In the entire time that I’ve been following Arsenal, there’s been just two teams that I really felt that Arsenal have a rivalry with: Man U and Chelsea. I know that all Arsenal fans are supposed to think of Tottenham as our most hated rival, but for me it’s either Chelsea or Man U and recently more Chelsea than Man U. It all goes back to that Carling Cup final.
Since then it’s been a real struggle to get any points off them and last season was particularly painful; yes we beat them at Stamford Bridge, but that only made it hurt worse when they beat us in the FA Cup and then 3 weeks later gave us a 4-1 whipping, both at the Emirates. They are playing some of the best football in the world right now and they know it. Confidence paired with recent results at Emirates makes them supremely confident of coming in and getting a result.
Injuries are the talk of both teams: Chelsea’s squad having faked half a dozen injuries to avoid international duty and Arsenal having picked up half a dozen injuries between the internationals and the two matches since.
Wenger is saying that Gallas could be back but that at the moment his eye is so swollen he can’t get his contacts in. Wenger says that Cappy is 50-50 for Sunday.
At left back, Wenger said that Traore and Eboue are the two options though he won’t admit who he’s picking at the moment. Funnily enough, Wenger did mention that Vermaelen is an option, which I got a lot of stick for last week, but that he doesn’t want to move the back line around too much. The good news is that Arsene ruled out Silvestre at left back.
Other than Gallas, Arsenal have all the same players that played against Liege.
When asked what special preparations the team would make to stop Drogba and Anelka, Wenger said that we need to focus on ourselves and our game rather than worry about what Chelsea are doing. Which is something that you would expect to read in a coaching handbook but is also about 65% horse shit.
Of course, Arsenal play team football. Of course, the team plays possession football. And of course, the team need to focus on that. But just as important, Arsenal need to focus on the strengths of players like Drogba and Anelka: we can’t have 100% of the possession! So, I expect Vermaelen and (touch wood) Gallas to be very sharp on Sunday.
Arsenal’s strengths are that we are playing at home, that Chelsea are also going to play an attacking-ish brand of football, and that several of our players have really matured this season. Still, we’re going to need a special game from our special players because Chelsea are in great form at the moment.
I expect that a well rested Arshavin will torture the Chelsea fullbacks. He’s a special player and when he has an on night he’s better than pretty much anyone in the league. Theo Walcott too enjoys a bit of playing against Chelsea, having scored in half of the matches he’s played against them. I expect him to give A. Cole fits with his pace.
Pace on the wings is even more important when playing against Chelsea’s diamond midfield. The more centrally their midfield plays, the more we need Eboue, Sagna, Arshavin, and Walcott bombing down the wings and exposing their fullbacks. For me, that is the real key to this match. I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet, we’ve only had 2 in the League this year, so we’ll need to score goals.
And with Robin van Persie out, the Arsenal front men need to really step it up.
In the midfield
I said it the other day and I’ll say it again, Cesc Fabregas is the best midfielder in the world at the moment. Still, he’s going up against one of the most experienced trios in the land; Essien, Mikel, and Lampard. He’ll need to put in a superior display on Sunday, because those three are going to do everything they can to stop him running the show.
His partners in midfield will need to provide the backbone to the team so that Cesc can work his magic and so Song and probably Denilson will need to be up for the challenge. John Obi Mikel is a real cocksandwich and he will be putting himself about at every opportunity, how referee Andre Marriner handles that could be a bit of a key to the match as well. If Mikel picks up an early yellow, the match should open up a bit.
Personally, what I’m hoping for is Song to be as much of a cocksandwhich as Mikel has been in the last few years. You know, kick a few lumps into Frank Lampard, frustrate Deco (if he plays), close down Essien, and generally make Drogba and Anelka’s life miserable. He’s managed to avoid that crucial 5th yellow card for a few games now ahead of the match but I’d be surprised if he keeps that record.
Wenger touts the fact that Arsenal don’t let teams get many shots but the problem is that teams don’t seem to need many shots to get a goal. He decried the fact that Sunderland scored on their only shot on goal but that just covers up the fact that, well, that Sunderland scored on their only shot on goal!
There have been a number of ways that Arsenal have conceded this season, but a lot of them have to do with lapses in concentration. On set pieces, Arsene likes to use a zonal marking system and there have been a few times in which this zonal system allows opposition players to slip in and score while Arsenal are left pointing fingers at each other. Chelsea are a real threat from set pieces and Arsenal would do well to keep them quiet there.
Key to doing that is, of course, Thomas Vermaelen. TV5 is our best set piece defender and with our taller players all injured (Bendtner and Diaby) he’s got a huge load to carry.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that Chelsea, to a man, are a disgrace. They’ve set the bar so high for disgraceful antics that people aren’t even surprised any more when their captain, and England’s captain, (who makes £170,000 a week) offers to sell his England armband for marketing.
“British sporting hero,” “Dad of the year” and “one of the World’s most influencial (sic) people?” Really? Ugh.
The thing is, that email campaign above is probably the least disgraceful thing that John Terry’s ever done. And you can just go down the list of players and they are all pretty much the worst examples of human behavior in world sport.
Drogba alone could fill a 90 minute video with his antics; flipping off fans, throwing coins, feigning seizures, and the insanity that followed their loss in the Champions League are just a couple of the things that come to mind. The FA instituted the failed Respect campaign because of Ashley Cole!
Simply put, they are a disgrace.
The differences between the teams couldn’t be more stark. Whereas Chelsea are a pack of mercenary thugs, Arsenal on Sunday are donating their salaries to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. Arsenal as well have quietly built a team that is trying to get back to where Chelsea are. We don’t spend vast sums of money, we don’t have our captain flirting with the likes of Man City in order to increase his paycheck, and we play football that is so much the envy of every team in the world that even Chelsea had to buy a manager who would emulate us.
So, while a loss on Sunday would mean that Chelsea take an 11 point lead and probably put Arsenal’s title hopes on the ropes, I think it’s more important to think that a win would announce this team as nearing the top of their game and doing so in the “right” way; bringing along young players, playing beautiful football, and keeping our names out of the papers.
Irregardless the result on Sunday I love the Arsenal for all that they have done and the classy way that they have gone about doing it. Of course, I’m rooting for us to really show our class and get all three points.