Saturday, 23 January 2016

Arsenal v Chelsea Preview

Despite only drawing their last two games away to Liverpool and Stoke, Arsenal are still just about on top of the Premier League. They are ahead of Leicester on goal difference and a point ahead of City with 16 games still to play before the season reaches it's conclusion in May. Both of those teams will play before Arsenal again this week and Arsenal will know what their task is before the game starts.

The chances are Arsenal will be in third place going into their game unless both Leicester and City lose their games. It doesn't really matter what the other teams do though because Arsenal will stay ahead of them if they win. There's still a long way to go this season, but the result of this game could have a huge impact on how things go from here on in.

Chelsea may be the reigning champions, but they have had a disastrous league campaign so far and are only four points above the relegation zone before a ball is kicked this weekend. They have only won two of their 10 away games and have lost five of them. Their results may have improved since the departure of Jose Mourinho with Chelsea unbeaten in six games, but they have only won two of those games and they have drawn the other four.

Arsenal have had their problems with injuries this season and they came to a head when they played away to West Brom and Norwich in November with Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin all picking up injuries that have ruled them out of the team since then. We hoped to see Alexis back before now, but he had a setback and it looks like he will finally be ready to face Chelsea. Coquelin has returned to training this week with Danny Welbeck to follow him next week and hopefully Cazorla and Jack Wilshere will be back soon while Tomas Rosicky finally got some game time for the under 21 team yesterday.

If Arsenal are going to keep their challenge going right until the end of the season they need to have as many of those players as possible available and at the moment it's looking good for them on that front. Not only will Alexis more than likely be back tomorrow, but Mesut Ozil will return too after missing the trip to Stoke last week with a slight injury. Those two players are crucial to Arsenal's chances of winning the league and it's crucial to have them both in the team as much as possible.

It's hard to overestimate the importance of the club's two record signings, but they are both world class players and game winners on their own. The goalless draw at Stoke last week showed how toothless Arsenal can be without those two players and their returns to the team are hugely welcome. They can make the difference against any team and they're the two players most likely to make the difference against Chelsea.

Their returns will most likely see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drop to the bench and one other player will miss out too. That player will be a straight choice between Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell and there's a case to be made for both of them. Walcott hasn't been in the best of form in recent weeks while Campbell has changed the minds of so many fans since he got his chance with others injured.

I have a feeling Arsene Wenger will opt for Walcott despite his current form as he has the knack of scoring in big games and I think he offers more of a goalscoring threat than Campbell. It should mean Walcott moves to a wide right role he's more familiar with and hopefully he can get some joy on the end of a few Ozil passes. Ozil is the man who's passing is the key to opening a dodgy looking Chelsea defence and I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to keep a tight rein on him.

I watched Chelsea draw 3-3 at home to Everton last week and I was amazed at how vulnerable they were down the middle with two defensive midfielders in their team. The Everton players ran at and through them and surely Arsenal will have seen this and will try it themselves. Alexis could just be the man to get some joy in those situations and it would be great to see him score on his return.

Of course Arsenal have already lost 2-0 away to Chelsea in the league this season due to a combination of poor refereeing and Diego Costa. There had been some suggestion of Costa missing this game, but I have no doubt that he will be playing from the start. The only way for Arsenal to get the better of him is to stick to their game and beat Chelsea.

He most certainly cannot take a beating and I would hope to see the Arsenal players wind him up as much as possible. It doesn't take much to set him off and all eyes will be on him after he received a retrospective three game ban from the first game. If I was out there I would certainly sign up to the theory of taking turns to kick him, but I cannot see Arsenal sinking to those depths. The Arsenal players cannot let his antics affect their game and they have to ignore whatever he might get up to.

The game gives Arsenal a chance to show their title credentials and get one over on the reigning champions. It's been too long since Arsenal have beaten Chelsea in a game of any significance and it's time for them to do just that. I think will do so and give themselves a huge boost in their quest to win their first league title in 12 years.

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

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