The Big Match: Chelsea vs Arsenal – Do The Gunners Stand a Chance?
Arsenal take on Chelsea in a crucial encounter on Sunday. The odds are tipped overwhelmingly in Chelsea’s favour, especially as the likes of Fabregas, Vermaelen and van Persie may miss the match. Will Arsenal be able to prove its critics wrong and run away with all three points?
Written by Basil James.
Arsenal face, what could possibly be the toughest assignment in the English league this season, on Sunday as they take on Chelsea at the Bridge. This match of traditional rivals and heavyweights will definitely have a huge impact on the table and the fortunes of both clubs this season.
On paper, Chelsea are, by a fair margin, the better side and are favourite’s to edge it against the Gunners on Sunday. In fact, I am not sure whether they would even need to ‘edge it’ this time. Statistics overwhelmingly favour Chelsea, with Les Blues having won five out of the last seven meetings with their London rivals. In the corresponding fixture last season, Arsenal were soundly beaten 2-0, which was after the Gunners got walloped 3-0 by Drogba and Co. at the Emirates.
The last time Arsenal beat Chelsea in the league was a famous 2-1 victory, when Arsenal came back from being one down, riding on a double strike from Robin van Persie. The mercurial Dutch striker scored from an offside position to pull Arsenal level and then sent a thunderbolt past Cech to win the game for the Gunners. Unfortunately, the man and his services will be unavailable for Sunday’s clash as van Persie is yet to completely recover from the ankle injury he suffered at the start of September.
More worrying should be the absence of captain and talisman, Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas did not figure in Arsenal’s last league game, which the Gunners lost to lowly West Brom. The dynamism and creativity Fabregas brings to the side was missed even against relatively weak teams such as Sunderland and West Brom. Arsenal’s fortunes would be pitch black if Fabregas is not fit to face Chelsea.
Wenger is hoping that Captain Fab would be fit, but even if he is, it remains to be seen how much of an impact the World Cup winner can make against Chelsea. Fabregas played in the last three fixtures against Chelsea, with varying levels of fitness. It remains a fact that Fabregas, and no Arsenal player for that matter, could make a substantial impact on the game. Chelsea effectively shut down Fabregas, giving him no quarter. They shut down space and time, putting pressure on the player whenever he had the ball. As a result, Fabregas could not work the usual magic with the ball and Arsenal floundered. Even when Fabregas looked threatening, Chelsea made sure that any recipients of the passes or through balls Fabregas could provide were well marked. Arsenal had the door slammed in their faces.
Another interesting fact is that Fabregas has earned a yellow card apiece in all of the three previous fixtures. The frustration caused by the effective pressing tactics employed by Chelsea could very well be the reason, causing Fabregas to lose his cool and make a few bad challenges. Whether Arsenal fans like it or not, Arsenal are rather overly dependent on Fabregas to create something and to get the team moving. However, there are still a few other players who could make an impact on their day.
Andrei Arshavin is one such player. The little Russian certainly has magic in his feet, though the good stuff has been largely suppressed in encounters against Chelsea. Arshavin too has been systematically denied space and freedom as Chelsea suffocated Arsenal. However, if Arshavin is able to break free and produce that one moment of magic, the match could very well spark of celebrations in the away camp. The absence of key players means that Wenger would be counting on Arshavin to fire on all cylinders and stand up big time.
Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky have had a good time in the midfield up till now this season and Wenger would be hoping the duo can continue to put in a good show. Arsenal needs the two dynamic midfielders to anchor the show, providing unbridled freedom to the likes of Fabregas and Arshavin to go berserk against the super strong Chelsea defence. Rosicky has been pulling off the Little Mozart act so far and the Gunners will need him to come up with the right stuff on Sunday if they are to get anything from the game. The same goes for the talented Nasri, whose inconsistencies has been extremely frustrating.
Marouane Chamakh will fill in for Robin van Persie and Wenger will hope that his summer signing can show the world why exactly Arsenal pursued the striker for two transfer windows. Chamakh has not exactly set the stage on fire this season and the big match could be his cue to silence all critics (me included) and gather the bouquets.
The injury list is still pretty long, with Almunia joining the ranks. That means we may be seeing Fabianski between the posts on Sunday. Abou Diaby, Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner are a few among the many on the surgeon’s table.
Wenger will probably indulge in some media tactics, denouncing Chelsea’s physical nature of playing and lament the fact that Arsenal often get kicked out of the park. Wenger moaning on about that will not change anything and he had better brace his squad for the huge challenge of taking on Les Blues at Stamford Bridge. Everybody knows how Chelsea are going to play and just talking about it will not make it any easier. Arsenal needs to get tough if they harbour any intentions of beating the current Champions.
It will be a tough match for Arsenal on Sunday and the Gunners will need to put in all they have and more to eke out a result against a squad which is arguably the best in England right now. But the question remains. Will that be enough?
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