On the eve of what is probably the most difficult Premier League fixture we will play this season, it has taken me quite some time to work out how best to approach today’s blog. Any team and its supporters will find the prospect of playing at Stamford Bridge a daunting one, but Arsenal fans in particular have seen their team ripped apart quite comfortably by Chelsea (and Didier Drogba specifically) in recent years.
In the corresponding fixture last season Chelsea were 2-0 up before half time and the game was over. They were comfortable and they knew the points were in the bag. In the home fixture last season they were able to bring players off early in the second half to rest them for the next game. A 6-pointer between two top-four teams should be a battle until the death!
It is therefore vital that we limit their chances and frustrate their style of play. This requires a level of discipline by our midfield that would not normally be asked of them against lesser opponents. Dare I say it, but we might have to reconsider our normal tactics in this fixture because if we’re too open it will just be a repeat of previous games where they have won all too easily. If any readers believe differently then I would welcome their suggestions in the comments below.
Yesterday marked Arsene’s 14-year anniversary at the club, and after his press conference we know that two players who might have made the game, Fabregas and Almunia, will be unavailable until after the international break. With the former, it is a big loss and will certainly reduce the amount of chances we create. However if he isn’t going to be 100 percent fit for the game then there’s absolutely no way he should be played with the risk of worsening the injury.
As for the latter, I don’t think it will be too detrimental given Fabianski had his best performance in an Arsenal shirt against Partizan, and Almunia had one of his worst performances against WBA in the game before.
A surprise injury to Kieran Gibbs also rules him out of this game and for the next two to three weeks. That is a real nuisance but it means a recall for Clichy who has had, in my opinion, a poor start to the season and owes us an outstanding performance. He seems to switch off at the crucial moment and his errors are often costly and/or lead to a dangerous opportunity for the opposition. We simply cannot afford to make mistakes like those against Chelsea who will punish us ruthlessly if we do.
This fixture is a classic 6-pointer. A win and we are one point off first place, a defeat and we are seven points off and many people will say we can kiss the league goodbye. Personally, I reckon that we can forget the league if we lose because the competition is too high these days to make up that much ground. Even though we made up an 11 point deficit on Man United in 1998 it was only really the two of us who could realistically win the title. Nowadays there are many more teams with title credentials so you end up having to claw it back against three teams rather than one when you go that far behind.
Can we beat Chelsea? Of course we can. However I believe the key to our being successful against them is taking every goal scoring opportunity that comes our way as it is unlikely there will be many. Chelsea are extremely good at keeping organised, keeping things tight at the back and limiting opportunities for their opposition. In last season’s game at the Emirates I remember being frustrated that we couldn’t even get crosses in, let alone conjure up many real chances on goal. With a disciplined defence and the highly effective combination of Essien and Mikel in the DM positions it is difficult to create opportunities against them.
Already disadvantaged by the absence of Cesc for this fixture (not to mention the other usual suspects out injured), we are looking to Arshavin and Nasri to be on top, top form to create those openings. Once the chances are created, they must be converted. To suggest that we can keep a clean sheet against Chelsea is at the very least optimistic, so it may well be a case of having to outscore them to win the game. Saying all that, we’d take a draw wouldn’t we?
It has been pretty easy going for Chelsea when they’ve played us in recent seasons. It’s about time we changed that.