Chelsea and Arsenal. Red and Blue. Two sides from London, but with notoriously different styles. For a long time, Chelsea’s fans had to watch enviously as Arsenal reaped reward after reward and claimed trophy after trophy, especially in the reigns of George Graham and the early years of Arsene Wenger. It is worth remembering that The Gunners still are the only team to own a golden Premier League trophy for their ‘Invincibles’ campaign, just a single year after the Roman Empire began at Stamford Bridge.
Fast-forward sixteen years later, and the landscape has changed. Arsenal’s fans have instead had to take the medicine, as they watch their West London counterparts pick up accolades and silverware almost every single season, signing world class stars and having an uncanny knack to claim on-field success even if there was turmoil off the pitch. Managers come and go, but trophies still flow.
How has this ended up happening? To find out the answer from the red perspective, I spoke to Dylan Walsh (@dylanwalsh_), journalist for Snack Media, writer for The Goonerverse, and Premier League accredited Reporter, as well as life-long Arsenal fan to find out.
Rob: Hi Dylan, good to talk to you. Firstly, I want to dive into the strange relationship between Arsenal and Chelsea. It’s definitely a rivalry – and one I think that was stoked by Jose vs. Wenger, but it isn’t the first priority is it?
Dylan: No, I would agree that the relationship between Arsenal and Chelsea is an odd one. Aside from the days when we play each other, Arsenal fans wouldn’t consider Chelsea a main rival in the Premier League. Rather, you’re perceived as more of a nuisance to play against given our atrocious record at Stamford Bridge in the league.
Rob: Didier Drogba nightmares aside, that main rival is obviously Tottenham Hotspur?
Dylan: Yes. It’s a bit strange when evaluating Chelsea and Arsenal because we both have a mutual understanding with each other when it comes to hating Tottenham and both cheering together whenever Spurs slip up or do something embarrassing, and that hatred is seemingly where are rivalry priorities lie.
Rob: With this in mind, do you think we should be surprised really that so many players over history have swapped Chelsea for Arsenal, or vice-versa? You have the modern examples that we’ll get to, but you also have names like Tommy Docherty who became a legendary manager for Chelsea and the late David Rocastle, who is still so iconic at Arsenal.
Dylan: Although Arsenal and Chelsea are considered by many as the ‘Big Two’ in London, I don’t think we should be too surprised about how often the two clubs conduct business with one another over the decades.
Living in London is a huge draw for players and a city that many don’t want to leave for cultural or family reasons, meaning that if an established player from Arsenal or Chelsea are keen to leave for professional reasons, making the change from North to West London seems like a logical move.
Rob: And that is why some fans aren’t quite so bothered if one moves to another, I suppose?
Dylan: Precisely. As I’ve already said, although a rivalry is there briefly in every season and has somewhat intensified since Baku, swapping Arsenal for Chelsea or vice-versa doesn’t seem like some great betrayal to either set of fans in most circumstances.
Rob: Moving on slightly, I think you could make a strong argument to say Chelsea are now a ‘bigger club’ than Arsenal. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the ‘Invincibles’ season was the time you could make this claim with any conviction. Your thoughts?
Dylan: I think you could somewhat argue that this season has been the clear passing of the torch from Arsenal to Chelsea as the bigger club in London despite it now being 16 years since we last lifted the Premier League trophy.
Whilst Chelsea have been blessed with accolades and incredible moments since the Russian invasion, Arsenal’s lucrative history has been the pillars that have kept the club up as the biggest in London even, when Chelsea were by far and away the best team in England, as well as the first London team to win the Champions League.
Either fanbase will claim their side is bigger at this moment, but if we’re being honest, it’s Chelsea at this moment in time.
Rob: I appreciate the honesty and I think the readers will too! We’ll come onto specific names shortly, but do you think Arsenal can say they’ve truly got a good deal from Chelsea in the last 15 years?
Dylan: It’s a difficult one to say. Whilst selling Olivier Giroud in 2018 allowed Arsenal to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, we as fans were gutted about the transfer as Giroud was one of our most consistent performers and a player who could turn the tide of a game coming off the bench.
Petr Cech was great in his debut season and was a large reason why we finished second in the Premier League, but he fell off the pace quickly and his great first year was enough to convince Arsene Wenger to sell Wojciech Szczesny for good, a keeper many consider now to be one of the best in the world.
This year, though, has seen Eddie Nketiah, a player we nabbed from Chelsea after his release from the academy, flourish as a first-team striker and a player who could have a long and prosperous future with Arsenal. Whilst Frank Lampard has some great homegrown attacking talent to choose from at Chelsea, like Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Nketiah would have been a player who could have flourished under Lampard had the club chosen to retain him.”
Rob: A similar situation is going to arise with Rhian Brewster I think, who will probably get a chance at Liverpool soon under Klopp. Time to look at 4 specific deals. First up: Ashley Cole. Would he have achieved as much as he did at Chelsea if he’d stayed at Arsenal? Was it Wenger’s first big transfer mistake?
Dylan: As an Arsenal fan, it pains me to see Ashley Cole go on to become a defining full-back for an entire generation at Chelsea and arguably the most consistent world-class player from the ‘Golden Generation’ of England earlier this century, and my opinion is that none of that would have been achieved had he stayed at Arsenal.
Whilst I’m sure Arsene Wenger greatly regrets selling Cole and in return getting one of the most hated players to wear the red and white in William Gallas, Cole’s record at Chelsea speaks for itself.
