Arsenal visit Stamford Bridge a week after our title challenge has supposedly been transformed into a disaster. Many supporters have already decided that this game will result in another humiliating defeat taking us out of the title fight and dumping us in one for third and fourth place.
Given our recent record against the big teams and Drogba’s record against us it’s probably a logical conclusion. Football though, has an inherent ability to defy logic and some of the optimistic fans amongst us have good reasons to hope for a pleasant surprise against the Blues.
Not least of which is our result in the same fixture last year when very few really gave Arsenal a hope. The other feeling I have is that both Cesc and Arshavin are due a big game. This is one aspect where we have struggled to some extent in these matches. While the likes of Drogba, Rooney and Ronaldo before them rose to the occasion, our star players haven’t stamped their class on these games. We won at the Bridge last year when Van Persie delivered.
Too many of our key players talk of winning something but don’t deliver in crunch games. I realize that often our defense fails and we concede stupid goals but we also tend to miss chances at the other end. It’s been a while since all Arsenal players have given a hundred percent in a game with our title rivals and these are games where you want the players to raise their game.
Our back four will have their work cut out. They cannot be as poor as they were for Chelsea’s first two goals at the Emirates. Defenders have to take responsibility and not put the onus on the goalkeeper all the time.
We also need to find a solution for the Denilson problem. He has been woeful in the last few games and seriously weakens our midfield. I guess Wenger might put a half-fit Diaby in his place. In case Diaby can’t make it the other option would be to bring Nasri into the middle. The risk with that is that the Frenchman’s defensive discipline isn’t exactly better than the Brazilians. The advantage is that Nasri is physically stronger and a better passer. At the very least I would like to see Ramsey replace Denilson.
Up front Wenger has decisions to make. According to the manager Bendtner isn’t fully fit just yet. That leaves Arshavin to lead the line once again. Walcott might be another option but he doesn’t look ready to start centrally in a game as important as this one. The young Englisman could come in on the wing if Wenger decides he needs to give Denilson a rest. Eboue could also offer a direct threat from wide on the right.
From a Chelsea point of view all the focus in on Terry but I am more interested in the fact that Essien will be missing. In the game at the Emirates Ancelotti played both Essien and Obi Mikel in a clear sign of respect for the Arsenal midfield. It will be interesting to see how they line up at home.
Arsenal should have the advantage of not playing in midweek as Chelsea would be recovering from their tough trip to the KC Stadium. At least this time Arsene cannot get away by saying the players were not sharp enough!
The game might also be decided by mental strength. Our players are under pressure as their credentials are questioned and an unpleasant record against the title rivals is slowly building up. Are the players impatient? Inhibited? Anxious? We need each and everyone of them to be fully focused and play the game on our terms. Too often we lose control of the pace of the game and start playing into the opposition’s hands.
Mathematically this game might not decide the title challenge but mentally it is likely to. Clawing back a nine point deficit would require nothing less than a miracle while a three point one would set us up perfectly. This one has all the makings of a classic six-pointer and I have a feeling both teams will be happy with a point.
The team I would like to see is,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Nasri; Eboue, Arshavin, Rosicky.
My guess is that both teams will share a goal and a point.