Stone Cold Friday Chelsea Preview: Bridging The Gap
As we wait with baited breath for the latest John Terry exposé in this Sunday’s News of the World, it almost seems appropriate to find that “Friday is Casual Sex day”. Quite why this needed announcing, I’m not sure since it has always been so. Appropriate as well with the lascivious look in Tiger Woods eyes when he saw Katherine Jenkins yesterday; almost gave a new meaning to The Ryder Cup. Which shows how lowbrow today’s post would have been had I been composing it.
Fortunately for you, Darius has taken time from his nascent rap career – his alter-ego P Doff has his debut single, “Gonna tear up yo ‘hood with me Combine Harvester, Ooo-arr”, out now.
This weekend is one of the two in a season where the Stone household goes tribal. Many friends ask me how I ended up marrying a Chelsea fanatic, and I can only plead insanity and duress.
Needless to say, like millions of rival fans out there, we’ve taken our corners and are gearing up to defending and supporting our respective teams to the hilt. It doesn’t help of course that in the last 4 league games against Chelsea, Arsenal has shipped 10 goals with only 3 in reply. Any way you look at this statistic, it doesn’t sound good, and much has to change.
I don’t necessarily think that losing or drawing Sunday’s game will stop us from challenging for the title, and the desire to beat Chelsea seems to be more about exorcising the demons of the last few years and getting the momentum firmly behind us. Bragging rights are certainly a very big deal; and many an Arsenal fan has suffered the taunting and goading that accompanies a defeat against a title rival.
For some fans, the preparation of the bunkers that will host them and shield them from the hurricane of Arsenal disaster and collapse stories in the event that we lose has started in earnest. It’s hard to say whether it’s an actual defeat or the reaction to any defeat that causes this type of fan to resort to media and communication blackout mode.
Millions others with a sunnier disposition recognize the strides Arsenal has taken in improving our lot. Sunday’s game is only another opportunity to illustrate the progress made in this challenging journey.
My sense has always been that Arsenal has an extremely strong squad that is in the ascendancy, but we’ve fallen short in two distinct areas that are interlinked. Firstly, the mental strength that is needed to compliment our stamina, technique and expansive football; and secondly, the discipline to see through difficult patches that are inevitable in every season.
You’d be hard pressed to find any bookmaker who gives Arsenal a favourable chance of smuggling the 3 points away from Stamford Bridge, and perhaps this underdog status suits Arsenal for now. Much has changed since our encounters last season, and Arsenal fans need to be confident and have belief that the key personnel changes made will stand us in good stead.
My take is that Marouane Chamakh is the key to shifting Chelsea’s nose out of joint. At the least, he can occupy and keep Terry and Alex gainfully employed, but more importantly, his link up play and the way he opens spaces by yanking defenders out of shape is critical to our attacking strategy.
Many people talk about the need to confine Chelsea to few attacking options and to Shackle Drogba to deny him any opportunities. I would suggest that Arsenal may do better by not focussing on a heavily defensive approach. It’s not our style and I doubt the rules of Wengerball subscribes to that.
The way to keep Chelsea at bay is to attack them and occupy their defence and midfield. What we haven’t had in the last few games is the penetrative edge to take advantage of our possession and we’ve paid for it because Chelsea is ruthless in the counter attack.
With Chamakh’s pivotal play, the spaces will open for Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin and Rosicky – and in the form they’ve been in lately, an upset is on the cards. Arsenal must also take advantage of the mayhem Chamakh causes in the box because Chelsea have shown this season that they struggle with organized mayhem. We now have an effective aerial outlet, and we should use it more.
When Lukasz Fabianski let out a wild scream after saving the penalty against Partizan, I could have sworn I saw demons rushing out into the Belgrade skyline with that scream. It’s the best thing that could have happened to the Pole in terms of confidence building, and that can only stand him and Arsenal in good stead for Sunday.
Regardless of what people think of Fabianski, a positive performance from him is critical. This is just the sort of game that could make him, and start him on that redemption path to doing an “Eboue”. If previous performance is an indicator, Wookash should be well pleased with the vocal support he gets from our away fans.
By and large, there will still be a lot of media and pundit diatribe that’s geared for sensationalism and to continue the narrative of Chelsea conquering all in their path. It’s inevitable that this will influence the masses, and the team need to stand up and be counted. A good performance and a positive result are due our way.
It’s this sort of positive result more than anything that will give the team that additional belief. For millions of fans around the world, it’s the sort of positive result that will restore a modicum of respectability when around rival fans. For football, it’s the sort of positive result that will be a victory for how the game should be run and played on the pitch.
Unless the game ends up level, what is also a real possibility is that in the Stone household, the spare bedroom beckons for one of us because it’s going to go tribal.