If you still don’t know who Chelsea meet this Sunday, then where have you been!? Jose Mourinho leads his men north to face title rivals Arsenal in what is undoubtedly the most anticipated fixture of the season thus far.
Games don’t come any bigger than this and the Portuguese coach will relish the chance to lock horns with Arsene Wenger. Arsenal had the upper hand on Chelsea in the league last season winning both at home and away, yet this time around the form is a little different. For the first time in years, Chelsea will travel to Highbury sitting above their opposition in the league. Five points is the cushion that Arsenal’s poor recent run has afforded the Blues, and they will not want to squander it.
Losing only their second game in 25 matches to Porto on Tuesday will not have affected the Chelsea side too much. Progress from Group H of the Champion’s league was already assured and it showed in the performance. Likewise, Arsenal’s 5-1 thrashing of Rosenborg will not lead to any great confidence ahead of this weekend. A fine performance maybe, but Rosenborg are not Chelsea.
Arsenal will at least be pleased to have ended their dismal run of form in the Premiership with a 3-0 win over Birmingham last weekend. Their previous loss at Liverpool and home draws with West Brom and Southampton had many pointing to the end of their title chances, but Thierry Henry’s two goals last Saturday steadied the ship and at least sends them back in the right direction.
Chelsea meanwhile have not faltered since their away defeat at Manchester City two months ago, brushing aside all comers including Newcastle, 4-0 last weekend. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Damian Duff are the current form men and they have proved unstoppable of late, Duff in particular having scored four goals in the last six games.
The only question ahead of this weekend with regards to Chelsea is that of who to play in attack. Despite the strong recent form of Eidur Gudjohnsen, Didier Drogba’s second half performance against Newcastle may swing the manager’s decision in his favour. Duff and Arjen Robben will most likely flank the lone striker, in the formation that has proved the making of the Blues to date in the Premiership.
A midfield of Lampard, Tiago and Claude Makelele is almost certain, the three having formed an effective unit both in attack and defence of late. Terry and Ricardo Carvalho will meanwhile be partnered by the usual Paolo Ferreira and William Gallas combination in the rear, with Petr Cech in goal.
For Arsenal selection is not so straight forward. Patrick Vieira, their inspirational captain, misses out through suspension, whilst injuries to Edu and Gilberto Silva mean that their midfield options are further reduced. Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas, whilst being promising youngsters, will have to play out of their skin to live with the likes of Lampard.
Wenger is lucky that Freddy Ljungberg, Henry, Robert Pires and Sol Campbell pick themselves, since he has a goal-keeping conundrum on his hands in the build up to the game. Having dropped Jens Lehman for the previous two games, the manager has seen Manuel Almunia repeatedly fumble in place of the German. Wenger will not find it as funny as the tabloid press has of late, and it is unlikely that he will have complete confidence in his chosen stopper this Sunday- regardless of what he tells the media.
A tense and explosive game is assured, with doubtless some magical skills thrown in from the array of stars on display. The Champions hosting the season’s form side will undoubtedly have pundits sitting on the fence across the globe, and a draw would not greatly disappoint either manager. Chelsea’s squad is undoubtedly the more confident however and this might just be the difference between the sides with Mourinho repeating the European feat of his predecessor Claudio Ranieri last April.