So, here we go, the big one. Lets be honest, ever since the Boro game, all Arsenal fans have been waiting for Sunday’s game vs Chelsea. Even though the game in midweek took on some importance regarding our fate in the knockout stages, Sevilla’s victory put the game back in its place, the very back of many Arsenal fans’ minds. The only boost it had was: a first victory in three games and a return from injury for Robin Van Persie.
The Dutchman played brilliantly on Wednesday, setting up one goal and creating havoc in the Steaua defence all night. He linked well with Bendtner and dropped into the hole behind the striker, reminiscent of the way Dennis Bergkamp used to do. We have missed Van Persie over recent months; we have missed his calmness in front of goal, his passing range and even his delivery from set pieces. These will all be so important against Chelsea.
On the injury front it seems a possibility that Cesc Fabregas will return. He trained on Friday, along with Hleb and Flamini; if we can get all three back, we could be in business. We have missed this trio recently and the creative spark and defensive prtextion seemed to have been drained out of the team in the last two league games. Only Theo Walcott has been added to the injury list which is a blow for me personally. In my view he played well on Wednesday. Although he did not get a goal, he was a constant menace when he attacked the defence; they could not handle his pace and this could have been a real bonus, if only off the bench.
The Arsenal team sheet is hard to pick ahead of this game due to the injuries. But if Hleb, Flamini and Cesc are allf it, they WILL play, maybe with one or two off the bench. Should their be no risk – I would start them. It might be a gamble but a win in this game would surely be worth it. Should Flamini be out I would play Diarra in the holding role, his pace and tough tackling is the closest we will have to what Flamini has done so well this season. Should Cesc be ruled out once more, I would play Diaby in central midfield. He played well against Steaua; he has amazing ball skill for such a tall guy and he gets up and down the pitch well. He can also add much needed bite to the midfield. If Hleb is injured, Eboue will play unless Theo can get fit.
For me, there are a few key battles where the game will be won on Sunday:
Manuel Almunia vs Petr Cech
Petr Cech will take some beating tomorrow and we will have to be clinical in front of goal. He is dominant from corners and the Chelsea defence is so much more confident with him between the sticks. Almunia has looked confident at set pieces but we all know he is prone to the odd error. He has not shown it recently but made a mistake in the Man Utd game. I just hope the pressure does not get to him.
John Terry vs Emmanuel Adebayor
This could well be the most key battle of all. Adebayor was poor against Boro but showed against Newcastle that he can produce the spectacular out of nothing. Ade was beaten in the air many times by Woodgate and the same may happen against Terry. However, on the ground, the Togo man might have the beating of Terry with his pace and dribbling skill, he just needs to take his chance when he gets it. Terry is dominant in the air and believes in no nonsense and robust defending. He will look to frustrate Ade but can his lack of pace be exposed?
Mathieu Flamini/Lassana Diarra vs Frank Lampard
With Drogba out, there is no doubt that Lampard is Chelsea’s main threat to Arsenal’s goal. Many may feel he is not the best footballer technically but his ability to arrive in the box late is second to none. He will need to tracked by whoever plays in the holding midfield role. Diarra/Flamini will look to get in and about him and get in some strong tackles to get on his back. If we can disrupt Lampard’s game, we may be able to stop Chelsea’s midfield.
Alex Hleb/Emmanuel Eboue vs Ashley Cole
There is no doubt the Arsenal fans will give Cole a real barracking on Sunday. Tempers will be flared and Cole is prone to rash challenges. If Hleb can get at Cole with his dribbling we may get some free kicks in good positions. If Eboue plays, he must quit the antics and try and go past Cole whenever he can. If we put Cole under pressure it could be an interesting battle. However, whoever lines up on the right must make sure they track Cole when he gets forward. Defending well is just as important tomorrow.
Kolo Toure vs Andriy Shevchenko
Thank god Didier Drogba is out! Without him Chelsea are far less potent BUT we still must be careful. Shevchenko has shown he can scrore goals and he has looked a bit sharper this season, but if Toure stays sharp and focused he can really deal with the Chelsea striker. Toure will also look to bring the ball out of defence, he may get this freedom now Drogba is injured.
All that is left to say is: Come on Arsenal, if you want to win the title, these are the games we MUST win.
And here’s hoping for a Liverpool draw against Man Utd