Saturday, 25 April 2015

Arsenal v Chelsea Preview

Let me just start off by saying Arsenal have no hope of catching Chelsea with a 10 point deficit to make up and only six games to go. Chelsea have only lost two league games this season and they're not going to lose three of their last six even if Arsenal do get the better of them. There was a very slim chance of Arsenal catching them, but that ended when Chelsea beat United last week.

As they have got closer and closer to lifting the title Jose Mourinho has reverted to type and his team have become more and more defensive and far less entertaining to watch. They have got the results though and I'm sure he's happy that the ends justify the means. If I'm not mistaken it was a similar approach to the game which cost him his job the last time he managed Chelsea.

They will more than likely park their executive bus across their penalty area and look to frustrate Arsenal from first minute to last. I have no doubt Mourinho would be delighted with a draw as it would move them a step closer to glory. Arsenal have to find a way to open up their defensive masses and get the goal or goals they need to stay second ahead of the two Manchester clubs.

Of course there's more than one sideshow to this game with the return of Cesc Fabregas to his former club and the first meeting of the two managers since their little pushing incident in the reverse fixture. I don't think there's too much to concern ourselves about between Arsene Wenger and Mourinho and I doubt very much they will have a repeat of that incident. Perhaps the biggest opportunity for the boss is to finally get one over on a manager he has never beaten.

As for Fabregas it will be more than a little interesting to see how the Arsenal fans react to the return of their former captain. The hatred of Robin van Persie doesn't seem to be matched with Fabregas despite both players leaving the club in fairly similar circumstances. Of course van Persie didn't help himself by going public with his intentions, but was that a more honest way to leave the club than the path Fabregas chose.

He made it obvious he wanted to return to his hometown club where he had failed to make the grade when he was younger and he made sure he got his way. We'll never know the full truth of the matter and we don't know whether he was promised a move or not. What we do know is he turned his back on the club which made him the player he is and forced a move to Barcelona for a fee which really didn't reflect his value at the time.

As it turned out he didn't quite make the grade at Barcelona again and they decided he could leave after three years. Arsenal had dibs on him, but the boss chose not to exercise his option and let Fabregas go and look for another club. Fabregas had always claimed to love Arsenal even when he left, but that didn't stop him heading to the west of London to join that team of cheats, divers and obnoxious people.

It didn't take him too long to start kissing the Chelsea badge and his Arsenal days are well and truly in the past now. He was a high profile captain who turned his back on the club and manager who showed faith in him from a very young age and made him the player he became. The boss may have asked for respect to be shown to him on Sunday, but I have no doubt he will receive a rough reception and I have to say it's fully justified.

Did he really think Arsenal would wait around for him to waltz back when things didn't go his way in Barcelona. There are so many opinions on why we didn't sign him and how he ended up at Chelsea, but the facts are he did join them and as a former Arsenal player playing for a rival he will get slated by the Arsenal fans. Let's just hope the team can give him the best reception of all by taking all three points off Chelsea.

I expect the boss to pick his strongest team available to him and I would expect to see the same team that won away to Burnley in their last league game. There's a real argument for Mathieu Debuchey playing ahead of Hector Bellerin at right back as his experience could be very valuable as Arsenal attempt to counter the threat offered by Eden Hazard. I suspect Bellerin will get the nod though as Debuchey has played so little football recently and Bellerin's pace might come in handy.

Arsenal have won their last eight league games in a row to move ahead of both Manchester clubs in the race for second place and they won't want that run to come to an end. It won't be easy though as Chelsea will be perfectly happy to defend in numbers and look to hit Arsenal on the break with Hazard as their main weapon. Arsenal cannot over commit players forward and leave themselves too vulnerable at the back and the role of Francis Coquelin will be crucial for them.

Since his recall from his loan spell at Charlton he has been immense and played a huge role in the form and results since the turn of the year. He's not afraid to do the hard work which others looked to avoid or at least didn't put the required effort into and he has given the attacking players a great base to build from. His ability to be in the right place at the right time to intercept opposition passes is exceptional and his ability to cover for others who have been caught out of position has to be admired. He may have found his way into the team due to necessity when it looked like he was surplus to requirements, but he has grasped his opportunity with both hands. 

Chelsea will miss Diego Costa but they have had a relatively injury free season in comparison to Arsenal and it's only since the boss has had most of his first choice players available that Arsenal have put their run together. They have taken more points so far in the second half of the season than any other team and while it might be too late for them this season it's something that has to be brought into next season. We have been here before with false beginnings over the last 10 years, but this time it looks like it could be for real.

Before next season can be considered though this season has to finish and there's an FA Cup final to play and six league games to go too. Arsenal have put some of their awful form against the Premier League's top sides behind them this season with victories away to City and at home to Liverpool and it's time to add Chelsea to that list. The confidence of the players has grown this season and they're not as brittle as they were at times last season and a victory over the champions elect would only build on that confidence.

I have no doubt Chelsea will foul tactically to stop Arsenal and take every chance they can to cheat and badger the referee. Arsenal cannot be distracted from their task though and need to continue their fantastic run of nine home league wins in a row. Chelsea have the best away record in the league though and no other team has scored more away goals than them, but they have leaked more goals than you might expect away from home.

If Arsenal are going to beat them they need to put some real pressure on the centre of the Chelsea defence where I think John Terry is well past his best. If they can get past the defensive shield in front of him I think they can make the chances they need to win the game. It's a matter of taking those chances then, but a team with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey in it has so much attacking potential that any team should be worried to face them.

I think Arsenal can do it and go on to finish second and win the cup too and the season has to be judged as a success if they do so. If it goes the other way and they fade to fourth and lose to Villa then there will be an awful lot of questions asked this summer. It's a fine line to run in these seven games, but I think it will go the way all right minded fans want it to go.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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