues must eventually fall victim to another ubiquitous law, The law of averages and believe me when I tell you that I would have gladly given up many of the victories against the Pensioners from the recent past to guarantee success on Saturday. The three points might prove just as crucial as any others but there were far greater implications to the outcome of this match. With Chelsea undefeated to date in domestic competition, it was down to the Arsenal to prove a point for the entire Premiership and everyone who values the principles of team spirit on which this great game was based.

Jack Walker might have similarly pursued a Premiership title for his beloved Blackburn on a scale which I imagine must have been modest by comparison to the Russian's millions. But he was British and had been spunking his money in vain for years, so no-one really blinked, I assume apart from his heirs, when they saw their inheritance squandered on the likes of Shearer. I don't think many of us minded too much as Jack managed to achieve his ultimate championship ambition with his last major blowout before he shuffled off this mortal coil. Especially as Blackburn broke Man Utd's monopoly on the title.

Whereas there is something rather obscene about the Russian's ostentatious arrival on the football scene. Sure I am jealous. I don't think there's a fan of any club who hasn't dreamt of such a wealthy sugar-daddy fulfilling their wildest fantasies (naturally football related rather than bacchanalian!). Abramovich's arrival has provided an ironic contrast in an era of such severe austerity. Heaven only knows how many clubs would be going to the wall by now after billions of pounds worth of injudicious "keeping up with the Jones'' spending, if he'd bought Chelsea a few years back.

However if Chelsea's unabated expenditure proves one thing, it is quite what a miracle Wenger and other Premiership managers like Bruce, Strachan and Souness have achieved on a mere shoestring by comparison. No doubt they are all envious of Ranieri's ability to purchase any player he pleases. Yet the Italian manager appears to be not the only person in the Chelsea camp who is not overly enamoured with their Russian revolution.

From the boorish Ken Bates, to their BNP bovver boys, I have always hated everything about Chelsea, but it's difficult to dislike the endearing Ranieri who comes across as a charming man every time he appears on TV. To some he may be Tinkerman but to me he's become Joey Grimaldi the famous clown, painting on his happy face for the public to try and hide the turmoil beneath. It would take a gallon of greasepaint to disguise the Italian's worry lines. He's a manager who knows that almost every match might be his last, being as he is at the mercy of Chelsea's capricious money man.

Most manager's tell us that they are in their element when the whistle blows, when all the increasingly impinging nightmares of the periphery of their position evaporate and they can do the job they are paid for. On Saturday Ranieiri's resistible force met the immovable object. Our inscrutable Arsene was as usual the epitome of equanimity, sitting stoically in his dugout seat, rarely jumping up to remonstrate about a dubious decision. While Ranieri kept catching my eye as he appeared to patrol the perimeter of his permitted technical area in a highly agitated state for the entire ninety. It was exhausting just watching him mentally kick every ball and make every challenge.

It was Damien Duff who I expected to be their most dangerous threat down the flanks. I was dumbfounded, albeit delighted that Duff's creative spark was completely cancelled out in the cramped conditions in the centre of the park. I just don't understand the sense in paying £17 million for a world class winger, only to play him out of position. It is not as though they are short of a few midfielders (and without a single midfield substitute on the sparse Arsenal bench it would have been sporting of them to lend us one!).

Chelsea are brim full of the sort of talent evident in the quality of Crespo's strike, which might maintain their challenge. Yet assorted wayward passes were evidence that they are still some way from having the understanding of a team. In this respect I am glad we've played them early in the season. However lost somewhere amidst all the ballyhoo about their keeper's blunder (no doubt resulting in a collection of keepers replacing Rooney on the media's next list of Roman's "most-wanted"!), the sleaze pandering schlemiels of the press have patently failed to portray a one-sided second half which confirms you can't turn a collection of talented individuals into a team overnight.

Even another spending spree in the January sales won't buy them the sort of "hearts of oak" obduracy of a squad prepared to roll up their sleeves at the sight of a substitute like Kanu, who saved our bacon with a hat-trick against the Blues four years back. At the end of the day, resentment of Chelsea's fortunate circumstances will be the fuel that inspires each of their opponents to dig that bit deeper, ensuring their ultimate downfall. My own resentment to do my bit on Saturday had me hoarse before half-time. There is a certain etiquette expected of away fans when seated in enemy territory. There is often a smattering of the those in the West Upper whose allegiances would be sussed by their suspicious silence in most other grounds. Yet at Highbury they are no less noisy than their regrettably reticent neighbours. However I rejoice at the fact that we are all able to enjoy the spectacle without segregation, like civilized human beings (or perhaps its the sadistic pleasure I savour as they suffer the inevitable?). Nevertheless while it is expected that they will react to their team scoring a goal, it is impolite to be too exuberant.

I wouldn't dream of dissing the home fans in most grounds around the country unless I had a death wish and it drives me potty on the odd occasion when someone takes advantage of the fact that they are surrounded by a passive "prawn sandwich" brigade who aren't about to stick one on them. It wasn't just me who thought the cavorting Blues fan celebrating Crespo's strike right in front of us was somewhat OTT. She denies it now but I could have sworn I saw Rona accidentally spitting bits of bagel at him during the break. Cudicini's gift-wrapped winner wiped the smile off his face and my sweet satisfaction was rounded off as I caught sight of him rubbing the ear which had been in the line of fire of my unremitting, most fortissimo barrage

Sadly even my doughtiest decibels won't have carried my encouragement to Kiev. Yet after finally producing some of the football we know them to be capable of, if we can maintain the momentum and fortune continues to smile upon us, hopefully my three point celebrations might be audible in Cork!