Arsenal and Chelsea couldn’t be more polar opposites: Arsenal is a North London team, Chelsea South; Arsenal were formed in 1886, Chelsea were formed in 2003; Arsenal put blood, sweat and tears into a brand new stadium, Chelsea have a dump because their owner doesn’t care about the infrastructure; Arsenal have had the same manager (Arsene Wenger) for 16 years, Chelsea have had 16 managers since 2003; Arsenal have made hundreds of millions in the transfer market, Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions in the transfer market; Arsenal have interns, Chelsea shoot their interns with a pellet gun; Arsenal’s captain is a family man, Chelsea’s captain likes to date other men’s families; and Arsenal are excited that they just signed a young English prospect to a new contract, Chelsea are excited that they just extended an old Arsenal player’s contract.
But Arsenal and Chelsea are also similar: both clubs want to be Arsenal; they both play an attacking brand of football popularized by Arsenal; both clubs use Arsenal’s scouts to find talent; both Arsenal and Chelsea have 7 letters in their name; and both Arsenal and Chelsea charge away fans over £60 for a ticket.
But if you’ve been in anything other than a persistent vegetative state for the last 10 years, you already know all this.
In fact, I’ve written about this Arsenal-Chelsea match so many times, and said the same things so many times, that… well, what’s left to say? How much has the story changed over the last 4 years? The answer is very little. They generally have a better team, as you would expect when they buy the best players, and they have generally challenged for the Premier League title, which Arsenal haven’t done. The story has been the same so often that last season was the first time that Arsenal finished above Chelsea since 2006.
But still, it’s an important game for both teams, for different reasons. Arsenal are in a rebuilding phase and Chelsea are about to undergo one, I suspect.
Just coming off a decent win over Swansea in the FA Cup, the young Gunners need to start building some momentum if they are going to finish in the Champions League places this year. With the Premier League awash with money, there’s a lot of competition for the top four spots. An Arsenal win tomorrow will fire the Gunners all the way into fifth place, just three points off Tottenham and with a game in hand.
We also know that Chelsea’s home form is poor owing at least partially to the fact that the Chelsea supporters hate the new manager Rafa Benitez. Despite having an owner who buys them any player they could ever want and who has amassed more trophies in the last 10 years than they had in all their history before that, the home crowd has taken to booing Benitez. Just because. They don’t like him.
Benitez in return will be desperate for a good home win but will his team feel the same way? This is a Chelsea team with a history of throwing the manager under the bus. A big loss tomorrow would surely see Abramovich wield his managerial axe.
The referee is Martin Atkinson and he has the distinction of having refereed the last match between these two teams — Arsenal’s 2-1 loss back in September. It’s very rare to see a referee get the same match twice in the same season so I’m sure this will be mentioned. What won’t be mentioned is that Atkinson is quick with the red card and awarding penalties. Arsenal need to be fully alert for the 90 minutes to avoid pulling a Koscielny.
Regardless of the outcome, I just ask one thing from the Arsenal; that they give everything like they did against Swansea in the FA Cup. If Chelsea are better, so be it, but at least get in their faces and give Chelsea a game.
Kickoff is 5:30am. By the Numbers will be posted on Arseblog before 10am local time.
Up the Gunners.