By Phil Gregory
Chelsea come to the Emirates today in a much anticipated tie as far as Arsenal’s title challenge goes. With the pundits shifting from claiming we’re going to score over a hundred goals this season to stating we’re out of the title race in the space of one dodgy performance after the international break, it falls to the Gunners to silence the doubters.
Waking up the to the news that Robin Van Persie’s injury is not 4-6 weeks, but 4-5 months, we can but hope for a “do it for Robin” performance from the team
Arsenal come into the game on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland last Saturday, bringing to the end a fourteen game unbeaten run in all competitions. Despite this, a 100% home record gives us reason to be confident, and we can expect goals given our free-scoring nature in front of the Emirates faithful.
Chelsea have been shaky on the road this season, with a 3-1 defeat at the DW Stadium as well as 2-1 loss at Villa Park. While Carlo Ancelotti’s players are receiving all the plaudits at the minute, most of their biggest scorelines have come in front of their own fans (bar a 0-4 win against a dire Bolton) and their massive win over Manchester United was shrouded in controversy.
Arsenal will be expecting a physical, pressing game from Chelsea on Sunday and are arguably better equipped than ever to deal with sort of approach. Song is not one to get beaten off the ball, and arguably came of age in the 1-2 victory at the Bridge last season. Didier Drogba will be the acid test for Thomas Vermaelen’s physical attributes and I personally cannot wait for this duel. Song and Vermaelen will relish the physical approach of Chelsea, and will be looking to give as good as they get.
Chelsea will be undoubtedly happy that Lampard is back, and the England international’s shooting will be a constant threat to Almunia’s goal. Essien will look to minimise Fabregas’ influence on the game and dominate the midfield, but the fiery Spaniard relishes the midfield battle and will be up to the task. Didier Drogba will be looking to break into double figures of Premier League goals at the Emirates and will be dangerous throughout.
The left back position has been decimated, with Clichy and Gibbs out with back and metatarsal injuries respectively. Gallas is a doubt, but I’m confident he’s going to be fit – I have an inkling that Wenger’s is playing mindgames with his swollen eye. Most importantly, his ankle injury is only minor and won’t keep him out of the Chelsea game. Diaby and Bendtner are out until early December while long-term absentees Van Persie and Djourou are out until March at the earliest.
Chelsea can only point to Bosingwa as an absentee, and the attacking fullback is likely to be missed if Chelsea struggle to break down the Arsenal defence.
Arsenal expected lineup:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Eboue
Rosicky Eduardo Arshavin
Subs: Mannone, Ramsey, Silvestre, Vela, Wilshere, Traore, Nasri
From Wenger’s press conference, he considers Traore and Eboue as only remaining our options at leftback, and I feel that Eboue, while not a left footer, is more solid than Traore (FA Cup vs. United in 07/08 still gives me nightmares) and has that big match experience which is so vital in these sort of ties. Apart from that, the defence picks itself.
I was unsure between Nasri, Denilson and Rosicky, but I plumped for Rosicky on the wide right, presuming he was rested during the midweek game for this game, with Denilson taking the central midfield role that so divides Arsenal fans. His intelligence, simple possession play and interceptions compliment the physical game of Song well (who, to be fair, is more than capable of going forward in his own right). Eduardo will be entrusted with taking over from Van Persie, and we will be hoping that he shows that predatory instinct on Sunday that made Wenger bring him in.
Almost impossible to call. The leftback situation doesn’t concern me too much as Chelsea’s new formation doesn’t see them using the flanks too much, though Anelka does drop wide on occasion.
Ivanovic – almost certainly slotting in for Bosingwa – won’t offer too much of a threat going forward, and our wide left and Eboue will be confident of giving him a torrid time. I disagree with the view that Chelsea are champions in waiting and believe we can trouble them as much, if not more, than they can trouble us. The midfield battle will be strength and endeavour versus flair and intelligence, let’s hope our fluid passing game is out in force and they chase shadows all game. 3-2 to the Arsenal!
Great to be back, hope everyone enjoys the match. I’ve got an old flatmate coming round to watch it, and she’s a Chelsea fan, so the stakes just rose tenfold for me! See you all for the Carling Cup Preview!
(Tony and Billy the Dog went to the Toppled Bollard at 9.30 this morning in order to do their preview of the game, and have not yet returned. If they do file a copy, it will be published. If they don’t, it won’t. Logical isn’t it.)