You know it’s not going to be a good day when the first thing you read after waking up is that Van Persie will be out for a long, long time! I find it difficult to take my mind of such news and it always makes me wonder if the players can focus on the game at hand when news of this sort is likely to affect the whole season. But focus, we must.
I thought the best way to preview this game would be to look at threats we face and the strengths we have. Tactics must counter the threats and bring out the best in our game.
Chelsea Defence: The Blues have been drilled in the art of defence by the dark lord of anti-football, Mourinho. They don’t make too many individual mistakes and remain highly organized.
Drogba: The Ivorians scoring record and impact on results against Arsenal is well documented. Our defenders can’t match him for physical strength and power, hardly anyone can, so it’s even more important to get the tactics right.
Anelka: He has the pace to trouble us on the counter. The Frenchman is clinical enough to score from half chances.
Set Pieces: The visitors have several men who can score with their head.
Shots from Distance: Lampard, Deco, Anelka, Essien … All of them can work the keeper from distance.
Arshavin: Our Russian magician can create something out of nothing at any moment. Tight games are often decided by individual brilliance and Arshavin is due a big one.
Cesc: El Capitan will be the best football player on the pitch. If he gets on the ball more often in the final third, Cesc will unlock the Chelsea defence.
Speed: Our players are younger and in my opinion more skillful in possession. We can control the tempo of the game and keep Chelsea pinned in their half.
Movement: Our players don’t have a physical presence but our movement can wreck as much havoc.
Vermaelen: I have a feeling the Belgian will be a surprise for the Chelsea players.
I don’t expect Chelsea to come out and attack us. An interesting observation is that most of Chelsea threats are about individuals and moments. It gives them the freedom to sit back, knowing that a moment can come for them anytime and if needed, they can push forward towards the end.
On the other hand, our strengths are more collective in nature. If one fails, so do the other. For instance, if we don’t have the right movement, it automatically affects Fabregas’ game.
The biggest challenge for Le Boss is to ensure that our players are focused for the duration of the game. There is enough quality in the opposition to make us suffer for minor lapses. Unfortunately, in the past, we have failed on this front.
The second important aspect is the movement of the front three. These players have the intelligence to know what they should do, yet, at times they are caught on their heels. We need more from these players in terms of desire and invention. I am hoping Vela will get another start but Arsene might go in for the experience of Eduardo.
I am quite keen to see the back four that Arsene sends out. Hopefully, he will not risk Gallas unless the Frenchman is fully fit. This could be a game where Wenger’s earlier reluctance to rotate at the center of defence might trouble us. Looks like Senderos is well down the pecking order and Silvestre might have to step up. A scary thought, but his days with the Mancs will have taught him how to handle a monster.
Can Song play at Center Back? It’s a good question and a possibility worth considering. The only problem is that we will have too many changes to the spine of the team and Wenger doesn’t favor that approach.
Left back is another position up for grabs. In his interview with ATVO, AW said the choice is between Traore and Eboue! The young Frenchman will be a good choice if we can use his pace well as Right Back is the weakest link in the Chelsea defence.
All our players will have to be on their toes for every set piece. As long as we don’t give someone a free header this threat can be controlled. We also need better tackling and tactical fouls from our defensive players to break down the counter attacks.
Silvestre might not have the speed to catch up with the likes of Drogba and Anelka. It’s important to ensure he has enough support. Song will have to cut out any adventure and focus solely on breaking up play.
I believe this is a must win game. In terms of points, this game is worth three like any other. But in terms of confidence and belief this game is worth more than any other game this season. Three points would be the perfect launch pad for a winning run.
I expect the starting line up to be,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas(Silvestre), Vermaelen, Traore; Song, Cesc, Denilson; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin.
Interestingly, almost a year ago, we beat the Blues at the Bridge. Chelsea were top of the table then, eight points clear of United who had a game in hand and were third in the table. We all know how the season ended. Déjà vu anyone!?