London’s Biggest Clubs to Get Their Seasons Going.
Instead of shoving one another, maybe you guys need to give your teams a shove…
Chelsea, the defending league champions, have not exactly gotten off on the best foot in the new season. Played 5, Won 1, Lost 3, and Drawn 1, 4 points total. Arsenal have done better and sit on 10 points in the league but still have failed to convince. In our first mid-week match, with manager Arsene Wenger attempting to rotate deeper into his squad, Arsenal fell at the first hurdle, losing 2-1 in their Champions League opener at Dinamo Zagreb. Chelsea won their midweek CL match 4-nil at their home stadium vs Maccabi Tel Aviv and will be feeling that little bit of momentum Arsenal were hoping to gain on their travels. Regardless, both teams have yet to hit a convincing winning stride, making this match a real opportunity for both to get their seasons back on the right track.
Who will take that chance and how will Wenger and Mourinho approach the match?
Chelsea are having less trouble getting goals than keeping them out of their own net, having conceded a whopping 12 goals in their first five league matches. A couple of stalwart defenders, notably John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, appear shadows of their former dominant selves. Additionally, an early season suspension to goalkeeper Thibaut Cortois was followed by an injury which will likely keep him out until the new year. Asmir Begovic, his replacement, gave up three a week ago at Everton, making the off-season transfer of Petr Cech our way loom all the larger.
Cech, making his first appearance at Stamford Bridge since the transfer, is on a run of three clean sheets in the league. Those couple of mistakes in the home opener vs West Ham United have almost been forgotten. How sweet would another clean sheet be? Against his former club, it would be that much tastier.
Chelsea will be missing a couple of their paciest players, Willian and new acquisition Pedro, through injury. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have yet to find the scoring form of the title winning season but surely will lead the Chelsea attack with Oscar and former Gunner, Cesc Fabregas, tucked in just behind. These players, while perhaps not bringing the pace of the injured pair still have tremendous experience including a high degree of cynicism. Arsenal will need to be on full alert for all their tricks. We’ll counter with our Spanish fullbacks, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, both rested in midweek and Francis Coquelin who only came on as a sub. The real question is whether Per Mertesacker, sidelined with for several matches with a virus, will come back in for Gabriel and partner Laurent Koscielny? I think he might.
Further forward, Arsenal’s biggest issue thus far this season is taking goals from the myriad chances we have created. Olivier Giroud has scored two in the league as has another guy with the same initials named “own goal.” Theo Walcott, who scored a very well taken goal in midweek, also got one in our last match vs Stoke. That’s it, however, and five goals in five matches, only three taken by our own players, means we really haven’t gotten our shooting boots on straight. Wenger’s call for more goals from midfield has, thus far at least, gone unanswered.
So, Arsenal’s stuttering offense vs Chelsea’s porous rearguard? Is that the shape of this one? I rather think it isn’t. Yes, Arsenal might do well trying to keep the ball away from Chelsea’s midfield, while always staying alert for their counterattacks, but, given the points totals of both teams in the early league race, a draw is clearly a much better result for us than for Chelsea. It’s not really in our DNA to try and play for a nil-nil but my bet is that if the score is level late on, we will not be pushing too hard for a winner.
So, back to basics, back to our most proven group. As such, here’s the starting 11 I think will take the pitch at the Bridge.
Bench: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Campbell
But, what do I know? It’s just a guess, really, and I think there are cases to be made for the inclusion of certain players, notably Giroud–who might have learned a lesson in midweek about just playing on and ignoring the referee. (Mike Dean will have the whistle for this one.) Giroud is also a very welcome presence as the focal point for our attack and as a big impediment for the opponent at set pieces. Likewise, it seems harsh on Gabriel to put our Big F**king German back into the line-up given how well the Brazilian has played. Still, with the Chelsea attack bound to be on the less pacy side, and with the cynicism of Diego Costa (and other divey types like Hazard, Oscar, and–I hate to say it–Cesc…) I worry about Gabby’s combative tendencies luring him into trouble against such ‘tactics.’ The experience (and size) of Mertesacker shades it for me.
So, there you go. It’s a tough task, made even tougher by the fact that a Wenger team has never won against a Mourinho side (in the regular season at least) and that the Chavs will know that a win against us could get their season back on track. To counter this we’ll need full commitment, and a performance which expresses our ample quality combined with complete professionalism. A little bit of luck wouldn’t hurt, either.
What say you, fellow Gooners? Give us your thoughts and feelings heading into this one. How big a match is it? Who would you play? Do you fancy our chances across town at Stamford Bridge?
Go on then…