Monday, 27 December 2010

Arsenal v Chelsea Preview.

Arsenal get to play tonight for the first time in two weeks. Last week's home Premier League game against Stoke RFC was postponed due to the weather, but tonight's Premier League game at home to Chelsea will go ahead. After the results in yesterday's games it's a game that Arsenal need to win, but in the great scheme of things it won't end their title ambitions if they don't.

I don't need to tell anybody how Arsenal have struggled to cope with Didier Drogba over the last few seasons, as he has seemed to score for fun against them. The outcome of today's game could well hinge on Arsenal's ability to keep him out of the game, and off the score sheet. Chelsea are currently enjoying their worst Premier League run of results in 10 years,  and their performances have matched those results in my opinion.

They can welcome Frank Lampard back to their team tonight, but he hasn't played in so long that match fitness has to be a big factor in how he performs. Michael Essien has also been back in their team  for the last few games after suspension, but even his performances don't seem to be able to inspire them. It's hard to pinpoint what the cause of their poor form has been, but it may well have something to do with the sacking of Ray Wilkins by their owner.

For a few seasons now Chelsea have had the better of Arsenal, as they have varied their playing style to one that Arsenal find it difficult to play against. They sit back and defend as Arsenal play football and push forward, and then they hit Arsenal on the break as players are caught out of position. It's a game plan that is simplistic in it's execution, but it needs every player to play his part and concentrate from first minute to last. 

A lot of Chelsea's recent problems have been due to players not doing what they're meant to be doing on the pitch, as their concentration has waned and their effort dipped. If they cannot give everything they have tonight against Arsenal they know that they will be punished by a team full of players with the ability to hurt them. I would be very surprised if Chelsea are not back to their best tonight, and if they are not it points to their problems being even deeper than I had thought them to be. If that is the case I think that there will be very big changes at Stamford Bridge very soon.

Enough of Chelsea and their problems, and let's concentrate on Arsenal and what they need to do to win tonight. The injury problems that Arsenal have had for the last few seasons seem to be fading at last, and the only player unavailable from their ideal starting 11 is Thomas Vermaelen. It means that Arsene Wenger has a few selection headaches ahead of tonight's game, but they're the type of headaches that any manager should look forward to having.

I would imagine that Lukasz Fabianski will regain his place in goal now that he has recovered from his injury. Wojceich Szczesny played very well away to "Manure", but he lost his chance to retain the shirt when that home game against Stoke RFC was called off, and Fabianski was still injured. The competition between the two Polish goalkeepers should hopefully be a very good thing for Arsenal, but I would expect Szczesny to ultimately come out on top.

The two first choice full backs should both be playing, but the big defensive question will be who plays in the centre of defence. The most likely combination is Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci, but personally I would prefer to see Johan Djourou play instead of Squillaci. I think Djourou has got better by the game, as he has continued his comeback from the injury that kept him out for a full season. The boss has said that he has being playing Djourou in every second game, as he has being trying to ensure that he doesn't suffer a relapse. I would prefer to see him play tonight, and sit out Wednesday night's trip to Wigan Athletic.

In midfield I would expect to see Cesc Fabregas back in his pivotal role, with Alex Song and Jack Wilshere behind him. The boss has other options of course, with Abu Diaby and Denilson also available and well capable of playing tonight. The extra week that Cesc has had off should hopefully have been enough for him to put his hamstring problems behind him. Cesc has had a stop start season so far, but if he can get himself fully fit there are few players in the world who are his equal. Arsenal need a fully fit Cesc to drive them forward towards any trophy that they hope to win this season, and it would be great to see the Cesc Fabregas that we all know and love back in the team tonight.

With Chelsea looking to hit Arsenal on the break, and right through the middle of their team I would hope that both Song and Wilshere will sit back just a little, and concentrate a little more on their defensive duties. I know that the boss wants the two of them to push their opponents in their own half, but at times it leaves Arsenal incredibly vulnerable at the back. That pressing of opponents in their own half is something that Barcelona do very well, but so far Arsenal are unable to keep it up for 90 minutes. The intensity seems to fall off after about 30 minutes, and it's no coincidence that Arsenal are conceding quite a few goals in the 15 minutes just before half time.

It's also very hard to push opponents in their own half when they decide to play the ball long to their strikers, and Arsenal are very vulnerable to long balls from the opponent's keeper or defenders. It was very obvious in their away game to "Manure" that it was a tactic being used against Arsenal, and the central defenders weren't too sure what their role was when that ball was played. If there was a midfielder to mop off as the ball came back from the opposing centre forward it could well help to limit the amount of chances that Arsenal concede to their opponents.

The biggest question for me tonight will be who starts in the central striking role. I think that Robin Van Persie has to be ready by now, and I would love to see him in from the start. I know Marouane Chamakh has done very well so far, but he has played an awful lot more games than he would have been expected to play, and maybe it's time for Arsenal's best striker to step back into the team. I know RVP is incredibly injury prone, but when he is fit there are few players to compare to him. A few times recently RVP has come on as a sub and played behind Chamakh, but I don't think that it's a combination that benefits the team, and I would like to see RVP reclaim his true role.

On either side of RVP I would expect to see Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin. Nasri has been Arsenal's best player so far this season, and he is an absolute must to start in any game as long as he is fit. He is the top scorer so far with 12 goals from his wide role, and some of those goals have been quite exceptional. On the other side I expect to see Arshavin play despite the fact that he has played poorly in his last two games. If he was suffering from fatigue the two week break should have recharged his batteries, and he's a player that can win any game all on his own. I hope we see him at his very best tonight, and if not there will be questions asked about his commitment by some fans.

On the bench that should leave Szczesny, Djourou, Diaby, Denilson, Chamakh, Bendtner and probably Eboue too. It's a bench that has strength in every position, and it's good to see the competition for places is getting stronger by the week. With so many games to play over the next few weeks, the strength of that squad will be tested all the way. Arsenal have to play on three different fronts as they continue their Premier League campaign, as well as playing in the FA Cup and the Carling Cup.

In tonight's game I hope to see Arsenal come out and play their very best football from first minute to last, and blow Chelsea away to lay down a marker for the rest of the season. That would be an ideal scenario, but I would also take a lucky win, as long as Arsenal manage to get a win. With "Manure" now five points ahead of Arsenal it's crucial that Arsenal try to keep pace, and wait for them to continue their poor away form. I still don't think they're a particularly good team, and the league title is there for the taking if Arsenal can rise to the challenge.

I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with RVP and Nasri bagging the goals. It won't be easy, but it's a game that Arsenal are well capable of winning once they can overcome the mental block that they seem to have against Chelsea. If they can do that it could be just what they need to finally fulfill their potential, and deliver the trophies that their fans crave.

That's it for today.

Here's the brace from RVP the last time Arsenal beat Chelsea.

See You Tomorrow.

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