Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho mastered the mind games again this weekend after his side’s dull 0-0 draw away to Arsenal was celebrated like a World Cup win, insisting a ten-year title drought is more boring than defensive football.
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Of course, the Portuguese coach would never see it this way, and neither will his fans, but he’s wrong – history remembers the great entertainers in football rather than the resolute backlines, and Arsenal fans themselves are as good a judge as any.
Under George Graham, the Gunners were a similarly defensive side in the late 80s and early 90s, with ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ and ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ becoming synonymous chants associated with that side. Sure, they remain much loved by fans who lived through that time, but in general many seem to agree that it has been much more of a joy to watch the team under Arsene Wenger’s reign.
Chelsea themselves have changed philosophies in the Roman Abramovich era, with Carlo Ancelotti delivering a far more entertaining team in the 2009/10 season, when the Blues scored a record-breaking 103 goals, bringing the best out of some the immense atacking talent they had on their books – rarely have Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard looked like better footballers than that year. While the earlier title winners of Mourinho have better defensive stats and more trophies to show for their methods, they are mere numbers, which are not what this game is about.
Of course it would be ridiculous to say Arsenal fans don’t crave a bit more solidity at the back, as their naive performance at home to AS Monaco would show, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many, if any, who’d want Mourinho as their manager. Arsenal fans turn up to the Emirates Stadium expecting to be entertained. This approach might not have brought them great success in recent times, but it provided some of their finest memories in the earlier part of the Wenger era as the trophies flowed in, and it has of course worked for other clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. Even Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson played some delightful attacking football at their best, and that will forever live in the minds of fans of English football, rather than the performances of players like John Terry in yesterday’s stifling mission.
Mourinho might also be reminded – if he thinks ten years without a title is a long time, his club went fifty years without one before Abramovich’s takeover. Is this really a question of tactics? Or could there be another factor that has divided Chelsea and Arsenal in the last decade?