Chelsea Preview: Time To Consign History To The Record Books
Arsenal arrive at Chelsea this afternoon knowing that a win will lift them to within a point of the Premier League summit. The key though is to not lose, to prevent the gap expanding to seven points. Whilst the hosts are being hailed in the media as almost certain to win, they go into the game having lost two of their last three matches. Hardly proof of their invincibility.
Much is being made of Chelsea’s recent record in this fixture and it is not pretty reading for Arsenal. Didier Drogba’s scoring feats are being held as the key reason why the hosts will triumph. Marouane Chamakh was impressed but suggested that there was another reason for the paucity of Arsenal’s recent returns,
Physically we are ready; just mentally it will count. The two teams are both well able to score goals but what counts is the team who will defend best: they will win the match.
There is more than a hint of the truth in his observation but the lack of defensive discipline can be levelled at Arsenal for a fair number of opponents. The issue of goalkeeping has been talked to death and Lukasz Fabianski is once more under the spotlight. If the Pole thought he had trodden tentatively into people’s ‘good books’ following a good performance in Belgrade, any mistakes this afternoon will see some clamouring for him to be taken to The Bloody Tower, never to pass through the hallowed Arsenal gates again.
Yet Chamakh hit the nail on the head as far as defending is concerned,
It’s true that in defence we could do better but it’s not just the four defenders and the goalkeeper. As the centre forward, I’m the first defender and it’s just that we need to co-ordinate all 11 together
Get that bit right and Arsenal is more than capable of frustrating Chelsea, before moving towards victory. It would not be a match against a title rival if injuries were not blighting the landscape. The absences of Almunia and Gibbs leaves Wenger with one decision to make: who forms the central partnership?
Djourou is still easing himself back to fitness but suggestions abound that he should be the one to face Drogba, his physique more suited to containing the Ivorian. Personally, I cannot see that happening. Koscielny has made a good start to his Arsenal career and has handled pretty much everything thrown at him, the physical encounters with Bolton and Blackburn not fazing him. He has no reason to fear this afternoon.
Cesc’s hoped for return has not materialised and that should clear the way for Jack Wilshere to remain the attacking fulcrum, albeit from a deeper lying position. The youngster has performed admirably this season, adjusting to Premier League life and the weight of expectation placed upon his shoulders.
Key to dominating this area is retaining possession. The passing game needs to be effective from kick-off, making Chelsea chase the ball. Against West Brom, there was a lacklustre approach; that cannot be allowed to resurface. Although Diaby has returned to the squad, the need for ball retention is paramount and for that reason, I would have Denilson as the third midfielder. The Brazilian’s detractors always argue with the pass statistics but regularly completing 85% or more of his passes shows the benefit of playing him in this type of fixture. He does need to impose himself on the game though , as do all of the Arsenal players for today is not a match for passengers.
The line-up I would expect Wenger to go with is:
Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Denilson, Song, Wilshere; Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri
The outcome of this afternoon’s encounter will not decide the fate of the Premier League title but a win for Arsenal , would be the perfect tonic to last weekend’s stumble and make for a relatviely pleasant international break. Those who place store in such things will take comfort from the result in this fixutre in 1992. Played on this day, Arsenal won 2-1 at Highbury. A repeat of that scoreline would do very nicely indeed.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.