If North London manages to evade any further snowfall, frost or the dreaded black ice within the next few days, the Emirates Stadium should play host to Arsenal V Chelsea on Monday evening. After last weekend’s game against Manchester United was postponed, the Blues will be returning to match action for the first time since a 1-1 draw at Arsenal’s neighbours Tottenham Hotspur. Depending on who shouts loudest – the optimists or pessimists – that point saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side either go some way towards returning to their best form, or merely papered over the cracks.
Arsenal have continued to earn plaudits and force their way into serious title contention in recent weeks – despite a few hiccups – but while Chelsea have faltered badly in that same period, it’s worth remembering that the Gunners only sit a single point ahead of the Blues in the Premier League table. Three defeats at home already for Arsenal also raises eyebrows, with the most recent occurring just over a month ago, coincidentally against Tottenham. Their last outing was a dismal 1-0 defeat at Manchester United, in which Arsenal showed very little verve and vigour for which they have become notoriously dangerous for.
The ‘fortress’ that is the Emirates has been breached a number of times by Chelsea in the past few years. In the last five league games at Arsenal, Chelsea have been winners three times, including an emphatic 3-0 victory last season which was preceded by a 4-1 thrashing back in 2009. The Stamford Bridge fixture in October saw Didier Drogba – a nemesis to Arsenal for his goalscoring feats against the club – and Alex score a goal each in a 2-0 win.
Drogba has been criticised for his below-par performances while Chelsea have floundered in the last month, but with the striker scoring – somewhat fortuitously – against Tottenham before missing an injury-time penalty to blot his copybook, it goes without saying that the Ivorian will no doubt be the centre of attention at the Emirates also.
It is likely that Drogba will be joined in the starting eleven by the returning Frank Lampard, who has been restricted to just three Premier League starts this season due to injury. Yuri Zhirkov, Alex and Yossi Benayoun are all long-term absentees, but Ancelotti is beginning to get his strongest eleven fit and ready for action. Concerns about squad depth will remain until January at least. Interestingly enough, Chelsea’s top scorer in league games away from home is the much-maligned Salomon Kalou, with four.
From Kalou, we swiftly turn to Arsenal’s striking talents, and the obvious dangers include Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh, who together have almost scored half of Arsenal’s 34 league goals this season. Arsene Wenger has a few injury worries ahead of Monday, with Manuel Almunia and Thomas Vermaelen certainly out; doubts remain over the fitness of goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, Kieron Gibbs and Abou Diaby.
Mark Clattenburg will be the referee at the Emirates on Monday; he will be officiating his twentieth match of the season, and his fifth involving either Chelsea or Arsenal. He has officiated in two wins for each club so far this campaign, including the Blues’ opening weekend 6-0 victory against West Brom, and the comfortable 4-0 win over Blackpool in September. The Tyne and Wear referee has been frugal with red cards, showing just three, including a straight sending-off for Manchester City’s Dedryck Boyata in the fifth minute of their home match against Arsenal. The Gunners went on to win 3-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Referee notwithstanding, the post-match story has already been written, depending on the ultimate victors. If Chelsea win, the slump is officially over, especially if the three points are secured in some style. A result for Arsenal, and they finally prove that they can compete with the big boys, and their title bid takes on some more credence. A draw, and everything stays the same, until Wednesday’s home match against Bolton Wanderers anyway. Optimists and pessimists, prepare your cases.