If the visit of Chelsea to the Emirates wasn’t important enough in the race for the final 2 Champions League spots, Arsenal’s defeat to Wigan on Monday night means that where a draw could well have sufficed, a win is of the utmost importance. While Arsenal will be the fresher of the two sides, Chelsea have a vital factor heading into the game though; momentum. Having thrashed Spurs and managed to escape an onslaught from Barcelona with a 1-0 victory, their confidence will be sky-high.
The confirmed news from today is that Drogba will miss the clash having picked up a knee injury. Good news for Gunners as Drogba has scored 14 goals in 15 games against and in his current form would have certainly been a danger. Fernando Torres will most likely start up front and will be looking to make a point after failing to make the starting XI against Barcelona. Sturridge, Essien and Kalou should make a return to the side having missed out on the mid-week clash against the Catalans as should Bosingwa with Ivanovic suspended. Against Barcelona, Chelsea rarely ventured forward, attempting only 48 passes into the final third of the pitch, 17 of which were from their own half. They instead focused on exploiting Barcelona’s vulnerability on the break, a key weakness in Arsenal’s team as Wigan proved on Monday night. The 5-3 match earlier this season was a one-off and I would expect a much tighter affair this time, with Chelsea looking to pressure the midfield and plug any gaps, countering with the pace of Sturridge and Torres.
Arsenal welcome back Diaby and Coquelin to squad to bolster the midfield options. Koscielny and Gibbs will return to the starting line-up which means that our first choice defence which was on a good run of form will make a return. Arsenal have won 6 of the 7 games that Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs have all started together, conceding 6 goals. Koscielny’s return should have a massive impact, adding someone who can cover for mistakes or a player getting beaten, as well as an element of composure alongside the impetuous Vermaelen. Gibbs and Sagna should get some joy down the flanks against Chelsea’s wingers, especially Sturridge, as they are not the keenest about tracking back. Sagna will certainly be hoping for a better game than his performance against Wigan.
Unfortunately, the massive bit of injury news is that Arteta’s season is over with a badly sprained ankle. The Spaniard has been a massive influence on this Arsenal side, dictating the tempo, spreading the play and breaking up opposition attacks. His understanding with Song had been fantastic in recent weeks and the trio of them two plus Rosicky had became a well-oiled machine. Ramsey will most likely fill in that role of the diamond with Rosicky staying further forward. If Ramsey was to learn from someone on the pitch on Saturday, he wouldn’t go amiss looking at Frank Lampard.
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The major criticism of Ramsey has been the length of time he takes on the ball. Part of this is down to the fact he has been asked to fulfill the Cesc role where Fabregas was a much better player. The young midfielder has lost possession 54 times this season, arguably making him the least ideal replacement for Arteta who has only lost it 21 times this season. His passing isn’t as poor as everyone makes it out to be, having created more chances than Lampard whose stats are also distorted by his set-piece ability. Ramsey’s real ability lies in his ability to beat a man with a burst of speed over the short distance. This makes him a prime candidate to arrive late in the box, much like Lampard has made a living out of, scoring vital goals for Chelsea. With his confidence low, playing him in the Arteta role is the best option, where expectations will not be weighing him down, and let Rosicky carry on his fine form finding gaps in opposition defences.Hopefully, Diaby will get a run-out as his ball-carrying ability could be vital towards the end of the game. The last time he faced Chelsea he gave Essien such a torrid time that the Chelsea midfielder had to take some ‘action’ to remove him from the game and which led to this current absence from the team.
Benayoun is ineligible for the match, being that he is on loan from Chelsea, so it will be interesting to see who Wenger starts on the left-wing. He could give in to the tyranny of the majority and go with Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Wenger is very rarely afraid to play a player because he is young so his reluctance to start him is surely down to another factor. The fact whoever it is will be lining up against Bosingwa instead of Ivanovic could well have a bearing on his decision though and it wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see him start the youngster. Gervinho is the other option and the one I would be inclined to go with. His decision-making can be erratic and his confidence though, but he is much more mature with his tracking-back as he proved in the game against Aston Villa and his dribbles towards the centre would open up space for Gibbs to exploit. Of course, I would like to see him return to what he does best, beating the full-back, hitting the by-line and lashing it across goal. We are yet to see that consistently and Saturday would be a prime occasion for him to step-up.
Robin Van Persie grabbed a memorable hat-trick at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season and will be hoping to recapture some of that form. With no goals from open play in his last 6 games, the Dutchman’s seemingly magical powers have been fading away. Whether it is due to fatigue, the performance of the rest of the team or defences finally have an effective game plan for him is hard to decide. This brilliant piece explains the Dutchman’s recent form far better than I could. He found joy against the high-line Chelsea deployed under Andre-Villas Boas, but under Di Matteo they have reverted to their familiar formula and one that suits their aging defence better. Terry and Cahill appear to be striking up a good understanding and after performing admirably against Messi and co, they will be hoping to continue their form.
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