Chelsea Preview: Arsenal Look To End Blues Momentum
It’s a Saturday, a very important one at that. Arsenal host Chelsea in the early kick-off today aiming to put some distance between themselves and their London rivals. A win, or draw for that matter, would increase the gap to Spurs and Newcastle too, as four teams still chase the two remaining, and all-important Champions League slots.
Diaby and Coquelin are both in the squad in place of the injured Mikel Arteta and the ineligible Yossi Benayoun. Sebastian Squillaci makes way for the return of Laurent Kocielny from suspension, so Johan Djourou should drop to the bench. Coquelin is not 100% match fit but with limited options in midfield, Arsene probably wants some insurance on the bench.
Chelsea are without Branislav Ivanovic who is suspended, as well David Luiz who hasn’t recovered from a hamstring injury. The big news is that Didier Drogba has picked up a knee injury after all those theatrical falls in midweek against Barcelona. It is a welcome relief for Arsenal. The Ivorian always manages to produce his best performances against us and I think his absence in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge was a small contributing factor in that 5-3 drubbing of the chavs.
With Arteta’s injury and Benayoun unable to play, the team literally picks itself. Once again, the only area up for consideration will be the left wing, where either Gervinho or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could start. I felt yesterday that Arsene would prefer to keep Alex Oxlade on the bench and bring him on in the latter stages of the match. However, the youngster has been ineffective as a sub and with the game being as important as it is, I suspect he may finally be unleashed on Roman’s rascals from the start.
My Arsenal XI would be:
Szczesny / Gibbs – Vermaelen – Koscielny – Sagna / Song – Ramsey – Rosicky / Walcott – Van Persie – Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Blues are carrying momentum and while this is their third game in six days, winning football matches at this stage of the season helps overcome physical and mental fatigue. Certainly, there will be changes from the team that beat Barca on Wednesday night.
The expectation is that Roberto Di Matteo will field a side that will defend deep and catch us on the counter – pretty much the same tactic they used against the Catalans, except they should see a little more of the ball in this game and hence have a slightly more attacking threat.
Cech / Bosingwa – Cahill – Terry – Cole / Meireles – Essien – Mikel / Ramires – Torres – Kalou
Arsenal found it difficult to break down Wigan in the second half on Monday night. A lot of that was down to the Latics’ defense, but as Arsene Wenger pointed out post-match, it was also because we tried too hard to create while in possession. Still, we did have chances in the first half to get back into it but couldn’t take the opportunities.
Our 5-3 at Stamford Bridge was achieved as a result of lethal finishing. Robin van Persie will need to rediscover his scoring form this afternoon. Theo Walcott seems to be alternating between the very poor and the very sublime this season. The Wigan performance was definitely the former, so Arsenal fans will be expecting a bit of the latter today. Oxlade-Chamberlain has proved he is calm in front of goal, but he has not played regularly for a while so composure will be required if he does get in a good position.
I hope Ramsey starts in the deep-lying role played by Arteta. Playing further forward puts the creative onus on his shoulders and with the form he’s currently in, he looks to be trying too hard and consequently surrendering possession. Sitting a little deeper should allow him to see a little more of the ball and keep directing play, allowing the creativity to come from Rosicky, Alex Oxalde and Walcott in front of him.
Of course, Aaron’s defensive game is nowhere near as good as Mikel Arteta’s so we might be in for some nervy moments at the back, especially if Alex Song decides to go on his walk-abouts. I doubt he will do this today, I expect we will see him much more disciplined with his positioning, at least until the match stays goalless.
The most important thing for Arsenal will be not to concede an early goal. Chelsea will only feel their recent exertions if they have to force the play. If we get caught on the counter like against Wigan and concede the lead, the Blues will then be able to sit back, defend and be more of a threat when they do get the ball.
Offesively, Arsenal must try to create opportunities by using different modes of attack – like crossing the ball. I know it’s not our strongest attribute and Chelsea have two very good headers in Cahill and Terry at the back. But a direct approach combined with possession play puts more pressure on the opposition defense. Yes, it may lead to loss of possession at times, but we should not be averse to whipping in a few balls regularly and keeping the Chelsea back line on their toes.
Personally, I am not overly impressed by Chelsea’s resurgence. Many of their results since RDM took over have been achieved with a healthy dose of lady luck’s input. If we produce the kind of performance we did against Manchester City, I think we will sink the Blues ship this afternoon.
It will be a tight game and may not rise to any high standards. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Enjoy the game. Until tomorrow.