Rob: What about replacing him? Do you think Arsenal managed to cope well?
Dylan: Being honest, I think Arsenal have done well over the years to replace the impact Cole had on the team. Gael Clichy was a good player as was Kieran Gibbs, who was touted as ‘the next Ashley Cole’ for some time, but Nacho Monreal is probably the left-back who has had the biggest case for being a true replacement to Cole.
Rob: Chalk up a point to Chelsea. Onto the big one: Cesc Fabregas? Has your perception of him changed after he joined Chelsea? Another Wenger mistake to not bring him back?
Dylan: There was some hatred towards Fabregas when he joined Chelsea for a few months, but after it was revealed that he wanted to join Arsenal first and that it was Wenger who said ‘no’ on a comeback, that hatred died very fast.
It would have been amazing to see one of my favourite Arsenal players to return to the club he holds close to his heart, but Wenger passing up on the chance to sign him allowed Santi Cazorla to establish himself as one of the best creative midfielders in the league as well as another huge fan favourite amongst supporters. So I think we managed okay.
Rob: Third time is the charm with Olivier Giroud. I know some Arsenal fans view Giroud as misunderstood, but some saw him as expendable fodder. Did Chelsea get a bargain in your view?
Dylan: Olivier Giroud was incredibly misunderstood at Arsenal, and I believe now Arsenal fans are only just beginning to realise just how great he was for the club and how much he did for us. A lot of supporters like to say that he was the reason Mesut Ozil never broke the assist record in the 2015/16 season, but the truth of the matter is that Giroud was consistently hitting the net for us and in any type of game, something Alexandre Lacazette is currently failing to do.
Rob: Were you okay to see him go though because you got Aubameyang to replace him?
Dylan: It was sad to see him leave for Chelsea, but as I previously said, there was no hatred or bitterness towards the departure and it allowed us to sign Aubameyang, who I would argue has been the best striker in the Premier League since arriving from Borussia Dortmund.
It is a shame, though, that Giroud has yet found his place at Chelsea. Whilst he was fantastic for them in the Europa League last season, he isn’t a first-choice striker for the club, and with Timo Werner now joining next season, I think Giroud must be looking for another club this summer where he can stake his claim for a spot in France’s EURO 2020 squad.
Rob: I do agree on Giroud, I think he has always been very underrated and I’m surprised Lampard didn’t utilise him more earlier this season. For a final deal under the microscope. David Luiz. Discuss!
Dylan: Where do I even start with David Luiz?
Rob: Would you rather have seen Arsenal bring in Cahill last year then? Does Luiz warrant that new contract?
Dylan: Being objective, at the time, the deal didn’t seem bad at all on the surface. £8m for a Premier League winner who still has years on his career left? Sign him up! But as time has progressed, it’s painfully clear that Arsenal got a bad deal and that it would have been a lot smarter for us to have pursued another defender, such as Gary Cahill, though I’m sure he would have found problems playing for us as well.
After the disaster show at Manchester City after the restart, it seems like it will take a lot of clean sheets and last-ditch tackles for Luz to redeem himself at Arsenal, and with an extra year to now do so through no fault of financial desperation from the club, Luiz has got a lot of rebuilding to do with both Arteta and the fans if we are both to trust him again.”
Rob: At the mention of Arteta, I have to ask. Do you think people will inevitably compare Arteta and Lampard due their successes at the clubs?
Dylan: In terms of media focus, I think the microscope will be more on Frank Lampard over the next few seasons than Mikel Arteta, given how illustrious his career was compared to Arteta, who in his own right was a great servant to Arsenal.
Rob: As a follow-up, Do you think Lampard is the right fit at Chelsea? And what about Arteta for Arsenal?
Dylan: For me, Lampard is an excellent fit for Chelsea, and there was genuine excitement from neutral fans following his appointment and Chelsea’s transfer ban that Chelsea will finally become a club willing to take a chance on youth, something that Lampard has grabbed with both hands and is something I hope he continues with next season.
As for Arteta, I believe in the long-term he will prove to be the right man for the job, but both the fans and the board need to realise that problems won’t be solved overnight or even in a few months. Arsenal are in a massive state right now, the worst I have ever seen in my lifetime, and it will take time for things to heal and for things to start looking like the old Arsenal, something me and plenty likeminded Arsenal fans believe Arteta can do.
Rob: As a final question, how long before Arsenal are competing at the top of the Premier League? Do they first need to catch up to the likes of Chelsea and United, maybe even Tottenham before aiming at Liverpool and City?
Dylan: I think Arsenal’s first step is realising that we are no longer the powerhouse of English football that many fans and members of the board still think we are. With this season looking likely that we will finish in a non-European spot in the table, it is going to take some years before we are in a position to again challenge for Champions League football.
And it will take decades before we can even consider ourselves title contenders, something fans will no doubt have zero patience for and something that we likely won’t achieve without Arteta at the helm if things don’t go smoothly for him.
Arsenal are one of the biggest messes in European football right now, and unless we take every next step and decision perfectly, it is going to be some time before we as a club can consider ourselves title contenders and regulars in the Champions League once again.
Rob: A very honest, fair and frank assessment of everything at the moment for the Blues and the Gunners. Thanks again Dylan.
You can catch Dylan on his Twitter (@dylanwalsh_) celebrating, or commiserating results and news from the red half of London, and also check out The Goonerverse here for quality Arsenal journalism, opinion and content.