chelsea vs Arse­nal

De­spite re­turn­ing to win­ning ways, a de­pleted Arse­nal still ap­pear shaky and the trip to Stam­ford Bridge could come too soon for Wenger and com­pany.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By RICHARD LIM

AF­TER tast­ing de­feat in the Premier League last week, both Chelsea and Arse­nal re­stored a sem­blance of san­ity in mid-week Cham­pi­ons League ac­tion by do­ing what they do best – win­ning.

The London clubs were cer­tainly in their el­e­ment and this was best demon­strated by Chelsea’s com­fort­able 2-0 win over Mar­seille at Stam­ford Bridge. The con­test be­tween the English and French cham­pi­ons was cer­tainly not one of equals and Mar­seille coach – and for­mer Chelsea player – Didier Deschamps ad­mit­ted this in a post-match press con­fer­ence.

Over in Bel­grade, Arse­nal showed bite in their at­tack and proved that there they could cer­tainly play cham­pagne foot­ball with­out their in­jured skip­per, Cesc Fabre­gas. More im­por­tantly, re­serve keeper Lukasz Fabi­an­ski gave Arsene Wenger – and many a Gun­ner – food for thought with his goal­keep­ing hero­ics.

The stage is now set for Sun­day’s ti­tanic clash be­tween London’s two biggest clubs – no of­fence to Spurs. And al­though it may still be early days in the BPL, this week’s big match has added sig­nif­i­cance as it will pass as a good gauge to the ti­tle cre­den­tials of both clubs.

Chelsea’s first “true test” against the Cit­i­zens ended in dis­ap­point­ment and Arse­nal failed to cap­i­talise when they fell 3-2 to the Bag­gies. The Gun­ners were even 3-0 down at one point and a sim­i­lar lack of con­cen­tra­tion on Sun­day will not bode well for their chances.

In re­cent years, this fix­ture has been a tricky one for Arse­nal to nav­i­gate. De­spite show­ing up with their quick pass-and-move game, Arse­nal’s young squad was so of­ten dec­i­mated by Chelsea’s phys­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity and it is rather fair to say that the odds are stacked against the Gun­ners.

The same script could be in store this Sun­day as Chelsea are in good form. Apart from last week’s up­set against Man City, the Blues have been ram­pant. The cyn­ics may be quick to point out that Chelsea seem to have cho­sen the fix­ture list but the na­ture of the BPL re­quires a wor­thy cham­pion to de­feat all teams along the way – not just the “bet­ter” ones.

This is some­thing the Blues have done – and done well – in their first five games and Arse­nal are found want­ing in this re­spect. It may be a tad harsh on Arse­nal who are suf­fer­ing in the goal­keep­ing depart­ment but as­pir­ing cham­pi­ons sim­ply have to beat sides like WBA. No ex­cuses.

Arsene Wenger no doubt made his feel­ings known and the Gun­ners should be ex­tra vig­i­lant this Sun­day. Whether that is enough, how­ever, re­mains to be seen and the Emi­rates faith­ful will be hop­ing that Fabre­gas will be de­clared fit in time.

The Spa­niard has been ever present – when he played – this sea­son and his in­ci­sive pass­ing will be sorely needed against the Blue ma­chine. Cur­rently car­ry­ing a ham­string in­jury, Fabre­gas has missed Arse­nal’s last two matches but re­ports from Eng­land say that he could re­turn against the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. It should be touch-and-go un­til the kick-off.

It is a strange case of déjà vu for Arse­nal as in­juries have blighted them over and over again be­fore big matches. How­ever, it is quite safe to say that few Gun­ners will be de­pressed with the el­bow in­jury to Manuel Al­mu­nia. In fact, some may even be thrilled.

Al­mu­nia has been the weak link in an ex­cit­ing side this sea­son and the Span­ish stop­per was guilty once again against the Bag­gies. His abysmal per­for­mance vir­tu­ally giftwrapped the match for WBA and not hav­ing him in goal should be wel­come news to Arse­nal fans.

Al­though he is far from a per­fect keeper, Fabi­an­ski cer­tainly proved his met­tle in Bel­grade by sav­ing a penalty. His hero­ics should ce­ment a spot in the start­ing lineup and more of the same will be ex­pected of him on Sun­day. One thing’s for sure: keep­ing out the likes of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka will not be easy.

Go­ing back to the in­jury list, Robin van Per­sie, Nick­las Bendter, Aaron Ram­sey and Theo Wal­cott re­mained side­lined. With so many key fig­ures out of the equa­tion, Arse­nal will find the go­ing tough and much will de­pend on Marouane Chamakh up front.

The French for­ward is renowned for his aerial prow­ess and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how he fares against a big de­fender like John Terry. Much will also de­pend on An­driy Ar­shavin, To­mas Rosicky and young Jack Wil­shere if Arse­nal are to get any­thing from this fix­ture.

The con­cerns are less press­ing in the Blue corner and Chelsea could even af­ford to take their foot of the gas against Mar­seille af­ter get­ting the sec­ond goal. In pole po­si­tion to fin­ish first of their Cham­pi­ons League group and stay top of the league, the Blues are the clear favourites this week­end.

How­ever, the early sea­son blitz seems to have faded and Chelsea gave an in­sipid per­for­mance against Man City who clearly got their tac­tics right by sti­fling the Blues. And while Arse­nal’s flair play­ers should strug­gle to achieve the same ef­fect, Ancelotti will be hard-pressed to en­sure that there is no re­peat.

In hind­sight, Chelsea were for­tu­nate that their lead was not cut to a sin­gle point last week. And with both Manch­ester sides on the rise, the Blues can ill-af­ford any re­peats. Noth­ing short of a win this Sun­day will suf­fice and for­tu­nately for Ancelotti, his tal­ented squad is largely in­tact with the ex­cep­tion of Frank Lam­pard, Salomon Kalou and Yossi Be­nay­oun.

Didier Drogba re­turns to ac­tion af­ter serv­ing his Cham­pi­ons League sus­pen­sion and the Ivo­rian will be ea­ger to make up for lost time. Im­pe­ri­ous up front, Drogba has been scor­ing and as­sist­ing in quan­tity this sea­son and he should give Arse­nal plenty of prob­lems at the back. Granted, Drogba was far from im­pres­sive against City but as the adage goes, form is tem­po­rary but class is per­ma­nent.

Chelsea’s French con­nec­tion will also be piv­otal. Florent Malouda cur­rently leads the BPL scor­ing charts and the winger will look for­ward giv­ing an­other man-of-the-match per­for­mance on Sun­day. Mean­while, his team­mate – and for­mer Arse­nal striker – Nicolas Anelka has been com­ing to the fore in re­cent weeks and he could be a thorn in the side of his for­mer man­ager and fans.

Al­though the scales are in their favour, Chelsea’s last two do­mes­tic games show that they are fal­li­ble. Then again, Arse­nal have not done them­selves any favours and a golden op­por­tu­nity to close the four-point gap was thrown away last week.

Frail­ties aside, it’s the first-placed team in the league against the third-placed team on Sun­day. And if past meet­ings be­tween the two are any­thing to go by, do not miss this match for the world.

Go left? No. Go right?: Arsene Wenger will need his team to pull in the same di­rec­tion to get a re­sult at Stam­ford Bridge this week­end.

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