Another weekend in the Premier League brings another mouth watering clash as London big boys Arsenal and Chelsea meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. A Chelsea win would see the Champions go seven points clear of Arsenal in the first week of October, a comfortable distance early on. While the two teams stand in third and first respectively, the tantalizing early season test for Arsenal away from home could prove daunting.
While Arsenal have played some fine football through the first few weeks of the season, they’ll hope last weekend’s shock home loss to West Brom won’t set the tone for the encounter, a much tougher test. Arsenal rebounded midweek with a 3-1 win away to Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League, hoping momentum from the match will carry over to the league.
Chelsea too are coming off of a loss in the league, like Arsenal, their first of the season. As Chelsea rebounded also in the Champions League v Marseille, they’ll want nothing but three points to prove their strength, having lost their first real test of the season last weekend. Vulnerability is a dish best not served.
Although it’s debatable that Carlo Ancelotti got his formation and tactics wrong at Eastlands last gameweek, Chelsea’s impotence at creating numerous clear cut chances in the match may have been a direct result of Manchester City’s competence. While the 4-3-3- that blitzed everything in its path through the first five weeks was missing Frank Lampard, and while Lampard looks set to miss Sunday’s match as well, Chelsea remain favorites in the league because of their experience and ability to score goals.
Chelsea gained all six points on offer last year with a combined 5-0 scoreline. While neither team has changed enough over the summer to warrant a major turn in the likely outcome, the addition of Marouane Chamakh up front for Arsenal will look to test John Terry and Alex in the air. The emerging talent of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, should he play a part, makes him one to watch.
The Chelsea starting XI, minus last week, embodies a fluid attack. Through Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka as a forward three, they’ll look to press Arsenal high up the pitch and test a back four who conceded three goals last league match against a newly promoted side. Chelsea’s midfield will likely be made up of Mikel, Essien and possibly Yuri Zhirkov in to replace Ramires who looked off the place at Eastlands.
Zhirkov seems to have had a tough time settling into life as a Chelsea player and gaining regular first team football. He’s battled fitness and form over the last year, but he’s a decent enough left winger (who can also play left back), skilled and quick. Chelsea’s back line of Cole, Terry, Alex and Ivanovic (Cech in goal) has been incredibly solid this year conceding only two goals in six league matches.
Arsenal will have to meet Chelsea still without some key players. Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner will all miss with injury, while the in form Samir Nasri, Chamakh and Jack Wilshere will lead the attack. Defending against Chelsea’s capable attack will prove most challenging for Arsenal’s back line of Bacary Sagna, Sebastien Squillaci, Laurent Koscielny and Gael Clichy. Arsenal have let in seven goals this campaign to Chelsea’s two. The up and down Alex Song, Abou Diaby and Andrei Arshavin could occupy the remaining midfield and attacking roles.
The one glaring question that remains for Arsenal is goalkeeper. Besides saving a Chris Brunt penalty last weekend, Manuel Almunia had an outright stinker as he was directly responsible for a few goals. Lukasz Fabianski replaced Almunia during midweek with a fine performance having also saved a penalty. Time will tell whether or not Arsene Wenger will drop Almunia for the game v Chelsea, while if it’s not this weekend, it should be soon. Yet many Arsenal fans still debate that there’s a viable replacement currently at Arsenal that can do the job. Surely the North London side approaches January with the intent of securing another top keeper. Almunia’s form cost Arsenal at least a point in the game against West Brom, the kind of home matches they need to win if they’re to challenge for the title.
That form and those errors simply aren’t good enough for a top Premier League side who has realistic ambitions of capturing silverware. However, we’ve known this for some time. What we haven’t yet figured out is why Arsenal, specifically Wenger, elects to stick with Almunia while points slip away.
While both teams look to recover from a loss in the league last time out, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown on Sunday. On current form and results, Chelsea should be favored. Their ability to attack, both down the left and down the center through multiple avenues make them dangerous in possession and on the counter. As previously stated, or until they start leaking goals, they boast the best defense in the league.
To overlook Arsenal would be slightly silly. Arsenal, more than ever, are a team looking to prove themselves, win silverware and shed this tag they have of a team with no heart or the ability to get stuck in when it counts. Sunday’s match has the potential to be a coming out for Arsenal players like Marouane Chamakh, Jack Wilshere and the furthering of Samir Nasri’s evolution as a Premier League-caliber footballer.
Arsenal and Chelsea fans, feel free to leave your predictions, picks for starting XI’s and potential star performers in the comments section below.