CHELSEA TAKE ON ARSENAL’S SECOND STRING

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Nov 29th, 2008

Is it that time of the year again? It seems that the regular crisis is upon us yet again. If you believe the most pessimistic of naysayer’s, Chelsea are an ailing side, Big Phil’s back off the Brazil, and the Blues are set for the UEFA Cup after some below-par performances in the Champions League. I mean, forget the fact that the Blues are top of the league (the naysayer’s do) and the fact that the last Champions League group game is against CFR Cluj at home, and look at this sorry club which used to be so good.

Alternatively, look on the bright side and more importantly, take a gander down the table at our visitors this Sunday. Arsenal sit in fifth, a hefty ten points off the top spot and seemingly falling apart before our very eyes. Not a week goes by now without a newspaper article or television feature picking Arsene Wenger’s side apart. Indeed, not a week goes by without  another team picking Arsene Wenger’s side apart. Having started the season decently, they have since shown an inconsistent streak which has led pundits to believe that Arsenal will be lucky to finish this season in the top four, let alone challenge for the title.

They have only taken four points from the last five Premier League games – although three of them were in an impressive home win over Manchester United – and the usual criticisms have been levelled at Wenger’s Gunners; they are too lightweight, they are not up for the battle, William Gallas is an absolute joke of a captain. Thankfully for Arsenal fans, and those neutrals getting bored of Gallas’ antics, Wenger has recently made everyone’s favourite Cesc, Fabregas of course, Arsenal captain. His first game as skipper resulted in a 1-0 win over Dinamo Kiev on Tuesday, but the first real test will surely come on Sunday against Chelsea.

Currently top of the injury table (little victories, eh Arsene), Fabregas and co could be without up to nine players for the London derby. Definitely out are Abou Diaby, Kolo Toure, Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Eboue, Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky, however, Emmanuel Adebayor, Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri should all return from slight injuries.

Chelsea meanwhile have a well publicised list of absentees right now, but that is nothing new for the Blues. Franco di Santo, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien are all certain to miss out, while Alex and Joe Cole are struggling to make it for Sunday’s game. Didier Drogba is suspended leaving Nicolas Anelka – playing against one of his many former clubs – our only fit natural striker.

Having let a little inconsistency creep into our own side recently, Chelsea have stopped picking up plaudits – as well as points – and left Scolari with a tactical headache. The flying fullback formation we saw at the start of the season has lost some of its pizzazz, and teams who come to the Bridge and park the bus are getting away with a result. Although the away record in the league is peerless, the home statistics of three wins, three draws and a defeat tell their own story. Hopefully, Arsenal will come to play rather than sit back and stifle the game, and it could well work in our favour.

Games between the two side are often entertaining, but also quite a close run thing, with nine of the last fifteen meetings won by just one clear goal. The last game at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea run out as 2-1 winners, after a Sagna goal from a set piece was cancelled out late in the second-half by a Drogba brace, with Nicolas Anelka giving a helping hand after coming off the subs bench to help set up the winner.

The last time Arsenal won at Chelsea was back in their ‘invincibles’ season of 2003/04 where they won the League without losing a game all season. An early Eidur Gudjohnsen goal was cancelled out by Patrick Vieira and Edu in the first-half to give Arsenal a 2-1 win. They went on to clinch the title, we went on to beat Fulham in our next home game, starting some kind of unbeatable record of our own.

Although Arsenal haven’t been at their best this season, they are still a threat, and it’s against the more continental sides where they play their best football. We don’t have a long throw specialist or a bullying style, but what we have is class in abundance and, for some, a point to prove. With Liverpool not playing until Monday, a win against Arsenal could give us a small lead at the top of the table. Not only would it restore some confidence and show what we are capable of, but I bet that if we come away with three points, the crisis at Chelsea will disappear faster than a captain’s armband from the bicep of William Gallas.

Prediction: A 1-0, but with a bit of style from both sides. Gallas own goal anyone?

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