Arsene Wenger talks about this match being the first of two pivotal matches for Arsenal. Today’s Chelsea game is the first one with the midweek Marseille game being the second. The first test to see the extend of our league form improvement. 7 wins in 8 games is a more than decent run of results but as much as we want to forget it, the one defeat did come at the hands of our direct rival for a Champions League spot. Today is no different.
Chelsea may have suffered their second league defeat of the season with that loss at Loftus Road but they have been an improvement with the appointment of Andres Villas Boas. As pointed out by Zonal Marking, they are playing better style of football than his predecessors. While they’ve grown a year older, the team itself are a bit better than last season.
The addition of Juan Mata and Raul Meireles has given Chelsea’s midfield a much needed reinvigoration. They’ve brought them more panache and guile, enabling more dynamism in their engine room. The return of Fernando Torres from his suspension should immediately make AVB less worried about the absence of Didier Drogba. Torres’ form pre suspension has been good too.
AVB implemented a much more pressing game than previous Chelsea sides. It means two things for me. That they will hold a high line and fouls can be drawn. We should also be wary of this style and not try to take too much time on the ball. With the high line, there’s space to be exploited at the back. Something which we can look forward to, when we have the pace of Theo Walcott and Gervinho on the flanks.
Our last match against them was arguably on par with the best performance of last season (Barcelona home). It was in that game that we also produced an outstanding display of pressing game. No Chelsea player were allowed to settle on the ball and we won possession back almost as soon as we lost it. As we’ve seen last week, Chelsea players are rather easily riled. I’m not suggesting that we should be tackling harder than usual. Merely just ensuring that we don’t afford them space which could just as easily create frustration to them.
According to the latest team new available, there’s a possibility of Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson being fit enough to feature in this game. This has been the topic of discussion for most of the week, ever since Vermaelen appeared in the 2-1 win over Bolton in the Carling Cup. Fears of an injury recurrence were allayed when it was diagnosed as only cramp.
Do Wenger now play our best defender in what is a very big game? Do we take the gamble with his long term fitness? To me, it’s still only 1 game and we should never risk Vermaelen’s long term health. However, if he is certified to be completely fit, he should start. I’m not trying to play down the wonderful job that our back four has done in the past 2 matches against Marseille and Stoke.
However, as mentioned above, Chelsea are playing with much more dynamism these days and there’s pace in their side. While Per Mertesacker has impeccable reading of the game, sometimes it is not enough to negate the effect of pace. Having said that, I’m sure Wenger will not take too much risk and will retain faith with the same defence.
There’s a big shout to keep either one of our pacy wide men on the bench, to be used as a substitute when legs are tiring in Chelsea’s defence. After his midweek performance, Andrey Arshavin has got into the limelight once again. Not for being lazy but for this improved performance, coming from a more central position. Though, how is that something new is beyond me. Arsenal did buy Arshavin after watching him light up the Euro 2008 in a central role.
Again, Wenger is not likely to make the changes for this game. Chelsea has the forward running midfielders such as Frank Lampard, Meireles and Ramires. It makes no sense to weaken the defensive aspect of the team by shifting Arshavin to the middle. However, I’m inclined to give the Russian a berth on the right. As always, in a game expected to be tight, his ability to produce the right pass will be crucial.
The anticipated battle between Gervinho and Ashley Cole should also be interesting. When in form, it’s hard to argue the validity of Cole being the best left back. He’s at home against pacy wingers or tricky customers. I hope Gervinho mixes his play and not just drive forward aimlessly. Cutting in-field might be a tactic that works to confuse Cole.
After our recent improvement in form, winning this game will have a big impact on our season. It could help the players and the team to start believing once again, that they are still good enough to challenge. Partnerships are starting to form all over the pitch, players are understanding each other’s movement, more and more. For 90 minutes today, we will stand united behind them in hope. In hope that the glue that has been installed only at the end of the transfer window, is finally starting to dry.
Up The Arsenal!!!