What: English Premier League
Who: Arsenal vs Chelsea
When: Saturday 29th September, 2012, at 12:45 UK Time
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England
Unfamiliar Positivity at the Emirates
Perhaps never since Arsenal have moved to the Emirates Stadium has there been the same type of positive vibe sweeping through the club as there is now. There have been false dawns before and promising title challenges which have fizzled out in recent years, but not since the Invincibles of 2004 have Arsenal combined their trademark attacking flair with defensive solidity and it is the latter giving such cause for optimism among the Gunners faithful. No defeats in five matches, including away trips to Stoke, Liverpool and Manchester City, was beyond most fans’ expectations – whilst Robin van Persie is beginning to be forgotten.
This marks quite a turnaround in particular for manager Arsene Wenger, who this time last year saw his team languishing at the wrong end of the table, well off the pace set by the league leaders. Fans were openly doubting whether Wenger really was the right man to lead Arsenal forward, with a side whose defensive disorganisation had plummeted to new depths, while even the attack had lost some of its previous creativity.
Out of the ashes of the tumultuous events of the summer of 2011 have been some of the best panic buys Wenger can ever have made. German centre-back Per Mertesacker and in particular Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta have proven astute signings, and both have been superb in Arsenal’s impressive start to this season. The duo are typical of this new Arsenal team, more streetwise, less naive, yet not lacking any little flair. The visit of Premier League leaders Chelsea is another key litmus test of Arsenal’s credentials, a week after a highly credible 1-1 draw away to champions Manchester City. Now Wenger just needs Ivorian forward Gervinho to start finding the back of the net.
Too Many Number 10s?
The cliche ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ could be applied to this Chelsea team, who were indebted to a late Ashley Cole strike against a stubborn Stoke City team last weekend to remain top of the Premier League. This is a side who have won just one of their last four and have looked unconvincing since their opening week of the season, when Eden Hazard inspired them to three wins in a row.
Hazard and fellow creators Juan Mata and Oscar have all shown their talents this season in style. Mata demonstrated his creative guile last week against Stoke, carving open their resolute backline twice, the second of which was a sumptuous backheel to set Cole free for the winner. And Oscar showed against Juventus in the Champions League that he will be a star for years to come, with a brilliant long range strike as part of a superb brace.
But can the trio play together? Mata’s abilities only ever really seem to shine when he plays in the centre, however that is where both Hazard and Oscar are inclined to drift into as well. This leads to a congested middle of the pitch; it would not be such an issue for a team with width, but Chelsea have been lacking something in this department for quite a while. They can be reliant on Ashley Cole’s rampaging runs forward to create space, as shown against Stoke. Hazard, Oscar and Mata may be able to play together, though they need space that can only be created by others providing width. That now is the tactical dilemma for boss Roberto Di Matteo as he continues the evolution of his Chelsea team.
Montpellier 1-2 Arsenal (18/09; Champions League)
Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal (23/09; Premier League)
Arsenal 6-1 Coventry City (26/09; League Cup)
Chelsea 2-2 Juventus (19/09; Champions League)
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City (22/09; Premier League)
Chelsea 6-0 Wolves (25/09; League Cup)
Arsenal: Jack Wilshere; Bacary Sagna; Tomas Rosicky; Wojciech Szczesny; Lukasz Fabianski
Chelsea: Daniel Sturridge
Players to watch
Arsenal – Lukas Podolski: Wenger will be considering how to get Podolski into the game more than the German was against Manchester City last week. Podolski ended up playing deep in Manchester to help negate the champions’ attacking threat and that meant Arsenal’s attack was blunted and reliant on the misfiring Gervinho. Wenger may opt for Olivier Giroud up front and if he does that then the strength and skill of the ex-Montpellier man should bring Podolski into the game more. Arsenal will enjoy long spells of possession, as they always do, and the former Bayern Munich striker will be their main hope of converting one of the chances that will come their way against Chelsea.
Chelsea – Juan Mata: Hazard and Oscar have both sparkled but Mata remains Chelsea’s most reliable creator. He enjoyed a superb debut season last year and the Spaniard has the ability to pierce through the tightest of defences. If Chelsea are to come away from the Emirates with a point or three they will need to get the Spaniard on the ball as much as possible and look for him to create the chances that they hope a misfiring Fernando Torres can convert.
The best team news for Arsenal fans will be that Didier Drogba definitely won’t be playing here. And that fact alone will be cause for significant optimism for the home side. Arsenal’s record against Chelsea with Drogba is one solitary victory, three draws and seven defeats. But without Drogba, Arsenal have not lost to Chelsea for 22 matches. It is fair to say Torres has not quite taken on Drogba’s role with quite the same conviction, but Arsenal’s high backline is likely to be more to the former Liverpool man’s liking. Chelsea will hope to get the ball into their creative players to create chances for Torres, but a resolute Arsenal defence should be strong enough to keep him at bay.
The key to this game may be how defensively Di Matteo opts to play. If he selects Ramires along with Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel, Chelsea have the tools to create a defensive barricade in midfield to stifle Arsenal. However, that would likely lead to another stalemate similar to that at the end of last season.
Arsenal as usual will be expected to boss possession, but fans will hope that Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club against Coventry in midweek is soon followed by another, whilst Lukas Podolski has made an encouraging start to his career in North London. Finishing will be key in this game, though two highly competitive teams who will not want to lose and have missed plenty of chances so far this season may mean this is another 0-0.
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