Chelsea (The Emirates Stadium, London)
Premier League Fixture
Sunday 29th November 2009
Kick Off: 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
As it stands, Arsenal are 8 points behind runaway league-leaders Chelsea, having played a game less.
A defeat would leave us 11 points behind, which would be a massive gap even with that game in hand – which incidentally is against Bolton Wanderers at home.
But if we can end the match with a win, it’s amazing the difference it would make. Instead of trailing by 11 points we would be only 5 points behind, which would mean if we did manage to win our game in hand then the deficit would only be 2 points.
Talk about a real 6-pointer.
Despite our topsy-turvy away form (which will need to be addressed if we are to be considered worthy challengers), wins against Portsmouth, Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham and Tottenham mean that our home form has literally been perfect in the Premier League, giving us five wins out of five.
It’s also interesting to note that in four home European ties (Celtic, Olympiacos, AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege) and two Carling Cup games (W.B.A. and Liverpool) we’ve won all six. So in all competitions, Arsenal have won every home game.
And as if you weren’t sick enough of all the maths, in those 11 games Arsenal have scored 35 goals and conceded only 7.
A lot of you will rightly mention the opposition we’ve faced in those home fixtures, but I’m not completely decided either way whether that is important in terms of the game against Chelsea. Yes, our home form is hugely impressive but in a game of this level, for me, none of that really matters. You could even argue that recent form isn’t even that relevant – look how Liverpool beat Manchester United at home, despite having the worst run in 1,205 years. In their last 10 matches (excluding the win over Debrecen midweek) Liverpool’s only win in that time was against United – and they drew 3 and lost the other 6.
So if the scousers have taught us anything (except it takes more than two decent players to win football matches) it’s that Arsenal versus Chelsea is anyone’s game.
I firmly believe that as is the case with many games between the Top Four, what makes the difference in the end is the performance on the day and which team takes their chances.
And at The Emirates with the home crowd behind them, Arsenal are capable of beating anyone.
The bad news is that the man who has proved to be the difference against Arsenal on more than one occasion, Didier Drogba, is back in the Chelsea squad after playing against Porto on Wednesday. And it looks like Frank Lampard is set to return early from his injury scare. So Chelsea look pretty much full strength.
Arsenal on the other hand aren’t exactly down to the bare bones, but missing big players.
Arsenal’s biggest goal threat this season Robin Van Persie is obviously out, as well as Gael Clichy and Kieran Gibbs meaning third-choice left back Armand Traore will deputise in their absence. That position will be something I’m sure Chelsea will try to exploit, and the alternative (which could actually be used) of Silvestre playing there really would put the shivers down my spine. And even worse news is that Silvestre might even play at centre back after Williams Gallas was only declared “50-50″ after he still couldn’t get his contact lens into his eye yesterday. If that happens then Eboue will have to switch sides and play at left back.
A defensive back line including both Eboue and Silvestre would re-define the phrase “patched up” and unfortunately all I could see from that scenario would be a hell of a lot of leaks. And bad ones at that.
Van Persie Update: Just read the latest news that according to the Arsenal medical staff “Van Persie will now be out for between four to five months” and will require surgery on his ankle.
You can read more on this devastating news on the official Arsenal website.
I’m very interested, and excited, to see what Arshavin can do against a top quality side like Chelsea.
We’ve seen what he can do against Liverpool, and we’ve seen what he could do against Manchester United. He is a special talent and as both of those sides found out, give him even half a second and a bit of space he can hurt you to devastating effect. So I hope he has a lot of the ball and a big game on Sunday.
I’m sure a lot of you will still be confused to as why the Russian didn’t play against Chelsea last season when we played them in the semi-final of the FA Cup but that’s over now and we have to look forward. The only concern is that I’m not sure Arshavin is at his happiest playing in our new 4-3-3 formation. He’s managed to score 5 goals in this campaign but I haven’t really seen that same spark he had last season.
Hopefully tomorrow will be he’ll be able to mark his arrival to the new season.
Tactics & Style of Play
We all know Arsenal will come out and play their own brand of attacking football, but how about Chelsea?
I’ve only seen them a couple of times this season, against Liverpool and Manchester United, although both of those games were at Stamford Bridge.
If I remember correctly, those games were cagey and hardly entertaining. In the most recent, despite having a decent amount of play and playing a very compact formation with 5 in midfield and one up top Manchester United could feel unlucky not to get anything from that game. And when Liverpool travelled to London they were compact and defensive as well, but unlike United were never really in that game.
So if Chelsea are cautious at home against the Top Four, then you can bet they will be tomorrow against an attacking side like Arsenal.
But because they know how Arsenal play it almost makes the job easy for Chelsea. The basic game-plan is to sit deep, withstand some pressure in the final third and then hit Arsenal on the counter attack – and when you do get chances to get forward you need to make them count. And that is almost perfect for a solid, powerful and quick team like Chelsea – who have Anelka and Drogba in top form. Added to that, they have a deadly threat in the air, which is something that has cost us dear in the past.
It’s a clichÃ©, but the team that wins here will be the one that takes their chances.
And unfortunately when it comes to a straight fight between Almunia and Cech to keep a clean sheet, the smart money wouldn’t be on the Spaniard.
Perversely, away from home Arsenal have really impressed against the Top Four. There was that 4-4 win at Anfield (which we should have won) and then the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge. But at home Arsenal will be more open and Chelsea will have their chances to punish us.
The Title Race
Ordinarily, a game this early against one of the Top Four wouldn’t be so important, but make no mistake about it, this game is massive.
Even though there’s 6 months of the season left, losing tomorrow and going 11 points behind would really put us in Liverpool territory. We’ve racked up 3 defeats already and last seasons Champions only lost 4, while the Champions for the 4 seasons previous to that all lost only 5 games – so another defeat at this stage doesn’t leave us with much wiggle room for the rest of the campaign.
But a win against Chelsea, who are seemingly cruising at the top of the league, would give them their 3rd defeat of the season, and show the rest of the Premier League that they can be beaten. With their lead at the top of the table there’s almost an aura that this Chelsea team are impossible to beat. Manchester United used to have that when they had Ronaldo but the team to beat this season is undoubtedly Chelsea.
And all 3 points should give us the impetus to push on strong over the winter period. With that disappointing defeat at Sunderland and the injury to Van Persie we need something to kick start our season.