Arsenal play Chelsea in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge in an early kick off today. It's a game that Arsenal probably need to win, but there are definitely underdogs to do so. The main reason a win is so important to them is their need to catch up on the leaders after their poor start to the season.
That poor start has been put behind them to some degree with seven victories in their last eight games in all competitions. They have also managed back to back wins in the Premier League for the first time since before last season's Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City last February. If Arsenal can somehow keep that record going by not losing to Chelsea I think it will be a very good result for them.
Realistically Arsenal's target in the Premier League this season is to finish fourth, and currently they are six points off the pace for fourth place. That fourth place is currently occupied by Newcastle, but they are only behind Chelsea on goal difference. If Arsenal can find it within themselves to win this game they will have pulled themselves right back into the fray.
In team news Arsene Wenger has said Thomas Vermaelen is available for selection, but he's not sure he will be physically up to it after he only returned from injury against Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night. Vermaelen is Arsenal's best defender in my opinion, and I would prefer to see him play against Chelsea than against Marseille in the Champions League next Tuesday night. The Chelsea game will be a lot tougher for the Arsenal defence, and Vermaelen's inclusion in the defence would be a huge boost for the whole team.
Carl Jenkinson has a chance of playing too, but he has to be assessed by the manager and medical staff first. If Vermaelen plays I would expect the right back slot to go to Laurent Koscielny, and Jenkinson to be held back until Tuesday. I think Per Mertesacker will probably keep his place, and I certainly can't see Koscielny beinhttp://www.oleole.com/blog/post/bid/2452/pid/553124g dropped either after his recent good performances.
Koscielny is made for a game like this where there might be a lot of defending for Arsenal to do at certain times in the game. Wojciech Szczesny will of course start in goal, and Andre Santos is currently the only fit left back at the club so he will be in the team too.
In four away games so far this season Arsenal have managed to score six goals, but they have conceded 14 goals. Eight of those goals were conceded on an awful day away to Manchester United, and Arsenal's defence has certainly improved since then. This game will be a real test of exactly how much that defence has changed.
In midfield I expect Alex Song to play the defensive role behind Mikael Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, as Arsenal look to gain enough possession to make their mark on the game. Ramsey is slowly returning to the player he promised to be before his leg break 20 months ago. Arteta may not be Cesc Fabregas, but he is finding his feet in the Arsenal team, and I expect him to keep improving.
Robin Van Persie will obviously lead the attack after he scored two goals last Sunday for the second Premier League game in a row. He only played the last quarter of that game against Stoke City, but his impact was immediate and quite magnificent too. It's hard to estimate where Arsenal might be right now without RVP, and his continued fitness is of vital importance to them.
The players on either side of RVP will probably be Gervinho and Theo Walcott as they seem to be the first choices at the moment. Andrey Arshavin did very well in the Carling Cup victory over Bolton on Tuesday night, but he was deployed in a role behind the striker. I cannot see Wenger changing his preferred formation for a game of this importance, and I cannot see Arshavin replacing either Ramsey or Arteta in the team either.
Arshavin doesn't have the defensive work rate of either of those players, and all three of Arsenal's midfielders will have to work tirelessly to defend at times. If Wenger wants to change things later in the game he could possibly play Arshavin in that role, but I can't see that happening. It's well known that Arshavin prefers to play in that role, but so do many other players.
Gervinho had a very good game against Stoke last week, and his ability to get to the end line and cut the ball back could be vital to Arsenal. I haven't been overly impressed with Chelsea's defence this season, and I think they look weak under pressure. If Gervinho can use his sudden burst of pace to get into those positions and cut the ball back he could possibly provide RVP with the chances he needs.
It's never easy to go to Stamford Bridge and get a result, and Chelsea have won all four of their home games in the Premier League so far this season. If I was a betting man I would find it difficult to back Arsenal, but I'm an Arsenal fan and I always back my team to win. I'm predicting a 3-2 win for Arsenal with RVP showing why he is one of the favourites to top the Premier League scoring charts this season.
If things don't go as I hope I at least want to see Arsenal put in a real performance to show they are capable of competing with the best. If the worst happens and Arsenal lose despite playing well I think it will give them enough of a boost to continue their recent run afterwards.
Over the last few years Didier Drogba has been a real problem for Arsenal, but he won't be playing in this game as he is suspended. They still have plenty of other very good players, and Arsenal will have to be at their very best to stop them.
Even with the return of Vermaelen the Arsenal team is still missing a couple of vital cogs in Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere. Neither player will be available until the new year, and their returns will be a huge boost for the whole squad when it comes. Abu Diaby must be somewhere near returning to action, and he should get plenty of chances to play when he does return.
I still think Arsenal are short of players in midfield and Diaby will give Wenger a few more options, as he waits for the return of Wilshere. Hopefully he will also invest in at least one top class midfielder at the start of the transfer window in January. There are a few players out there who might just bring the creative spark to the Arsenal midfield that seems to be missing at the moment.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how good RVP was when he returned from injury last season.
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