There's Method In The Mundane

Jose Mourinho didn't want a football match on Monday, because a football match would have revealed that Arsenal are the better team. His plan almost worked perfectly...

Last Updated: 24/12/13 at 07:56 Post Comment

This match was billed as an opportunity for Arsenal or Chelsea to make a statement in the Premier League title race, but ultimately it only emphasised the negative aspects of both teams. Despite Liverpool climbing to the top of the table on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers conceded that the title is still Manchester City's to lose, and there was little evidence to suggest otherwise at a damp Emirates Stadium.

For Arsenal, the old concern of struggling to break down a stubborn opponent reared its ugly head, with the Gunners waiting until injury time to muster their first shot on target. They knew what to expect, having lost to Chelsea 2-0 in the League Cup in October, but they failed to find a way through a resilient defence and were occasionally left exposed to the Blues' swift counter-attacks.

Jose Mourinho will clearly be the happier manager after stretching his unbeaten record against Arsene Wenger to ten matches, but his willingness to turn what should have been an exciting game into an attritional encounter points to a lack of confidence in his players. Chelsea set up as the inferior team, ceding possession to Arsenal and attempting to hit the hosts on the break by relying on Eden Hazard's ingenuity.

"The game, I thought, was completely controlled by us," said Mourinho in his post-match interview. "We gave them the ball, we let (Mikel) Arteta play free and pass the ball from side to side."

That Hazard was replaced with 20 minutes remaining underlines Mourinho's pragmatic approach as he seemed happy to settle for a point rather than go for the jugular in the final stages. A win for Chelsea would have signalled Arsenal's third defeat in succession and dealt a huge blow to their belief, but Mourinho was content to depart the Emirates with neither side having been allowed to play their best football. It was similar to the Blues' 0-0 draw at Old Trafford which, in hindsight, should leave Mourinho with regrets over his paucity of courage and adventure.

"If I want to win 1-0, I think I can. One of the easiest things in football is to win 1-0," said Mourinho this week. "It's not so difficult. You structure your team from the back, you organise your team from the defensive idea, you don't give freedom to your players to express themselves.

"I don't want to (win 1-0) because we are going in a direction which is the right direction in terms of the quality of football we want to play, and it's quite frustrating that you have to change that and go one step back and go in another direction just because you want better results."

Despite claiming that employing such a system would leave him frustrated, Mourinho clearly decided that it was the best approach against Arsenal's talented midfield. If he displayed a lack of trust in his players' ability to control the game, then it is because Chelsea are a weaker side than the Gunners at present. There are legitimate concerns over the dynamism of the Blues' central midfield while Fernando Torres' performance highlighted the blunt edge at the team's apex.

The inconvenient truth is that this is perhaps the best way for Chelsea to pick up results against their rivals at the top this season, having finished 14 and 25 points off the pace in the previous two campaigns. Transition demands tough decisions and, while Mourinho is reluctant to be associated with a negative outlook, there is method in the mundane.

The logic that accepting you are not as good as your opponent can make you better might seem perverse, but it has worked twice for Chelsea against Arsenal and it is difficult to envisage the Blues unravelling in the manner the Gunners did against City at any stage this season.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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