Robin van Persie has again hit the nail bang on the head. No customary platitudes showered upon the opposition, no clichés, just honest and telling observations from the skipper –
Chelsea have picked up considerably in recent weeks and had a great result against Barcelona on Wednesday. They defended unbelievably well and were very strong on the counter-attack, with Didier Drogba having a really good game. At times they defended with eight or nine men, but you can hardly blame them for doing that against Barcelona.
If they put in a performance like that on Saturday, it will be hard for us – but it will also be interesting to see how they approach today’s game in the middle of two massive Champions League fixtures. They only played two and a half days ago, and had to work hard against a lot of Barcelona possession the other day, so we’ll see what their manager decides to do.
Whoever starts the game for them, I expect them to provide a very big test because they have next season’s Champions League at stake too and will not want to slip up.
That’s it in a nutshell. If Chelsea can repeat their midweek effort, or even get close to it, this game will be a massive challenge for Arsenal.
Roberto Di Matteo has re-established the identity, the playing style, that the players are comfortable with and know inside out. Since the departure of AVB Chelsea have been very compact at the back, have played with greater focus and tactical cohesion, and are again looking like a football team that can get results.
I don’t expect Saturday’s fixture to be any different. They’ll probably come higher up the pitch than they did against Barca and are likely to be more aggressive with their pressing in the central third of the pitch, but by and large the Blues will again set up to hit Arsenal on the break.
Let’s not forget it was only last season that RDM masterminded a counter-attacking win at the Emirates with West Brom. He knows what they need to do as do most of the players.
We could also see them come out with an attacking mindset for the opening 10-15 minutes just like Spurs did. This Arsenal side takes time to settle and at times seems vulnerable at the start. Chelsea could try to sneak a lead in that period which would then make it much easier for them to absorb the pressure while waiting for opportunities to counter.
Interestingly, Arsenal are League leaders when it comes to points recovered from losing positions with 6 wins and a draw adding up to 19 points, while Chelsea are second worst when it comes to dropping points from a winning position as they’ve surrendered 7 leads and lost 17 points. The reverse fixture, as you’ll recall, was a classic example of both these traits.
Nevertheless, this is a different game altogether and I don’t expect these trends to be sustained. If Chelsea take the lead, Arsenal will find it difficult – not only to break them down but also to prevent them from scoring again as the Gunners push forward to regain control. The first goal will be vital.
Tactically, Wenger will have to set his team up in the same cautious manner that they adopted against City. That means the midfielders will have to be extremely disciplined and conservative. If that comes at the cost of attacking opportunities and a lack of bodies in the opposition box then so be it. At no point should the back four, especially the central defenders, should be exposed to the counter-attacks.
Di Matteo has said that Drogba and Luiz will miss the clash against Arsenal but I’ll not be surprised if Drogba, in particular, makes a stunning recovery. His record against the Gunners is fairly well known so I won’t repeat it. Even without a physically dominant striker though, Chelsea will still be a threat in the attacking areas as they have plenty of players who know how to exploit N-v-N situations on the break. Torress, Ramires, Mata, Sturridge, and others have good movement and understanding in the final third. They also have technique, dribbling abilities, and pace. Some of these players are not on top form but they can be a handful and Arsenal’s defenders will find it hard to contain them across vast spaces.
From that defensive point of view, the absence of Arteta could be a body blow for the Gunners. A lot of the Spaniard’s work goes unnoticed but his positional sense, discipline, concentration, and defensive intelligence are the best in the team. In his absence Song will have to do much better than he’s done in most games and he’ll have to curb his attacking instincts. Somehow I doubt that will happen so the defensive onus might fall upon Ramsey or Rosicky, which isn’t a comforting thought.
As they showed against Barca, Chelsea, when on top of their defensive game, can really master the central area in front of their goal. They will undoubtedly push Arsenal wide and the Gunners will have to find a way to get past their full-backs who’ll not be without support. With Ivanovic missing Bosingwa might get a start and he could be the weak link that Arsenal look to exploit. The choice of the left winger will clearly have an impact on this game but I find it hard to pick between Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain as both have their sets of strengths and weaknesses.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Ramsey – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
Arsene might keep Santos in the line-up but I’d like to see Gibbs back in if he’s fit.
Le Boss also has the option of moving either Djourou or Vermaelen in midfield while pushing Ramsey or Rosicky out to the left. This way Arsenal would have a defensively stronger side but it’s an approach he hasn’t used or even shown any inclination to use so it is highly unlikely.
Some fans would also want to see AOC in midfield. He wasn’t bad against Milan but, borrowing a Wengerism, I’d say it would be ‘tactical suicide’. Arsenal need players who can get on the ball and help control the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain just does not have enough experience or tactical awareness to do that job in such a big game. Sometimes, I feel, people forget he was playing in League One till last season.
This midfield, if picked, will be the same as the one we saw against United at the Emirates. They struggled in the first half but matched the visitors in the second period. But for some missed chances and poor defending at the end the result could have been different. So there is no doubt Arsenal have a chance of getting one or three points from this game. More so considering the fact that Chelsea have had a tiring midweek fixture and will have one eye on the away leg next week.
Nevertheless, I don’t have high hopes for this game (some readers have noticed a trend here and I hope that continues). Arsenal’s system demands extraordinary levels of physical effort and mental focus in order to compensate for its inherent weaknesses. The players can’t produce it week in, week out.
Van Persie thinks Arsenal have proved they can win the big games,
We’ve proved that we can perform in the big games against top teams, and it’s up to us to show it again.
To me the last part of that sentence is the key one. They’ve to show they can do it again, and again, and again…
Once more the point is not that Arsenal can’t win – just that they’ll need another super special effort, especially considering Chelsea are not likely to make the same mistakes that City did.
Before ending I want to mention that the match report will be delayed. I am traveling over the weekend and will not be able to watch the game till Sunday evening or Monday. I understand most readers prefer an early report but this really is out of my hands.Follow @goonerdesi
PS: I also have a Facebook page now and it should have links to new posts and my tweets unless I’ve bungled up the settings.