The scene is perfectly set for some post-loss Mourinho stage magic. The medals have been distributed, he has watched Arsenal lift the Community Shield with an expression fit to accompany a vasectomy sans anaesthesia, and has just been snubbed a handshake by Arsene Wenger as he meanders off the field. The scene is perfectly set.
He stomps towards the tunnel and flings his runners-up medal into the crowd like a poo-throwing chimp. “I don’t keep runners-up medals, so I threw them to an Arsenal fan,” he crows in his press conference. “Arsenal left their philosophy in their dressing room. The best team lost and the most defensive team won,” he continues, taking laser-guided pot-shots at an empty goal after the final whistle had gone. “All other teams have spent a lot of money this season, and we have stayed the same. We try to win the league with that,” he titters, absent-mindedly picking his teeth with a golden toothpick and letting forth a sneezeful of pound coins. I have to admit that this entire butt-hurt charade gave me endless happiness.
Mourinho is a manager for whom the match doesn’t begin and end on the pitch but in the press room. He will start getting into opposition craniums one week before kick-off with snide sliding tackles about apparent disadvantages and biases that Chelsea are victim of. He will stage a separate pantomime show on the touchline during match-time, choc-a-bloc with referee rebukes, chest thumps, crowd exhortations, and an entire gallery of smirks and lurks. He will take his verbal bazooka into post-match interviews, offering condescending respect after victories and bristling uppercuts after defeats. Every word that escapes his malicious mouth has a dubious ulterior motive, each syllable a cog in his expertly constructed Panzer tank of psychological warfare.
Although I personally despise it to bits, there is nothing wrong with this strategy per se. He does what he has to – within the ambit of footballing rules if not those of footballing morality – in order to win games. And that’s why his current acid-tongued ramblings have me so happy. All of the cheap blows at our counter attacking game, our recent paucity of trophies, and our recent loosening of purse-strings are indicative of him seeing Arsenal as serious title contenders. Where he earlier had time for an off-hand comment or two about specializing in failure, he has now called upon his entire armada of tricks, flicks, and Portuguese voodoo.
Arsene for his part was a mixture of defiance (“We didn’t abandon our philosophy at all. Our philosophy is based on togetherness and solidarity”) and lovely cheekiness (check out his slaloming run to avoid shaking Jose’s hand). A mixture of cheekiness and defiance also aptly describes Arsenal’s performance today: initial adventure and persistence resulting in a lovely cut-in and goal from Chamberlain, and an admirable backs-against-the-wall effort in the second half restricting Chelsea to aimless crosses and shots from range for the most part. Koscielny was masterful in his no-nonsense clearances and aggressive interceptions, Monreal was full of vigour and industry, Santi was the wonderful midget metronome we’ve come to expect and love, and Chamberlain ran Azpilicueta ragged with his barrel-chested charges.
Needless to say, Mourinho considering us title rivals doesn’t make us title rivals at all. The squad is basically the same as last season, leaving aside Cech’s astute capture. The injuries have already started, with worrying news that Wilshere has embarked on his regular medical-room sojourns. There are strong cases to be made for the additions of a striker and central midfielder. But even after taking all those caveats in our stride, there is much optimism to be gained from our strong run at the end of last season, from the hope that organic growth will bring about improvement in most of the squad, and from the minute chance that Arsenal may still spend big before the transfer window closes.
All these things considered, will Chelsea be caught by Arsenal this season? Probably not. But any moment that Mourinho’s smug as fuck meerkat face is deprived of a smile is a good moment. Such moments should be enjoyed.