One thousand matches. It sounds unreal in the world in which managers sign long-term contracts and get sacked before the ink is dry. It takes quality, intelligence, vision and ability to materialize it to survive almost two decades on the same bench. When it comes to Arsene Wenger, it’s inevitable to mention his oldest foe. I have never been fond of Alex Ferguson and I think I have never referred to him as “Sir Alex” without a tongue-on-cheek moment due to his cheap and vulgar mind-games. However, there was one thing that I’ve respected – Ferguson won Champions’ League with two different Manchester United teams.
And, that’s why I have a lot of respect for Arsene Wenger, more than I sometimes show with my writing. He has won two doubles with Arsenal and managed to win the Premiership without defeat. His first double and Invincibles’ season were accomplished by completely different teams (bar Vieira and Bergkamp) and it happened in the space of just six years. Sometimes people who criticize Wenger use number of trophies won by the players Wenger has sold since 2005 as an argument against him. In a way, it is argument in his favour. If you take a look at each of those players, their best seasons – when you take a look at their individual performances – have been those under Wenger’s command. Hardly a coincidence, eh?
On Saturday Arsene Wenger will face his younger foe Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese – as classless in his mind-games as Alex Ferguson used to be – has been everything Arsene Wenger hasn’t been. If it was a movie “Soldier” with Kurt Russell and Jason Scott Lee, Wenger would have been Kurt Russell, an older type of soldier who had been written off before he got another chance to prove his worth against a new, artificially improved soldier. (SPOILER ALERT!) In the movie, Russell lost his first battle against Lee but restored order in the movie finale. Mourinho hasn’t lost a single battle against Wenger and he is yet to lose a game in the Premiership at Stamford Bridge but there is a first time for everything.
It will be a tough one though. Chelsea haven’t spilled a single point at home against their top rivals (Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton and Spuds have been beaten already at Stamford Bridge this season) and we haven’t beaten them in our last five encounters. It’s interesting to notice that three different managers have managed to remain unbeaten against Arsene Wenger since our last victory in October 2011 – Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho.
Speaking of that victory of ours two-and-half years ago, that game had a similar prequel like this match had. Chelsea played against a struggling QPR at Loftus Road and lost 1:0. Furthermore, Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba were sent off which meant they couldn’t face us. Do you know who was the referee that pissed off the Portuguese manager on the Chelsea bench that day? Chris Foy. In case you don’t know, Chelsea lost their game against Aston Villa last week, Willian and Ramires were sent off and the referee that pissed off the Portuguese manager on the Chelsea bench was once Chris Foy.
After the aforementioned defeat at Loftus Road, on Saturday lunch time, the Chavs hosted us. We made a wonderful come-back and won 5:3 with van Persie scoring a hat-trick and John Terry making a crucial slip-assist to The Lying Dutchman. Referee? Thanks for asking – Andre Marriner. It is the same Andre Marriner who will be in charge tomorrow.
It will be really difficult to repeat the feat though. We will have to play without Özil, Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott again. Of course, we played without them and won against the Spuds but the Chavs are a different beast. They didn’t allow us too many chances in the previous two encounters this season – Giroud had three chances in those two matches but he still hasn’t scored a goal against Chelsea since his arrival from Montpellier.
How our team against the Blues will look both on paper and on the pitch will largely depend on Tomas Rosicky’s late fitness test. The Czech midfielder has been our key player and together with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (now that’s a real Sir Alex!) can pose a threat to Chelsea. If he recovers on time to face Chelsea, our chances to stay unbeaten will rise.
Szczesny should occupy his place between the sticks. The Pole made a huge mistake against Spuds last week but fortunately Koscielny was there to rescue him. He should bring his A-game for Stamford Bridge and be aware of Oscar and Lampard’s long shots.
Bacary Sagna will have to be at his best in order to cope with Eden Hazard. The Belgian has been immense for Chelsea this season and arguably their best player by a mile. There is a possibility that Hazard will be switched to the right wing with Andre Schürrle playing on the left. The German can make clever runs behind defences and that’s why Sagna should be careful and never lose positional awareness during the game.
Mertesacker and Koscielny have put more dangerous strikers than Eto’o, Torres, Schürrle and Ba in their back-pocket this season but that doesn’t mean they can allow themselves any complacency against Chelsea. Each one of them has scored goals against us during their career.
Gibbs has had a lot of injury problems this season but he should be on the left side of the defence. What I said about Sagna can be applied to Gibbs as well.
Flamini and Arteta should form a wall in the middle with the former being careful when it comes to tackles. There are some voices that suggest Arteta shouldn’t play due to his inability to play against teams with pacey technicians in the middle. They might have a point but Arteta’s calmness might be something that we would miss if Wenger decides to leave him on the bench. Perhaps pairing one of them with Rosicky – like Wenger did against Spuds – wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Oxlade-Chamberlain should occupy the right wing and show the level of performance from the matches against Everton and Bayern. His pace should give Sagna a bit of a rest – if Azpilicueta starts on the left full-back position, he’ll have to think a lot about his own goal with a pacey winger like Oxlade-Chamberlain against him and won’t be able to help Hazard/Schürrle in the attack.
Santi Cazorla should play on the left wing because I believe he can help the defence more than Podolski does. He can make space for himself with dribbling which is something the German rarely does.
Tomas Rosicky – if he is healthy – should start. It doesn’t matter in which position – his presence improves the whole team.
Olivier Giroud… Well, it’s one of his last chances to prove he can do it against the strongest teams. He hasn’t found the net against either of the Manchester clubs or Chelsea so he has to step up tomorrow and smash one past Čech!
I’d play a similar game to the one Arsenal played in Munich or against the Chavs in the first half of the season – I’d keep them at 0:0 until the last ten minutes. Then I’d try to win the game with one punch.
What worries me is that I don’t think about defeat at all. All I’m thinking is whether we will win one or all three points at Stamford Bridge. It would be such a great gift for Arsene Wenger and a major boost for our title challenge – a victory over Jose Mourinho at his own turf to prove who’s the boss would give us a chance to leapfrog Chelsea with a victory over Swansea. Still, I’d settle with a draw tomorrow – 1:1.
Whatever happens…COYG, RIP MOURINHO A NEW ONE!
Arsenal: Rosicky (doubt – ankle), Walcott (knee), Ramsey (thigh), Ozil (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Ryo (hamstring), Diaby (knee)
Chelsea: Ramires (suspended), Willian (suspended), Cole (knee), Van Ginkel (knee)
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 23 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea FC 0
Capital One Cup (CCUP) 29 Oct 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 20 Jan 2013 Chelsea FC 2 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 29 Sep 2012 Arsenal FC 1 – Chelsea FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 21 Apr 2012 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea FC 0
18 Mar 2014 Chelsea FC 2 – Galatasaray 0 UCL
15 Mar 2014 Aston Villa 1 – Chelsea FC 0 EPL
8 Mar 2014 Chelsea FC 4 – Tottenham 0 EPL
1 Mar 2014 Fulham 1 – Chelsea FC 3 EPL
26 Feb 2014 Galatasaray 1 – Chelsea FC 1 UCL
16 Mar 2014 Tottenham 0 – Arsenal FC 1 EPL
11 Mar 2014 FC Bayern München 1 – Arsenal FC 1 UCL
8 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1 FA
1 Mar 2014 Stoke City 1 – Arsenal FC 0 EPL
22 Feb 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Sunderland 1 EPL
Chelsea 1 – 2 Arsenal