Arsène Wenger’s 1,000th game will always be remembered for The Mysterious Case of the Wrong Card, but Arsenal should probably just be grateful the sideshow was so intrusively farcical, and the refereeing so birdbrained, it might spare them even greater scrutiny of their own deficiencies. Ignore, for one moment, Andre Marriner’s contribution to a wild and eccentric afternoon. The real story here was of Arsenal capitulating, once again, in one of the major fixtures.
Add this to the 6-3 at Manchester City, the 5-1 at Liverpool, and not forgetting the 1-0 at Manchester United, and there is a clear pattern to explain why Wenger will not be collecting the Premier League trophy to go alongside that gold cannon he has just received for his long-service.
His team played with no comprehension of what it takes to hold Chelsea and they suffered badly for it. They were 2-0 down inside the opening seven minutes. Two more arrived before half-time and, by the end, it was not just José Mourinho’s biggest ever win in control of Chelsea but the heaviest defeat Arsenal have ever suffered to these opponents in 107 years of battle. Wenger has still not beaten Mourinho in 11 attempts and the indignities piled up. “Specialists in failure,” the Chelsea fans crowed, followed by a loud, callous appeal for him to sign a new contract: “We want you to stay.”
Chelsea can hardly have believed all the gifts that kept being presented to them, neatly wrapped in red and white ribbons. Mourinho’s team played with common sense and title-winning know-how. They were ruthless in attack, controlled in midfield and untroubled in defence. Everything, in fact, that was missing from their opponents.
Arsenal’s carelessness was damaging and extreme from the moment Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lost the ball in midfield for the opening goal. Three minutes later, it was Santi Cazorla’s turn and, again, Chelsea made them pay. The tone was set and one of the crazy elements to Kieran Gibbs’s red card, 17 minutes in, was that Oxlade-Chamberlain did not need even need to stick out an arm to turn away Eden Hazard’s shot. The ball was going at least a foot wide, without a midfielder doubling up as an emergency goalkeeper.
That passage will leave Wenger’s party-cum-nightmare with a certain infamy and there really is little excuse for Marriner bearing in mind Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly could be seen owning up to the offence. Marriner had already shown a red card to Gibbs, then turned on the selective hearing, despite the left-back’s considerable protests that he had had nothing to do with it. The referee’s reaction – ignoring what Oxlade-Chamberlain was telling him and the general shock of everyone around him – was haughty and self-defeating. The Premier League are sure to act, correcting the decision, and it may be a long time before Marriner lives this one down.
As soon as Hazard tucked in the penalty, it was obvious there was no way back for Arsenal. Even so, they could surely have done a better job at sparing themselves more embarrassment. Fernando Torres, replacing the injured Samuel Eto’o, surged down the right before crossing for Oscar to make it 4-0 and, after that, it was almost a surprise they restricted themselves to only two more.
For the fifth, Tomas Rosicky played a wayward pass across goal from the right-back position and Oscar took over, intercepting the ball and sticking a right-foot shot past an unimpressive Wojciech Szczesny. Within four minutes, Nemanja Matic’s through ball had split open the entire Arsenal defence for Mohamed Salah to run clear. Salah had been on the pitch only four minutes, confidently stroking in the sixth.
Matic had also been prominently involved in the first two goals, first when he collected Oxlade-Chamberlain’s wayward pass and sent Andre Schürrle surging through the middle. Eto’o, overlapping on the right, checked back on his left foot and curled his shot into the far corner.
Schürrle angled in a precise shot for the second and, after that, the day went from bad for worse for Wenger, Arsenal and a referee who probably feels as embarrassed as anyone.