To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a cinematic thrashing that for one half of North London turned into a horror flick.
By the end it was a massacre and a legend was spiritually dead, vanquished by a hated foe. Elsewhere there was a case of mistaken identity.
If this sounds like a film you’d happily head to the multiplex for, then it needs noting from the get-go that these events did not take place on the big screen but rather played out in front of 42,000 at Stamford Bridge on March 22nd 2014.
The massacre was a convincing 6-0 win for Chelsea against their eternal rivals Arsenal; the legend was of course Arsene Wenger, surveying the wreckage of his 1000th managerial game, while in the opposing dug-out Jose Mourinho was mischievously aware that it rubbed salt into the wounds to simply smile benignly throughout: as if the extraordinary domination was a perfectly normal occurrence.
If all of this was Tarantino-esque the mistaken identity was taken from one of Adam Sandler’s weaker efforts at comedy with referee Andre Marriner sending off Kieran Gibbs instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who had dived – quite impressively it has to be said – to bat away a goal-bound effort off the line. The official’s mistake was unfortunate in every sense and was bizarrely compounded when the offender in question immediately confessed in an attempt to prevent injustice being done. He was ignored.
By then Arsenal were already two goals down and when Eden Hazard insouciantly converted the resulting pen the Blues were threatening a cricket score as early as the 17th minute. With the wrong man down the Gunners’ only hope from this point on was to avoid outright collapse.
This bears little reflection on the opening five minutes between two sides whose pairing on this sunny spring day was rightfully viewed to be a pivotal juncture for both concerned. For the victors beckoned a plausible title challenge even if that meant hanging for dear life onto the coat tails of a rampant Liverpool and Manchester City. Lose and solely a battle for Champions League qualification waited.
Perhaps the disparity of these fates is what propelled the two London giants to go at each other from the whistle, creating chances thrice-fold before Samuel Eto’o cut inside and caressed a lovely curved shot inside of Szczesny’s far post. A single passage of play later Andre Schurrle did likewise only with more force and the Gunners’ belief deflated in front of our eyes with just seven minutes gone.
Once Gibbs had taken the hit for his team-mate’s goalkeeping antics the narrative of this momentous game was irreversibly set: for the next hour and a quarter the millions tuning into Sky would focus on Mourinho’s ruination of his arch-nemesis’ special day and his team’s ruination of ten men in despair.
“Forget a thousand matches this is death by a thousand cuts for Arsene Wenger,” the commentator wonderfully ad-libbed as the sixth went in from Mohamed Salah (a few months before he became a Chelsea ‘flop’ and four years before he transformed into an Egyptian Messi).
In between, Oscar helped himself to a brace and in between of all that was a bucket-load of misery for the Arsenal boss who watched on helplessly. Prior to the game the Frenchman had poetically insisted that every defeat left ‘a scar in your heart that you never forget’. This one was more of a burnishing.
“We killed them,” Mourinho crowed afterwards, clearly relishing every moment. On Wenger’s 500th game in charge it had been the ‘Special One’ who has presided over a defeat then too and if he revels in being a party pooper that can be multiplied many times over when it’s against a man who agitated his every nerve.
The reverse was the heaviest endured by Arsenal in the Premier League era and furthermore threw up a startling stat – this was their third Saturday lunchtime kick-off that season and the previous two had ended in defeats of 6-3 and 5-1.
Early Saturday games seemed to be anathema to Wenger as too was Mourinho. When the two collided it was murder.
What happened next?
Arsenal comfortably saw off challenges for their top four spot and otherwise won the FA Cup that year affording their long-standing coach some breathing space.
Chelsea ceded the title race late on to Liverpool and City but Mourinho at least had the consolation of playing party pooper one more time with a 2-1 victory at Anfield.
A semi-final exit in the Champions League ultimately made it a campaign of so near and yet so far for the Portuguese scowler’s first year back in English football.