How much hatred is too much?
Trick question. In the case of Chelski, there’s no such thing as too much hatred. If they were comprised of ten former nobel peace prize winners and one Ashley Cole then they would be worthy of extreme contempt. But when you consider that they also feature John Terry, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, and numerous other contemptable characters, it’s nearly impossible to express adequate disdain for their team.
Sunday’s match at the Grove is being billed as a “must-win” for Arsenal. It’s an overused term and I don’t believe that a loss would leave us too far behind the leaders to overtake them. However, if we want to win the league we have to play like a team that believes it is a genuine title contender. We need a signature win that serves as a statement of intent. While I’m loathe to acknowledge it, we really haven’t won a challenging match this season. Spuds are crap and I refuse to consider beating them worthy of any added signficance. Beyond that, we have lost three times this season and those losses came in our only other tricky fixtures. While you can do well in the league by beating up on the lesser lights, at some point you have to beat one of the top clubs to finish atop the table. Sunday we’ll have our chance to do that and pull right back into the title race.
There will be some interesting tactical battles on Sunday, but the most important battles might be waged by the phsyios. Chelsea seem to be getting fit at just the wrong time as Frank Lampard might return for Sunday’s match to join what looks like a full lineup of attacking options for Ancelotti. I had hoped that we could at least avoid Drogba but after he played in midweek, I think we must accept that he will be on the Emirates pitch flopping about and generally causing us all kinds of problems. Defensively, Chelsea will be without Jose Bosingwa which is a good news because he would have been providing the width to their attack on the right. Considering that either Traore, Silvestre, or an out of position Sagna will be playing there, we’re fortunate that he’s unavailable.
Our injury news is considerably less upbeat than Chelsea’s. In fact, Chelsea don’t even have an “injury news” link on their hompage. Where would we be without that link? Perhaps having that link is courting danger. Maybe if we just remove it from the site, the injury problems will disappear with it. Maybe. As usual we head into a massive fixture without the services of several key players. Van Persie, Bendtner, Clichy, and Gibbs are obviously all missing for Sunday. But the biggest question remains the fitness of William Gallas who appeared to have gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson (Circa 1993) after a clash of heads with Andrey Arshavin on Tuesday. According to Arsene Wenger he might miss the match with a severely swollen eye, although the boss went on to say he was optimistic.
We’ll just have to cross our fingers because the options behind Gallas don’t inspire confidence. If I’m not thrilled by the prospect of Silvestre playing left back, then I’m positively terrified by the idea of seeing him lineup at center-half. And I have to believe that Arsene wouldn’t bee too keen on the idea either. Considering that Senderos has entered the witness relocation program, it seems unlikely that he would take Gallas’ place. In fact, my guess is that Wenger would play Song at center-half and let Denilson take over the holding midfield role. I think Song could do a job in defense, but considering his recent form in midfield, it’d be a shame to move him. At this point, I’d bet that we’ll see Traore, Gallas, Vermaelen and Sagna in defense. I think that’s our best option and I’m guessing that Gallas will do everything in his power to play on Sunday. As I said before, we’ll just have to cross our fingers.
Injuries aside, Sunday’s team selection should be fascinating. While Wenger has a shortage in defense, and will miss Robin Van Persie, he has a surplus of attacking options from which to choose. You have to assume that Arshavin, Cesc, Song, Vermaelen and Sagna are certain to start. After that, there’s a lot of possibilities. Obviously Gallas will start if he’s healthy and I genuinely believe that Wenger will rely on Traore rather than pulling Sagna out of position or playing the much slower and less attacking Silvestre. Remember, our left-back is an important part of the attack and Silvestre adds even less going forward then he does with his defending.
I think it’s fair to assume that Eduardo will start in the center of the attack on Sunday. While Vela might have been considered, his lackluster performance in midweek probably rules him out. The only other option is Andrey Arshavin but I think Wenger will be inclined to leave him on the left where he’s started almost every match this season. Arsene recently said that he doesn’t like to make many changes between games because it’s too disruptive. Therefore, I think it’s fair to assume he’ll try to start as many of his regular players in their regular positions.
The two most difficult selections will be the remaining forward and midfield positions. For some reason, I think the boss will give Theo his chance to start the big game on the right side of the attacking trident. His pace will trouble Chelsea, and, if nothing else, it will force Ashley Cole to think twice before joining the attack. If Theo doesn’t start then Rosicky or Nasri would be the natural options for the position. That leaves the final midfield place. Arsene might choose Denilson to provide a little added defensive support. However, Denilson has just returned from injury and he doesn’t provide the same creative spark that we get from Nasri or Rosicky. I think there are two likely scenarios. Either Wenger elects to start Theo in attack and Nasri in midfield, or he leaves Theo on the bench and plays Nasri and Denilson. It’s really impossible to know what he’ll do. Most people seem to think that Theo will be on the subs bench, but he’s a big part of this team and it’s time he started contributing.
