TOUGH CHALLENGE AHEAD AT THE EMIRATES
Unbelievably that little scamp that is the Premier League fixtures computer has yet again thrown up another “Grand Slam Sunday”, with the so-called “big four” facing each other in two games which will supposedly shape the course of the season. More realistically the matches will drown in the hyperbole and end up as damp squibs, but with Chelsea now playing attractive, attacking football the likes of which have never been seen before, Arsenal must be quaking in their boots.
Of course, the reality is, we aren’t really playing attractive, attacking football the likes of which have never been seen before. We are playing winning football the likes of which were seen, well, going on about three years now. And we have shown we can handle anything thrown at us, which is the real reason why Arsenal should be worried.
Avram Grant will be looking to celebrate his new four-year contract with a result at the Emirates Stadium as well as building on a 16-game unbeaten run. He will have to do so without the injured Florent Malouda, Michael Ballack and Ricardo Carvalho, while nobody should be too surprised if Ashley Cole somehow picks up a “hamstring injury” prior to the match. Previous goal scorers against Arsenal Didier Drogba and Michael Essien are also missing. Drogba-who scored the winner in last seasons League Cup final-is out following knee surgery while Essien-scorer of an equaliser in the corresponding fixture of the last campaign plus THAT goal at the Bridge-serves the last game of his three game suspension. Over to you Wayne Bridge!
Arsene Wenger has a trio of doubtful players to worry about ahead of the game. Mercurial midfielder Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini are touch and go for selection, however with the game holding so much importance, all three will probably take the field with no qualms. Wenger will be particularly eager to get a result, after an embarrassing defeat to struggling Middlesbrough last weekend. The allegedly extraordinary Arsenal side looked nothing but average and showed that they are far from unbeatable.
After the mid-week target practice against Valencia, it is now time for Chelsea to show a cutting edge. In truth, there was a slight swagger evident on Tuesday, only thwarted by the uncompromising Santiago Canizares. Arsenal ‘keeper Manuel Almunia won’t be the wall that his countryman Canizares was, however he does have the defending of Kolo Toure and of course our good friend William Gallas in front of him. Chelsea have the most clean sheets in the league so far this season with ten, but Arsenal have hit the back of the net in every league outing.
So the logical outcome is surely a draw! It would not be a bad result against Arsenal at the Emirates, and-like the other two title contenders Manchester United and Liverpool-we will get them back at the Bridge next year. Grand slam or not, it will be an intriguing prospect.
Prediction: A win by three clear goals would take us above Arsenal but with Drogba missing and Shevchenko, Kalou and Pizarro misfiring, goals will be few and far between. A repeat of last seasons’ 1-1 seems a realistic prospect, the only question is, who’s going to step up and follow Essien, Drogba and Bridge into Chelsea folklore?