With football on hiatus and We Ain’t Got No History slowing approaching our tenth (10th!) birthday, it’s as good a time as any to start looking back on some of our recent Chelsea memories.
Here are a few that stood out from March 22 over the past 9-10 years (timezones may affect that a bit, but I’m trying to keep it within the European & North American frame; sorry, rest of the world).
March tends to be one of the quieter months on the football calendar, with most teams laser-focused on grinding through the fixture list to set themselves up for the final push. It’s also not helped by the return of international duty and the only FIFA-mandated two-week break in the second-half of the season.
But every once in a while, something truly magical and Earth-shattering happens, just like it did on March 22, 2014.
Chelsea were first, Arsenal third — four points behind but with a match in hand — heading into this massive showdown at the top of the table. There were fewer than ten games to go. Yes, Arsenal were legitimately in the title race, which Chelsea would end up blowing at Crystal Palace, completing José Mourinho’s self-fulfilling prophecy of the team not being good enough just yet (they certainly be good enough the following season!)
This was still a time of the Old Narratives. José Mourino was unbeaten at Stamford Bridge in the league. Arsene Wenger had never beaten his old foe — he’d finally do so in the 2015 Community Shield (does that count?), a harbinger of the disaster to come for José and Chelsea. A true turning of the tide.
This was still The Special (Happy) One vs. The Specialist in Failure.
And this was Wenger’s 1000th match in charge of Arsenal.
Arsenal had a few injuries to deal with that weakened their side, but it true foolhardy Wenger fashion, they set up to attack and dominate. They wanted to “start very strong” and show that they were “good enough”, as Per Mertesacker lamented afterwards.
They weren’t. Not even close.
Also not good enough: Andre Marriner, who’d famously send off Kieran Gibbs instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a case of mistaken identity for a handball inside the area.
Either way, Chelsea didn’t need to be asked twice to heap on the misery. going up by four at half-time and then adding a couple more for good measure in the second half, including one from a certain Mohamed Salah, his first (of far too few) for the club.
By then — and in no particular order — Hazard had converted from the spot as usual, Oscar scored a brace, Old Man Eto’o picked out the bottom corner at the end of a great counter, and the ever-lovable André Schürrle was our Man of the Match with a goal and an assist. Nemanja Matić (paired with David Luiz in midfield) was in the midst of his 12-month best in the world form and César Azpilicueta’s reformulation into the the best left back was complete (all 11 of him). This team lacked just a couple big pieces, and those would duly arrive in the summer in the forms of Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas.
Fun fact: the starting center forward for Arsenal that day was Olivier Giroud. Sorry (not sorry!), Oli!
Wenger called it a “nightmare” post-match, and it was something that he probably never quite lived down. He’d stick it out for four more years at Arsenal, which is certainly far longer than Mourinho at Chelsea, but the general population was starting to turn on him and it was increasingly clear that his time was up. (Mourinho’s time would be up soon, too, but that’s a story for perhaps another day.)
This match was celebrated and remembered for long after, and immortalized in one of the greatest football adverts ever put to the airwaves. Take it away, BT Sport.
Chelsea have posted the entire match on Facebook. Enjoy!
It’s impossible to compete for any other March 22nd event, though Thibaut Courtois’ triple-save against Hull City the following year is certainly not a bad effort (and a prime entry in the Encylopædia Thibautica).
This was when we still liked the kid, so let’s enjoy perhaps his greatest moment in a Blues shirt — in a game where Chelsea blew an early two-goal lead before winning it through Loïc Rémy — made all the better by the solid commentary and the great OHHHH crowd reactions.