By Phil Gregory
With a new approach, the Chelsea match preview…
Arsenal predicted line-up
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Nasri Chamakh Arshavin
After the Partizan game, we can see that Fabianksi is not a rubbish keeper. If he was, he’d perform poorly in training and never get starts. Some of the basic, basic errors he makes are textbook “choking”, when an athlete forgets all their training due to nerves, and makes s hash of the simplest things due to the pressure on them. It happens to most top level professionals every now and then, for Lukasz it seems to have snowballed into a crisis of confidence. If that penalty save fires him up and he plays with renewed confidence, we could well have a great keeper on our hands. We’ll see.
The defence is as you’d expect. Gibbs’ injury won’t make much difference as I didn’t see him being included for this game anyway. The Koscielny-Squillaci partnership continues, while I hope Song will have a purely defensive mandate, and will shield the back four impeccably as we know he can. Wilshere deputises for Cesc who’s been ruled out of the match while Denilson partners the young Englishman.
Nasri goes inside right, Arshavin inside-left and Chamakh leads the line.
Potential Chelsea line-up
Ivanovic Alex terry Cole
Kalou Drogba Anelka
Much of Chelsea’s attacking prowess comes down their left-hand side, which isn’t a disaster, as our right-hand side is probably the better defensively. Much of their potency on this flank comes from Ashley Cole, so we need to look to restrict him as best we can. There seem to be two options in this regard: either play an inside forward very high up the pitch (almost level with the centre forward) or play a more defensive forward, who can take responsibility for tracking Cole when Chelsea are in possession
I’m of the belief that it is incredibly important to have the initiative in football, to be imposing your game plan on the opposition. I’d kill to have Theo available, he’d be by far the best option for pinning Cole back. He’s out, so I’d play Nasri really high up the field so that Cole knows if he goes forward, Nasri is going to have acres of space and do some real damage on the counter.
This is exactly what Ferguson does, deploying Valencia high up the pitch to restrict a particularly dangerous fullback. Most likely, the threat from Nasri would force Cole to deal with Nasri (after all, a defenders primary concern is defending) so we limit Cole’s runs. That to me is the best way of doing it, as playing a forward such as Eboue who tracks Cole still allows him to make those runs as well as limiting us in attack.
On the other flank we’re likely to see Ivanovic who, while not terrible coming forward is really a centreback playing at rightback. He’s solid defensively (as you’d expect) but doesn’t possess the pace to race forwards and then get back in position. That poses an opportunity for us. Arshavin can run at him while Clichy can afford to offer an option on the overlap, knowing that they are less effective on this side of the pitch.
What are they likely to throw at us? I’d expect Drogba to drift towards our left, looking to compete for the long ball against Clichy instead of the two centrebacks. It’s a familiar tactic, Rafa used Kuyt to exploit Clichy’s weakness in the air, and last season we used Bendtner wide to win the ball versus a fullback to offer us a direct route on the break.
There’s not much we can do really. If they consistently aim the long punts over there, expect Song to shift over to help win the ball in the air. That would however leave us a little light in midfield for a few seconds if they decided to shift their aim back to the general midfield, and Wilshere/Denilson aren’t going to win anything in the air against Essien without Song’s help.
Other than that, expect them to counter-attack quickly and directly to exploit space left behind our fullbacks (hence my inclusion of Denilson in the first-choice midfield).
It’s likely to be a three versus three in midfield, with both sides electing for holding players (Song and Mikel) behind two other central midfielders. Essien is an absolute monster, capable of doing his job defensively as well as also offering a threat in our box. Ramires hasn’t started his Chelsea career brilliantly, and even with him stepping in for Lampard, the loss of the England international is still being felt keenly by Chelsea. That’s just as well, as despite the impressive form of Wilshere in central midfield, there’s only one Cesc Fabregas.
It must be noted that our midfield is going to be a lot smaller than theirs, which will be a problem. With them being at home, the ref won’t call a lot of the marginal fouls Chelsea will look to dish out, so it’ll certainly be a disadvantage.
Again, I disagree with trying to match their physical prowess by playing some like Diaby. The worst thing you can possibly do is try and match your opponent’s strength; that’s exactly what they’d want us to do! It’d be like us travelling to Blackburn, and them playing as many flair players as they have got in an attempt to maximise their possession, knowing we would have the majority of the ball. They don’t do that (sadly!), they look to play to their strengths, as should we.
My midfield is selected on the basis of possession football. Jack can create and take players on while being able to take a hit or three so seems like the most obvious replacement for Cesc, while Denilson is top drawer when it comes to ball retention and winning the ball back via interceptions.
We all know what Drogba brings to the table. Playing against him is going to be a huge “welcome to the Premier League” for Squillaci and Koscielny. The latter has already met Kevin Davies and whatever lump Allardyce put up front, but this is likely to be the hardest 90 minutes he has ever played. If he can come out of this game with a general consensus of 7/10 (or better), then there’ll be no doubt in my mind he’ll go onto be anointed a world-class centreback in due course. He’s got everything else in his locker, if he passes this test he will be another Wenger masterstroke signing.
Squillaci, with his breadth of experience and both domestic and international pedigree, is not going to be overawed by the prospect of facing Drogba. I’m quietly confident of the prospects of the duo in dealing with his threat, given their attributes. Will the Drogba hoodoo finally be lifted from Arsenal? I bloody hope so, as it’s vital if we are to get a result at the Bridge.
Chamakh has certainly drawn the short straw: the centre forward, away from home in a huge, huge tie. He’s likely to be running himself into the ground for 90 minutes, and may only get a single good chance on the ground, which the fans will expect him to take. His main contribution is likely to be his workrate: along with the inside forwards, he’ll be closing down the opposition defenders so that they are forced to make rushed passes.
Such work is often seemingly fruitless, as it’s very unlikely he’ll actually make a tackle from his closing down. What is crucial is the fact that he gives them less time on the ball, so their passes are a little less accurate, with the weighting slightly less than perfect. Such a pass can go awry, and that is exactly the sort that Denilson will seize onto.
We can talk tactics and analyse match-ups all we like, but the single most crucial factor in this game’s outcome will be belief. We won’t have a hope in hell of a result if our players don’t believe they can compete. If our players go out with an inferiority complex, they’ll inevitably play poorly and Chelsea will breeze through us. If we play to the best of our ability, we can get a result here despite the absence of multiple first-choice players.
The fullback and midfield battle will be where the game is won, for me. If we can keep Cole quiet, and keep possession in midfield well, we have the players to create the chances to win this game. We absolutely cannot afford to gift away goals, scoring one will be hard, but scoring two will be immeasurably harder. I’d be absolutely delighted if we scored the first goal, as it’d force Chelsea to come out, leaving more space.
If we concede in the first half, it’s vital we don’t suddenly go gung-ho as Chelsea could score four if we do that. A spell of possession, keep heads up and play our game; creating quality chances over time. Sure, throw caution to the wind if we’re behind as the second half goes on, but we can’t let ourselves get torn apart at any point as it would shatter belief for the season.
2-1 to the Arsenal
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