Improved But Varying Fortunes

by Sam Wheatley

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
 

Last night’s Champions League action saw a surprising (in a negative way) draw for Manchester United versus Rangers and a surprising (in a positive way) draw for Spurs against Werder Bremen. Don’t expect anything like that tonight though, with Chelsea playing MSK Zilina and Arsenal up against Portuguese League runners-up Braga.

It would be an alarming upset if Zilina were to topple the in-form Chelsea, even though the Blues are likely to field a less-than-the-best side for their encounter with the Slovakian champions, but it shouldn’t matter. In Carlo Ancelotti, the man that loves Chelsea so much that he reckons he’ll be there until the world implodes, they have a bit of European stalwart and the fans can relax, whatever team he picks.

There are interesting comparisons between the Chelsea team that Ancelotti has inherited and the Milan team that he left. Mainly, both are ancient, creaking sides with the average age of your local bowls club but continue to defy their years. There is a smattering of decent young players but hardly an entire side of young superstars ready to pick at the flesh of their older counterparts – Ancelotti doesn’t mind, he moulds what he is given. In these terms, he’s a coach more than a manager, but an excellent one.

My hatred for how Chelsea have achieved success has been diluted by old Carlo, who usually legs it out of the stadium for a fag before doing any interviews (I know that nicotine desperation). The man is down to earth and has the mentality to just get on with the job to the best of his ability, no matter what the standard of the tools are at his disposal.

Another reason that I don’t despise Chelsea nearly as much as I used to (despite the continued presence of Messrs Terry and Lampard) is that the Mourinho pragmatism has gone and Carlo Ancelotti has them scoring goals – shed loads of them. There was always an irony about Mourinho’s protestations about teams ‘parking the bus’ against his Chelsea team, seeing as every time they were under the cosh he’d resurrect the iron curtain in front of Petr Cech’s goal.

I think that Chelsea will probably get about four against Zilina tonight, probably without reply. Zilina’s manager, Pavel Hapal, says his side won’t lay down. I can’t see it mattering if they are supine or vertical during the 90 minutes in Slovakia, it’s a comfortable victory for Chelsea for me, and probably deserved for Ancelotti and his men if they keep playing the way they have so far this season.

Chelsea could go all the way in the Champions League this season – it’s eminently possible. Whilst I would have begrudged either the Mourinho or Grant (which was pretty much Mourinho’s style) a Champions League victory, I would not mind seeing Ancelotti add another one to his illustrious CV and a first one to Chelsea’s trophy cabinet.

Arsenal are notoriously brilliant to watch, though absolutely rubbish at the critical stages of all competitions. Arsene Wenger, much more of a manager to Ancelotti’s coach, must be credited with all that he has done for the club and indeed the world of football, but at what stage will the easily perceptible mental fragility cease?

Sebastian Squillaci, unfortunately, is absolutely endemic of that mindset. As seen on the biggest stage on several occasions, Squillaci lets his head drop after one mistake and then continues to make more. He is a talented defender, but was touted for much bigger things than he has achieved, although the pressure of being seen as Lilian Thuram’s successor at centre-back for France can’t have helped – they’re some very big shoes to fill.

There are signs of increased maturity and of physical presence in the current Arsenal side though. They have beaten Blackburn and Bolton this season, two teams that more or less still characterise their manager, big Sam Allardyce, and usually do well against the Gunners. These victories earmark some change in the Arsenal camp, but unfortunately I can’t see Arsenal winning anything but a domestic cup this season. Despite the improved performances against physical teams, I can’t see them defeating the likes of Barcelona, Inter, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea. Those monolithic Champions League emblems still present insurmountable obstacles for Wenger’s team.

That said, they will entertain tonight and it should be a more successful night for English teams than it was on Tuesday. Victories tonight will ensure that both clubs get off to a flying start. However, I predict that come the end of the tournament, Arsenal will once again be lamenting being unable to convert all of that talent into prizes, whereas Chelsea just might be celebrating the trophy that has thus far eluded them.

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  • Stevie

    I think we are finally looking at a North to South shift. Both Liverpool and United will struggle this season & City are just crap with a team of selfish greedy in it for themselves egoheads.

    Arsenal and Chelsea will dominate this season, mark my words, I’d be very surprised if one of these didnt win the Premier League, The Champions League and the FA Cup!

  • Dan

    Not a bad peice, although once again you have followed the line of all the lazy hacks and pundits.

    You simply have not taken into account the way Arsenal are set up this season, their maturity and even though the tabloids will refuse to ackowldge it, the defensive solidity of the team this season.

    Only injuries will hamper their progress this season. So, that us f**ked again then!

  • Sam Wheatley

    Actually I made a case for the improved solidity and maturity of the current Arsenal side. I just don’t think it’s enough…too little, too late, some may say. Throw that in with Nasri and van Persie’s almost constant injuries and the obviously wantaway Cesc Fabregas and it’s easy to spot the meltdown on the horizon. I do still think, however, that Arsenal will finish somwhere in the top three – but probably third.

  • Dan

    “Too little too late”? That makes no sense whatsoever! Its the beginning of the season. You are chatting bubbles mate!

    Robin being injured is a real draw back and coulod potentially affect the teams chances but what has cesc got to do with anything? Did you see him on Saturday? Obviously not and thats him running the show when half fit.

    Nope, you are being just as lazy and cliche ridden as the run of the mill pundit/hack.

    Next you’ll be saying Arsenal dont like it up em!

    You are entitled to your opinion, but your reasoning is flawed, in my opinion!

  • Sam Wheatley

    By too little too late I mean that there is an entire squad that characterise the same mental flaws and that Squillaci and Koscielny probabaly won’t change that – there is some wall there that hasn’t been breached for a long time. Chamakh is an interesting one after all he went through at Brodeaux though, in terms of mental strength.

    Cesc’s ability is always going to outweigh any lethargy or lack of enthusiasm but you have to question what impression the uncertainty over his future has in the long run on the rest of the team. It actually worked favourably when everyone knew Henry was off and they reached the CL final, but that was 2006.

    It’s always a risk making predictions three games into the season and I don’t expect you to think I’m right. Arsenal’s team is stronger than last season but I don’t expect it will make much difference other than highlighting the massive gap between them and whoever finishes fourth.

    They’ll stuff Braga tonight though so enjoy it.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    @Dan, we’ve been there so many times. The last 2 seasons we have come close, very close, but faded as Wenger played crap players like Silvestre & Flapinaski! We aint gonna win nowt with Championship players in our squad.

    I’m still not sure about Koscielny, the way Diouf pushed him off the ball with ease at Blackburn worries me some what. We have Chelsea away in a few weeks, Drogba must be licking his lips!!

    I’d take a Coco Cola Cup win if I’m honest!

  • stevie

    that’s what I’m talking about! Great performance by Arsenal & the Chavs

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