Red card shambles should not disguise the fact Chelsea were simply on a different planet to an inept Arsenal side in 6-0 win
First, the farce. On the face of it, Kieran Gibbs's sending-off for a handball committed by his team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after 16 minutes of Chelsea's 6-0 victory at Stamford Bridge looks like a perfect storm of horribly nuanced refereeing ineptitude. Graham Poll had his three yellow cards for Josip Simunic at the 2006 World Cup. Stuart Attwell awarded Reading's "ghost goal" against Watford four years ago. Now Andre Marriner has his own special moment. They don't get much more mangled than this.
First, there was the obvious case of mistaken identity, Marriner incorrectly identifying Gibbs as the player diving to palm away Eden Hazard's shot on the Arsenal goalline. Then, more distantly, comes the issue of whether it was actually a correct incorrect red card in the first place. With Hazard's shot drifting wide, technically no immediate goalscoring opportunity was denied, although there is a sympathy tick for Marriner who based a marginal call on the clear intention of the imagined Gibbs/Oxlade-Chamberlain hybrid to prevent a goalscoring opportunity. Then, of course, there is the fact Marriner mistook one mixed-race player for another. Not two players who were both blocking the ball, or even two players who look particularly alike beyond similarities in skin tone and hairstyle. There is a horrible piece of timing here: all week the FA has been publicising its new anti-racism drive with the tweet "Have you been a victim of discrimination in football? If you have, #ReportIt".
The referee's report here will certainly make for interesting reading, although it would surely be wrong to draw a racial implication out of Marriner's howler. Mistakes are made. This was one.
Most worrying is the referee's refusal in the aftermath to accept Oxlade‑Chamberlain's word as he calmly pointed out the mistake. What kind of human being in such circumstances concludes the player is lying to him – in front of the television cameras – in order to protect his team-mate? There is plenty of evidence already of the increasing disjoint between players and referees, and also of a certain arrogance among the current generation of rather puffed-up and self-regarding professional referees. Marriner's response, not his initial mistake, is the bigger issue.
So, to the game itself. In the event, the real imposters at Stamford Bridge were Arsenal's players, numbers one through to 11, a team passing themselves off for the last time this season as genuine title contenders. By the time Gibbs left the field they were already being mercilessly torn to red and white shreds on a lovely, clear, breezy west London afternoon. Chelsea's attacking engine room, the inside‑forwards Andre Schürrle, Hazard and Oscar, outran, outpassed and thoroughly outplayed their counterparts in an Arsenal formation that mirrored the home team on paper, but which in practice seemed to be playing a half‑speed version of the same game.
In the pre-match commemoration of Arsène Wenger's 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal, the only real dissenting voice came from José Mourinho. For all the enduring spikiness, they are alike in many ways, both innovators in English football in their own time. If Wenger will always be cast as a modernist, the thin white duke stalking the land with a sprig of broccoli in his fist, Mourinho is more of a post-modernist, arriving in a Premier League that had already been dragged up to speed and bringing with him an entirely different set of meta‑management skills, master of the game within the game, an entirely adaptable, rather playful kind of Machiavel where Wenger remains a one-track conviction politician.
For all their differences, Wenger and Mourinho sent out teams with an almost identical shape here, but with wildly differing results. It was in the inside forwards that the differences of approach were most plain, Schürrle, Hazard and Oscar scoring four times in 59 minutes and playing at a thrilling tempo throughout. Mourinho has always liked his attacking midfielders to play at peak revs from start to finish and here Hazard and Schürrle were superbly energetic in an opening passage where, as Mourinho pointed out, Chelsea "killed" the game.
With four minutes gone, Schürrle carried the ball forward and played a perfectly weighted pass to Samuel Eto'o, who stepped inside Oxlade-Chamberlain like a man very politely sidestepping a stray toddler and curled the ball into the corner. Two minutes later Schürrle stepped inside from the right himself after Nemanja Matic had stolen the ball, unbalanced Laurent Koscielny with a slight shuffle, and shot low into the same corner.
Schürrle had more shots than any other player in the Bundesliga last season and at his best he looks a superbly mobile, long-striding athlete, and an ideal counterpart to Hazard's more artful contributions. Here Schürrle had a secondary role too, his acceleration and willingness to run behind Arsenal's high defensive line a vital quality in the absence of a genuinely pacy centre-forward. Schürrle has plenty to add to his game – Eto'o's goal was his first assist for Chelsea in 28 games – but it isn't hard to see what Mourinho, connoisseur of the workaholic inverted winger, sees in him. It is this high-speed physicality that marks out Mourinho's work-in progress Chelsea 2.0, with Matic and David Luiz also towering over an underpowered Arsenal midfield. Chelsea have been hiding in plain sight so far this season, with Mourinho claiming throughout a sense of table-topping mistaken identity, but here they really did look the real thing.