Sunday took its time in getting here. The buildup to tonight’s ‘Double header’ with Liverpool/Man Utd – Arsenal/Chelsea has overshadowed last night’s Premier League fixtures into a state of irrelevancy.
It’s Arsenal vs Chelsea tonight, in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past year, and what a match it may turn out to be. Bloggers and fans alike have been getting quite positive with regards to Arsenal’s chances against the Oligarchy, and myself will publically join that crew. There is an untenably good vibe emanating from the Arsenal camp at the moment, with injury news suggesting that all four of van Persie, Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini will take part in tonight’s game.
If at least three of those players start tonight, we will be seeing an Arsenal side with more balance and menace than we have been accustomed to in the past few games. Chelsea themselves will be shorn of the services of Didier Drogba, but while it’s certainly not the time for Senderos to restore any pride, Chelsea remain dangerous as ever with Joe Cole, Lampard, Kalou and Shevchenko all in goalscoring mood these days.
Which is why Flamini must start tonight. He is the reason we were all positive for a result against Manchester United, and will be the same reason here against Chelsea. The dynamic he gives this side is worth more than Roman salt – while the Hlebs, Fabregas’ and Rosickys are passing their deceptive triangles every which way, Flamini is taking a storm to the opposition with stressful harrying and superb covering play simultaneously. When the team pulls that dynamic off on the day, it can be so difficult for the opposition to counter.
Another player we all know is on the horizon is Ashley Cole, with Wenger continuing to do his best to curb any aggression against the former Arsenal left-back. Arsene says:
“The biggest responsibility we have as managers is before the game. We have to make sure that on Sunday we watch a football game and not war.The Football Association never take action on any vicious manager’s words before a game.”If I say ‘I hope that our supporters launch a vicious attack on Ashley Cole because he deserves it’ it might be popular – but that would prepare Sunday’s game in a very bad atmosphere.
So I believe I have a bigger responsibility before the game than after.Afterwards I can understand sometimes that a manager is unhappy or mad – but before the game you are not in that kind of mood and you have no excuse.“
You can see what he is trying to do, but we all know that Wenger realises both the futility of what he is saying coupled with the fact that attention on Cole works hugely in Arsenal’s favour. We are all hoping that the crowd unleashes a wave of unsettlement Cole’s way, as fullbacks are often targeted for rough treatment to some degree in the big matches. Clichy, Traore and Cole (for Arsenal) have often been targeted by players in their time to unsettle the side, and experience tells that Ashley has a job in front of him tonight.
If of course, he decides to turn up at all. Avram Grant has done the contrary-to-Jose thing, and praised Wenger as a manager he looks up to. The new Chelsea manager only had good things to say, observing:
“[Wenger] thinks about the game in the right way and he works not just for the short term but for the long term, right from the base of the club. I like to take good things from any coach I respect and he is one of them.“
Frank Lampard – deflection specialist extraordinaire – has also chimed in with his two cents, acknowledging Arsenal’s ride to the top of the league. The headline of the piece is quite misleading, as the midfielder generally only has good things to say about Arsenal. On a note of succession, Gael Clichy has also spoken about how he benefited from Ashley Cole’s departure. Clichy says:
“When Ashley left it was the best thing that could have happened for me. He left and the stage was there for me it was also a massive confidence boost that the boss did not buy another left back.
I just had to play a few games well to show everyone that I could play there and, now, here I am. I will try to be even better than Ashley as it is one of my objectives to be remembered as one of the great Arsenal left backs.“
And with that, it’s time to step into destiny’s realm and commence the Arsenal-Chelsea match preview. There’s no point saying this is a big game, for that’s an outright fallacy. It is a huge game in the sense that Arsenal need to prove to the media they are here to stay, with the style they play. They certainly do not need to prove it to me, nor to most Arsenal fans – but our showing against Chelsea will go a long way to setting ourselves on course for a title-tilt, as well as correcting our little wobble we’ve had of late.
Once again, the team is becoming very difficult to predict – my fly on the wall in the Arsenal dressing room was last heard from while kayaking in Grenada – so again, it is down to educated guesswork.
Almunia will be restored between the sticks, with the backline retaining its recognizable face. While dragging and dropping this team together, I originally had it as presented here, but with Diaby on the leftwing where Hleb is now.
I really cannot tell exactly how fit the previously injured players are, but seeing Diaby in place of Hleb really did not seem like a sign of intent. My gut feeling is that there will be a full strength squad put out tonight, with the likes of Diaby, Bendtner and Diarra coming on to replace Hleb, van Persie and Fabregas later on in the match.
It is a team that excites me. A team that makes me feel very optimistic about tonight. Bloggers like myself have to eat their words every now and again, but the honest truth is that I feel that Arsenal can win very convincingly tonight. Maybe it’s the nitrogen bubbles in my brain- who knows – it is only since the Carling Cup final that I have been convinced for a while that this team has what it takes to completely outplay Chelsea.
What has always been a strength of this side, even through the bad seasons, has been that the attacking mantra has always been so prominent – resulting in teams like Chelsea and Manchester United to respond to the tactic rather than to assert it themselves. Maybe it’s just me getting all hyped up – but I believe that this will genuinely play into our hands tonight, with Chelsea having to decide whether to come at us or play cautiously. It is only left to see what Chelsea rocks up.
Any Brisbane Gooners out there may catch me at the Pig and Whistle on Eagle Street tonight – though you will have to ask around as to which non-Liverpool fan Jammathon actually is, I’m afraid. I certainly will be barracking the boys very vocally – unable to comprehend anything but victory, with only the red and white in my sights. Fandom’s fervour, for you.
COME ON ARSENAL.