“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom.”
These lines from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ were written by Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago and you have to go back almost as far to find a time when Crystal Palace would beat Arsenal at home.
In fact, it was on the 10th November 1979 when Dave Swindlehurst scored the only goal to give Palace only their second win over the Gunners in their history and the only time they had beaten them at home … until Monday, 10th April 2017.
North London is a very different place to south London, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. The areas do, after all, form part of the same city. In footballing terms, however, if you look back through football history, winners tend to come from the north of the city and, more importantly, the expectation at the beginning of each season is that this will continue to be the case.
Technically, Chelsea, though based in south-west London are still north of the river. They aren’t even based in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, rather, Hammersmith and Fulham. Thank goodness that a man from Russia was able to afford to buy a new map for them so that nobody really cares about this twentieth-century hang-up any longer, and most of the current players are too taken up with Conte’s edict of adding a vowel to the end of every word to really understand.
Wimbledon have progressed from Mitcham Common to Kingston and, hopefully, soon to, er, Wimbledon. Theirs is a well-documented journey around the shanty districts of south London while businessmen (incredibly, none of whom are called Swindlehurst) have donned football scarves and claimed to be somehow real. It is truly wonderful to see Wimbledon’s progress but it’s a far cry from expectations in north London.
Wimbledon played at the Valley at one time, home of Charlton Athletic, which is south of the river but so far away from anywhere that it’s hard to brand them as south London. In any case the Blackwall tunnel prevents most people from ever getting there, especially if a different set of businessmen (incredibly, none of whom are called Swindlehurst) are pretending to still be relevant musicians at the O2 and somehow real.
South London’s finest also includes Millwall but that sentence is a bit like comparing Tesco’s ‘finest’ range with a three-day-old cheese and pickle sandwich in a broken chiller cabinet at Membury Services, way out west.
Wimbledon also played at Selhurst Park when they were a mobile unit, which brings us nicely on to Crystal Palace. Palace are one of those teams, aren’t they? It’s a pain to get down to Croydon and you have to ask yourself why you bothered when you eventually do get there. When I last visited, years ago, there was a huge open ‘kop’ at one end and a Sainsbury’s at the other which was nothing if not inconvenient.
South played north again on what people are already calling Lundi des Aigles and few people would have given Palace a chance against Arsenal, even without the only defender they possess – Laurent Koscielny – who was, instead, at a German evening class learning how to say “Ah, Bavaria! My travels are at an end for another season; time for an early bath.”
Zaha and Townsend were a constant threat to the Arsenal defence and Christian Benteke was there as well. A 3.0 scoreline to Palace was not only totally deserved but totally understandable when you consider how much Sam Allardyce hates Arsène Wenger for accusing him of chewing his gum right down the middle and not considering instead the wide, often open flanks of his flabby cheeks.
Dickens’s novel depicts the years leading up to the French Revolution and certain Arsenal fans in Arsène’s close family – ok, his former wife – will remember that he once did something similar at the club; but that is so 1990s. Chris Sutton very cleverly mentioned this when describing Arsenal’s performance against Palace and obliterating any sense from senses:
“At one time, Arsène Wenger managed the Invincibles. He is now managing the Invisibles. He has to go because the players are not listening.”
Chris can obviously remember those days when he too almost played for Chelsea, almost in south London but always invisible.
Arsène thought the performance by his Arsenal players was ‘worrying.’ But there you are you see: he is a man of wisdom and has ‘made up his mind’ without telling anyone else what his decision is. Maybe everybody else already knows that there was more than a river between the two teams on Monday evening.