5th October. In one of my first articles about this season, I mentioned the period from 16th August to 5th October as the one that might decide how successful our season is going to be. The game against Chelsea is our fourth big league match this season – so far we have drawn all of the others – and the one which we can’t afford to lose unless we want to forfeit the battle for the title after Week 7 itself. Our opponents – led by the most repulsive manager in the world – have won five out of their six league matches and are firmly entrenched at the top with a six-point-gap between us. If we lose, we would have a nine-point-gap and that’s a tough one to overcome.
It’s not surprising that Chelsea are at the top of the table. They won 16 out of 18 points in the fixtures against their Top 4 rivals last term (in fact, Arsenal were the only ones able to take a point in those matches) but it was enough only for third place due to their poor performances against teams like Stoke, Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland. Their biggest weaknesses were recognized: no world-class striker to dominate in the so-called small matches and no world-class goalkeeper who could be a dominating presence between the sticks like Petr Čech used to be. They did what they had to do: Thibaut Courtois returned from the loan at Atletico Madrid to improve their goalkeeping and Diego Costa was signed from the same club to add fire-power. Furthermore, they signed another Atletico Madrid player – Luis, a left full-back – and added creativity to their midfield by signing Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona so they could get rid of old-timers Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. Diego Costa has been a real menace to all defenders in the league – eight goals in six matches say it all – while Cesc Fabregas has created six goals in six league matches.
Of course every Arsenal fan in the world hates to see Fabregas in the shirt of one of their biggest rivals. I’m no exception – a player who could have been an Arsenal legend decided to betray Arsenal for the second time in his career, except this time we have to watch him play for our direct rivals every week. His first betrayal happened in the summer of 2011. Arsenal had just had a disappointing end to the season, a season in which we could have won at least two trophies, perhaps even all four of them had we had more quality in the defence, less injuries of our key players (Vermaelen, Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie) and less screw-ups by the referees. While Arsenal were going through the worst period in the last ten years and the worst midfield crisis (we had Wilshere injured and Nasri at the exit door), Fabregas decided to leave his troops and didn’t feature in the opening fixtures of the season in order to force his sale to Barcelona. Some captain, eh? Of course, he was sold and after some sweet tweets about Arsenal and neverending love for the Gunners during his period at Barcelona, he decided to join Chelsea this summer. To make things worse, he joined Jose Mourinho, a man with whom he has had some nasty experiences during the El Clasico. Some self-respect from Fabregas, eh?
We won our mid-week match against Galatasaray in exciting fashion – a hat-trick from Danny Welbeck and another impressive performance from Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean is my biggest hope for today’s match as he has enough pace and quality to cause serious problems for the Chelsea defenders and make use of the brilliant passes of Mesut Özil, the best No.10 in the world and the one who will show all Arsenal fans why they should forget Fabregas. Alexis has scored five goals in all competitions this season which means he has a chance to take away one record from Marouane Chamakh’s hands – the Moroccan striker was the quickest player to score ten goals for Arsenal after he signed. Welbeck – with four goals and the fact that he signed for Arsenal almost a month later than Alexis – has a strong chance to surpass Chamakh as well.
Our full-backs are probably the key-players of today’s game though. Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers have to stop dangerous counter-attacks from Chelsea players and keep them at bay. We were massacred down the flanks last time we visited Stamford Bridge due to our full-backs standing too high up the pitch.
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Mertesacker and Koscielny meanwhile will have to deal with one of the dirtiest strikers in the world. Diego Costa knows every dirty little trick to provoke his markers and he has a lot of practice from dealing with equally dirty defenders like Sergio Ramos and Pepe. If Andre Schürrle gets the ball, they will have to be careful of his runs behind the defence – the German relishes big matches and can make intelligent runs behind the defenders as he has shown against Manchester City this season.
Ospina or Szczesny between the sticks? Ospina gave a promising Champions’ League performance and given how Szczesny’s form hasn’t been on the same level as the last term, I would pick Ospina. While I want the Colombian to start, I doubt Wenger will go for it.
Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini will have to form a wall in the middle of the park. Martin Atkinson is in charge, which means they will have to be careful or risk getting carded. And Fabregas is not the only dangerous midfielder in the Chelsea team – Eden Hazard can drift inside as well.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a performance to forget in this fixture the last time around. He was to blame for at least one goal and also blocked Hazard’s wayward shot with his hand for which Andre Marriner accidentally gave a red card to Kieran Gibbs. If he starts on the wing today, he has to offer as much protection to Chambers as he can to prevent the full back from getting overwhelmed.
What to expect today? It’s going to be a difficult game, especially given the fact that Arsene Wenger hasn’t recorded a victory against Jose Mourinho in eleven clashes and is yet to celebrate a goal against his old foe since the Portuguese returned to English football. The fact that Martin Atkinson is in charge doesn’t help us either. Theo Walcott’s absence might be a blow since our two most recent victories over Chelsea came thanks to great performances from the English winger. Out of the last six matches between the two sides Chelsea have won four and lost none with two goal-less draws at the Emirates.
I’d say 1:1 to be the score-line today, with Schürrle scoring an equalizer for Chelsea after Danny Welbeck gives us the lead.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 22 Mar 2014 Chelsea 6 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 23 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea 0
Capital One Cup (COC) 29 Oct 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Chelsea 2
Premier League (EPL) 20 Jan 2013 Chelsea 2 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 29 Sep 2012 Arsenal FC 1 – Chelsea 2
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Chamberlain Özil Alexis
Chelsea 1 v 1 Arsenal