No matter who starts on Sunday, they’re probably going to need to wear their favorite high heel boots. There’s no denying that our lilipution stature could be a problem against a very tall, and very physical Chelsea side. We’ve already demonstrated our struggles dealing with set pieces this season and there’s no doubt that Chelsea will look to float the ball into the box at every opportunity. Drogba has always been a monster against us, and not just because he looks like one. Add Ballack, Terry, Alex, Essien, Ivanovic and even Lampard, and we could have real problems matching up. While I’d take a 1-0 victory in a heartbeat, the last five minutes of that match would be gut-wrenching as Chelsea continued to punt the ball into our box with every possession. In order to win this match, we’ll have to find a way to overcome our height disadvantage and be extremely disciplined on set pieces.
While I can’t stand the sight of Didier Drogba, I’m somewhat excited to see Thomas Vermaelen get his chance to stop the Ivorian. Drogba has dominated us in the past, but Vermaelen gives us a little extra mettle in the heart of our defense and I have a feeling that he might try giving Didier an early couple of kicks to let him know what to expect for the next 90 minutes. Vermaelen has starred for us so far this season, but this will certainly be his biggest test to date. If he can contain Drogba, then he will have already achieved something that few Arsenal defenders have accomplished in recent seasons.
Now that Chelsea have yet another new manager, they have a new formation as well. Carlo Ancelotti has brought his favored diamond midfield formation to Chelsea. From what I’ve seen of them this season, it’s produced mixed results. Chelsea, like us, have destroyed many of the league’s weaker teams, but they’ve also had some dreadful performances along the way. As far as I can tell, they’re still learning the nuances of their new formation and they can get caught out of position from time to time. The diamond midfield doesn’t provide any natural width, so that responsibility falls to the left and right-back. Expect Cole in particular to get forward regularly, leaving space behind to attack.
Michael Essien plays the holding role while Deco or Lampard are likely choices for the top of the diamond, with Malouda and Ballack on either side. Anelka and Drogba are the obvious choices as the two strikers. Although Chelsea are big, they aren’t particularly fast. They’ve been vulnerable to counter attacks this season and that’s another reason why I think Theo would be a big asset on Sunday. Chelsea’s diamond, combined with our free-form 4-3-3 could make for a very congested midfield and that will put added emphasis on counter-attacks to create chances. While Chelsea will certainly rely on set-pieces to create opportunities, we’ll need to create our chances when we can get behind Essien and run at the center of their defense.
No matter who starts on Sunday, the eleven players on the pitch will need to be focused and aggressive. Against United we were the better team for 90 minutes, but a couple lapses in concentration cost us the match. We cannot afford any loss of concentration against Chelsea. If we get the lead, we must continue to press because any long ball could be our undoing. It’s nearly impossible to see us keeping a clean sheet, so we have to believe in our style of football and show that we can get goals against even the best defenses. This would be a good time for Arshavin to lift his play to that level that we saw at Anfield last season, and there’s no doubt that Eduardo cannot afford to spurn any gilt-edged opportunties. We need him at his clinical best.
Most importantly, we must show some strength. Chelsea will surely try to bully our smaller players. They will make an effort to push and kick us out of the game. We cannot let that happen. We have to use their size against them and punish them on the counter-attack when they get forward for corners or free kicks. If we don’t let them use their size to boss the game, then we can show off our superior technical ability.
Ultimately, I think we will win on Sunday. I think this team is desperate to show that it’s a serious title contender. In fact, I think the anticipation of Sunday’s match might explain some of our lack of focus at the Stadium of Light. These players were written off before the seasons started and that seemed to galvanize the team. Now they have a real chance to continue to prove the doubters wrong. Although Chelsea will cause us problems in the air, they’re not completely comfortable with their new formation. They are vulnerable to the counter-attack and don’t have a lot of pace in midfield. They just played a difficult away fixture in Portugal on Wednesday and some of their players are just returning from injury. Against United they took all three points, but played poorly. If they play that way at the Emirates, we will take all three points.
It’s a massive fixture. Even if the title race wasn’t involved, beating Chelsea is always a priority. But now that we seem to have a real chance to battle for the title, the stakes are high. It’s up to our players to show that they they are up to the challenge. It will be a nerve-wracking 90 minutes, but I think we’ll come through it victoriously. I really can’t wait.
Since I’m working out of the country all weekend, I won’t have a chance to write another blog entry, so allow me to say:
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!!