Saturday 4th February 12.30
We live on and atop a dynamic planet. Far beneath our feet, tectonic plates forever shift away and toward each other. Occasionally, when two such plates meet, the huge energies involved will force them to crumble, slip or shift. The resulting forces are of such huge magnitude that they can be felt by we mere mortals in the form of earthquakes, which are sometimes so powerful that the shockwaves can be detected the world over. If you were listening hard enough on Tuesday night, you might have detected such a rumble only this was entirely man-made in origin.
Another bullet, please. There’s still the other foot.
The origin of that deep anguish was the collective wail of Arsenal supporters as they saw their team lose at home to a Watford side that hadn’t won a league match since early December. That’s right, a team with a solitary win in their last nine came to the home of 2nd placed Arsenal and beat them. Instead of consolidating their claim as the prime threat to Chelsea by beating Watford, a result which would have left them six points behind the leaders coming into this tie, Arsenal went and lost. Instead of keeping alive the possibility of closing that gap to three points were they to beat their hosts on Saturday, they now visit their London rivals with a nine point gap between them and the blood red incandescent rage of their supporters ringing in their ears. ‘Twas ever thus with the Gunners.
Rub of the green
It was a great mid-week fixture list for Chelsea. Although they were held to a 1-1 draw by Liverpool, only one of their rivals in the top six managed a win and that was a Manchester City side who are 10 points behind them. In addition to Arsenal doing an Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur also passed on the opportunity to add a bit more pressure by somehow being held to a 0-0 draw by bottom-placed Sunderland. When your luck’s is, your luck’s in.
Their just rewards
Which is not to say that Chelsea don’t deserve a bit of luck here and there. After all, the old adage does state that the harder you work, the luckier you get and no team has worked as hard or as effectively as Chelsea have this season. Their draw against Liverpool was only the fifth match this season in which they have dropped points (D2 L3) and they have played with an intelligence and consistency of purpose that few teams can hope to match.
New year, same old same old
Not even the most one-eyed Arsenal fan could say the same about the Gunners. In their last 15 league games, Arsene Wenger’s not-so merry men have accumulated 28 points, a full 12 fewer than Chelsea. Yet again they are having to cope with injuries to key players, a loss of form in others and rank stupidity in the case of red card enthusiast, Granit Xhaka. His absence from midfield is compounded by the unavailability of other midfielders in the shape of Mo Elneny (AFCON duty), Aaron Ramsey (injured, again) and Santi Cazorla (see Ramsey, A). N’Golo Kante is going to have a field day.
In terms of how this whole thing will play out, it’s very difficult to look past another three points for Chelsea and another event of seismic sadness for Arsenal. Nothing about the visitors suggests that they can topple their hosts at this point in time. Chelsea will be happy enough for Arsenal to hold onto the ball for long stretches of play before, inevitably, stealing it and breaking at speed to counter. Does this enough times over the course of the 90 minutes and they will win. The best price around for the home side to prevail is 21/20 and comes from StanJames.