For a big game, and a London derby, the build-up to this game has been surprisingly low key.
Chelsea fans are too busy hating Rafa Benitez to make noise about anything else, while from our point of view we’ve had the twin distractions of Theo Walcott signing a new deal and the genuine excitement of Jack Wilshere still bubbling from Wednesday night.
I think both will start today, and it’ll be interesting to see where Wilshere is deployed. There’s some talk of Lukas Podolski being unwell, in which case I think the manager’s mind is made up him. Cazorla shifts left, Wilshere plays in that central attacking midfield role again, and I’d keep Diaby and Coquelin behind him to provide a platform for him to do his stuff. I think the more defensive minded presence of Coquelin in particular could be important as Chelsea’s wide players will occupy our full backs.
Other than that I don’t foresee any other changes, making the assumption that Arsene has learned his lesson about dropping Mertesacker for games against top 3 opposition. He did it early in the season for the home game against this lot and Koscielny had a stinker, and we all know what happened inside 10 minutes last weekend. And when you consider playing against Demba Ba is the equivalent of playing against a former player you know it’s going to be a tough task.
The ‘Oh, I knew he was going to score against us’ thing applies simply because he’s a player we were linked with, that Wenger admitted liking, but decided against it because of Olivier Giroud. He’s already got a couple against us this season, in that crazy game against Newcastle at the end of December, so the lads at the back should be well aware of what he can do and how he does it. Let’s hope we’re a bit more switched on today.
Speaking of Giroud, I think the Frenchman is due a performance. Although guilty of some erratic finishing against Swansea I thought his all round game was positive. He held it up well, brought others into play and his touch for Wilshere’s goal was lovely, but it would be nice to see a bit more ruthlessness from him in terms of his forward play. He’s a big, strong guy and seeing him throw some of that weight around would be a good thing. He has 9 goals this season, which isn’t a bad return thus far, but after 6 months at the club and all the adaptation out of the way, now is the when you want to see him kick on a bit. Today would be a good day to get into double figures.
And while I think Chelsea have struggled to maintain defensive consistency this season, something I hope we can take advantage of today, they haven’t been short up the other end. An 8, two 5s and a 4 goal haul in recent weeks shows that this is a game that we’re going to have deal with at the back before we can go and win it. We’ve touched on Ba, but Mata and Hazard provide a real threat and even Frank Lampard is scoring again, which is why the defensive side of our game is so important. It’s not just the back four, it’s the protection they need from the midfield, and the cover from our wide men that will be key.
Whatever happens, I don’t see this ending up scoreless. It’s a game from which we really need to get something. Three points would be lovely but a draw would suffice given the opposition and the location. We’ve taken just 1 from 6 in the Premier League in January, 2 from 9 might not look much better but it would give us just a little bit of momentum as we head towards the West Ham game in midweek.
Come on you reds.
In other news, Arsene Wenger is looking for a bit more aggression from his team, and without going into it in any detail, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable desire. I’ve long thought we’ve lacked a little bit of steel in the side. It doesn’t have to be dirty, there’s a very distinct line between hardness and filth, and perhaps we’re a bit too far to the nice side of the former.
That’s why I enjoyed the Coquelin tackle against Swansea which set up a chance for Jack Wilshere. He came in with pace, won the ball cleanly and left the opponent knowing fine well he’d been tackled. More of that, please, and if Jack Wilshere is kicked from pillar to post again today, I hope there’s a reaction from the Arsenal players beyond imploring the referee to do something about.
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Right, breakfast time, then football. Come on Arsenal.