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.
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.