Stamford Bridge, London
October 3rd, 2010, 8:30 PM IST
Arsenal will travel to Stamford Bridge to take on league leaders Chelsea in a match that cannot be labeled as “just another London Derby”, as it can have serious implications at the top of the table, rather than just being a game in which two rival teams face-off against each other in a typical derby with just emotions riding on the result. This is as big as it gets in London.
If the Blues win at the Bridge, the victory will be their fifth straight success over the Gunners in all competitions and will cement their place as table-toppers; on the other hand, an Arsenal win will not only close the gap at the top of the table to just a solitary point, but will also give them some self-belief that this may be their season after all.
Both team come into this encounter on the back of humbling defeats – Chelsea failed to overcome Manchester City away from home, while Arsenal didn’t turn up against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates. As it was expected, the game at the City of Manchester Stadium turned out to be a battle of the two midfields and the trio of Toure, de Jong and Barry won it for the “richest” club in the world. Arsenal, without their captain, allowed Di Matteo’s side to go 3-0 up, before Samir Nasri restored some respectability to the score-line, but the Frenchman’s late surge wasn’t enough. Arsene Wenger didn’t mince any words and was quoted saying “I couldn’t recognize my team today.”
There are striking similarities between the two London teams as we approach this mouth-watering London Derby, apart from losing their last game in the Premiership. Both teams have registered mid-week wins in Europe after the debacle, are without their most influential midfielder, and have an English midfield prodigy to write home about.
Jack Wilshere has started all games for Arsenal this season and is being groomed to replace Cesc Fabregas when the need arises. So far, he has justified Wenger’s faith in him by pulling all the right strings from the Arsenal midfield. His still younger compatriot, Joshua McEachran, who has been with Chelsea ever since he was eight years old, has been given his League Cup, Premier League and Champions’ League débuts by Carlo Ancelotti, who reckons the youngster to be ready to rub shoulders with the big boys.
Carlo Ancelotti will return to England on Sunday to take charge of his team; he had travelled to Italy after the sad demise of his father Giuseppe Ancelotti on Wednesday. Ray Wilkins believes football will help the Chelsea manager cope with his loss.
The most notable absentee will be Frank Lampard, who’s yet to recover from the groin injury that has kept him out of the last few games. Jose Bosingwa, the almost forgotten right-back, has featured in a few reserve games and is making steady progress, while Carling Cup casualties Kalou and Benayoun remain sidelined. Didier Drogba will return to the starting eleven after serving out his suspension against his former club Marseille.
Despite being over-run by the likes of Toure in the midfield, Ramires is expected to start against Arsenal as the Gunners’ midfield will not be physically overwhelming for the Brazilian. Kakuta and McEachran may see some action, although from the bench.
Possible Chelsea Starting Eleven: Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Ramires, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka
The odds are stacked against Cesc Fabregas taking the field against Chelsea, but big matches bring out the character of big players. The Spaniard may just surprise everybody!
Wenger may decide to stick with Fabianski after his decent performance against Partizan in Belgrade, even if Almunia recovers from his elbow injury. Diaby is expected to be available for selection, while Vermaelen, Bendtner, Van Persie and Walcott continue to keep the Arsenal physios busy. If, in the absence of Fabregas, Wenger decides to start with Wilshere against a dominating Chelsea midfield, it will be the toughest test for the youngster thus far in his career.
Possible Arsenal Starting Eleven: Fabianski, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh
1. Arsenal lead the overall head-to-head record in the league; the north London team has beaten Chelsea 59 times in 146 games.
2. In the last four matches between the two sides in all competitions, not only has Chelsea come out on top on all four occasions, but also has out-scored the Gunners 11-2.
3. If Chelsea lose this match, it will be after 159 Premiership games that the west London club will have lost two back to back games.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Can we even consider any other name? Such has been the influence of the big Ivorian on this fixture over the years. Didier Drogba has so far scored 12 goals in 10 starts and 2 substitute appearances against Arsenal. Last season, he picked up a brace in both matches, and almost single-handedly powered the Blues to victory. He would be raring to take on his favourite opponents, after a midweek rest. Arsene Wenger had once said “Drogba does not do enough on the pitch“; fortunately for Chelsea, their number 11 has not forgotten that till date. Arsenal’s new central defensive signings will have their task cut out.
Chelsea FC 2 – 1 Arsenal FC
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST