Chelsea preview – no room for error

Yesterday’s results mean tonight’s game is one in which we really can’t lose. There were no surprises. United and City both won meaning United extend their lead at the top to five points while City have taken our second place. Sp*rs beat an insipid Villa side which means they’ve closed the gap on us to just two points.

We’ve got to respond to what’s going on around us and that means getting something from this evening’s match. Chelsea come with Ancelotti saying how we’re scared of Drogba, John Terry suggesting they’re going to turn us over like we did last year and even Cashley having a few words about how they’re going to win.

Yet perhaps this is a good time to play them. Their form has been poor. I know it has to improve some time but then so does our record in these big games. Games can turn on small things. Earlier in the season there probably should have been a free kick to Arsenal just before Drogba’s goal and for their second Nasri gave the ball away which led to the free kick. Chelsea made the most of those moments and we’ll have to do likewise tonight if and when they occur.

There’s a lot of talk that Abou Diaby might come back into the side. I can understand why. He adds power and height against a team full of those qualities. The other side of that however is that he hasn’t played since the Birmingham game on October 16th. He’s sure to lack match sharpness but won’t be suffering from tiredness. It’s where he might start Diaby that’s interesting. Given how Chelsea have exploited us defensively I wonder if the manager is looking at Arshavin as too much of a luxury for a game like this.

There’s no way you can rely on him to put in the defensive work necessary and when one of the most important issues will be to stop the supply to Drogba I have a feeling he might well be on the bench for this one. I know Clichy had a poor game against United but too often he was left with all the defending to do on our left – and while he wasn’t 100% at fault for this Arshavin was the most culpable. We might see a five man midfield with Diaby and Nasri on either side. It will also be interesting to see if we can stop the supply from Chelsea’s left hand side, an area we’ve been punished from a number of times in recent games.

The manager’s comments about Marouane Chamakh being a bit jaded suggest that Robin van Persie will start up front. And again I’d like to see Djourou play at centre-half but I think Squiscielny will continue. I just think that against a team like Chelsea the more height and strength you have the better. It doesn’t mean we have to compromise the way we play football. Anyway, if I had to guess I’d go with:

Fabianski – Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Clichy – Song – Wilshere – Diaby – Cesc – Nasri – van Persie

The return of Cesc is a key factor tonight. The captain has struggled all season with his hamstring, a post World-cup hangover I suppose, but the manager feels he’s fit and ready. The postponements might have done some good in terms of giving him more time to recuperate. Arsene says:

With the hamstring, when he comes on, it is more a restriction he has in his head. So we have to move the hamstring out of his head. It is hard to overcome if you have a recurrence of injuries because it plays a part until you get rid of it completely by reassurance. That comes with practising every day. Physically I think Cesc is ready. He is our leader.

He is our leader but it’s not all down to him. The returning van Persie needs to contribute something to the season, given that it’s half over already, while much will be expected of Nasri from an attacking point of view. What’s of critical importance tonight though is how hard we work. We can get away with not playing brilliantly if we put in the effort. Defensive solidity is crucial and I hope for more from that side of our midfield in particular but we have to go out there and want this game tonight.

Forget mental hurdles, forget Chelsea’s reputation and record against us, forget Drogba, he’s just another Predator looking hideous cunt of epic proportions, forget that nobody has yet set John Terry on fire, ignore that little scut of a left back, we have to go out and want to win this game for Arsenal. If we give them room they have the quality to punish us. If we switch off they have the experience to take advantage. If we don’t give 100% they’ve got players who will and that will swing things for them.

Make sure we don’t make silly mistakes. Ok, Alex’s free kick was incredibly harsh punishment for a misplaced pass but that’s what happens at this level. When we get chances we have to take them. Missing like Koscielny in the game at Stamford Bridge can’t happen. We might not get many opportunities so when they come they have to be put away. Add some ruthlessness to our game and our finishing.

Our last game was United two weeks ago today. There can be no tiredness, no fatigue, no excuses tonight. We’ve got to come out fighting and make sure we compete properly. A win will go some way to answering the questions many people have about our ability to compete for the title this year. A loss and those questions will, rightly I suppose, be asked again and louder. We’re at home tonight against a team we haven’t beaten in some time. We’ve got to show we’re learning and maturing.

As I said yesterday the benefit of a win wouldn’t just come in the form of the three points that would move us back up into second. With a game coming up against Man City it would instill belief and confidence into a side that, at times, you feel really needs it. There have been some disappointments at home this season but let’s hope tonight isn’t another one of those. Looking at Arsenal as one thing – a club, the players, the fans – you just can’t help feeling a win would be exactly what we need to give us a good shunt forward. A late Christmas present but one that would be hugely treasured.

I suspect it’s going to be a long day waiting for this one.

Come on Arsenal.

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