Match day. 5 days too long to make up for what happened on Monday night. Days in between where our opponent for the day managed to replicate what we did last season, that is beating Barcelona at home in the first leg of the semifinal of their Champions League tie. Which should really set them up nicely for this match but I have a different idea where that is going.
First of all, while they did win their midweek European tie, Barcelona did have the monster share of the ball possession. For a team with the average age of Chelsea, it would be no easy task to put in another 90 minutes of chasing the ball and pressuring us. Which is exactly what I’m expecting the way the match turns out. On top of that, because of the win, they will also have an eye on the return leg next week.
Half an eye which is helped by the fixture that Barcelona is playing today as well. The El Clasico after our match against Chelsea and with just
5 4 points separating them in La Liga, Barcelona will surely try their best to beat Real Madrid and cut that to 2 points. Roberto Di Matteo will surely take that into consideration when deciding his line-up for tonight. He knows Barcelona players might be a little tired for Tuesday night and the question will be whether he wants to subject his players to the same.
RDM knows that he’s not in this job for the long term. It really doesn’t matter that he guides the team to a fourth or third place finish in the Premiership. What will be important to him is that Champions League winner’s medal. One which will raise the creditability of him as a manager/coach. The owner of Chelsea, Roman Abramovich is not one known to be adverse to such plans. The Champions League is the Holy Grail for the Russian and he’s not keen to hide how desperate he is to win that tournament.
Last but not least, Chelsea will be without Didier Drogba (still picking the grass out of his teeth), David Luiz (retrained in the art of defending) and Branislav Ivanovic (liposuction surgery). The biggest cheer from the Arsenal side will be the absence of Drogba, the man who has tormented us a lot in recent seasons. I doubt Frank Lampard will be able to cope with another 90 minutes of high intensity game in such quick succession either. Safe to say, there’s a good few points which are riding favourably in our direction.
The team news on our side does not look particular good. Which is an understatement because we’re only missing one player from the list that was available on Monday. But Mikel Arteta has proven himself to be such a vital cog in our well-oiled machine that we’re finding it slightly difficult to cope without him. Whether the return of Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin back for selection is compensation enough for the Spaniard is a whole different matter.
There’s a case for each player to be in the starting line-up. Most of it surrounds the poor form that Aaron Ramsey is in. If you look, there are already plenty of blogs out there who are defending Ramsey, so I don’t need to do it here. I’m firmly throwing my support behind Ramsey. Coquelin offers a more defensive option while Diaby is able to add to the attacking side with his close control and ability to jink away from players. However, since Diaby is further ahead in his return, I would have him ahead of Coquelin. Then again, I’m not expecting either to play because I believe Ramsey will start. Which is fine by me. The lad was tremendous in our win at Stamford Bridge and I’m ready to give him every chance to rediscover that form. For that to work today, Alex Song will have to find his most discipline self.
In the other areas of the pitch, the return of Laurent Koscielny is one that will be greeted with rapturous applause from the home fans. Johan Djourou took a lot of unfair sticks for our defeat to Wigan, which I didn’t think was entirely down to him. I though he did well and showed glimpses of the consistency he shown last season. However, Koscielny is undoubtedly the better player now and should be restored to the starting line-up.
Question marks arises further up the pitch with Yossi Benayoun unable to play due to the loan restriction rule. That opens up a spot on the left. One which I believe will be filled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster has been kept under wraps in recent months where we’ve relied a little bit more on experience but I do believe today is the day to unleash him. The pace and energy he brings to the team is what we need today after the exhausting midweek match for the Blues.
One thing we do have to be wary that Chelsea might try to take advantage of is down our left. He would have seen that Andre Santos is still coping with coming back to full fitness and playing 90 minutes. Whether that is the reason he kept Daniel Sturridge on the bench in midweek is another matter but I’m sure RDM will try to exploit that by fielding Sturridge on the right. This is where I feel Kieran Gibbs should come back into the side. Especially if AOC is playing in front of him. Between Santos and Gibbs, the latter seemed to be more adequate at defending than the former.
We’ve shown countless times that we are able to rise to the occasions this season. This is another one of those days. We need to keep that gap between us and the chasing pack. Another 5-3? I highly doubt it. I’ll take a 1-0 for today.
Up The Arsenal!!!