Twas the night before Chelsea …

Morning all,

hope your Christmas day went well. I am still overloaded with food and with Dinner II – The Leftovers taking place later on I don’t see this changing in any way. Also, compared with the rather chilly -11 it was this time yesterday morning it’s now a sweltering +2. Hopefully the temperature will continue to rise because I am totally fed up with the snow and ice at this stage.

Anyway, onto matters football and we have to wait until tomorrow night for our game against Chelsea. A game, against a title rival on a Monday evening? What could possibly go wrong? Nothing in our recent history suggest this will be … oh. The team news we know already we can only look at the importance of the fixture and how we approach it.

In terms of what it means, well United play Sunderland today and a win would put them five points clear. If Man City beat Newcastle they’d go above us although we’d have a couple of games in hand, while a Chelsea win could put us back down into fourth place. It would also mean a sixth loss of the season before the new year. For years it was always said you couldn’t lose more than six games and win the title.

Now, there have been some weird stats down the years. We’ve seen Arsenal in 07-08 lose only 3 and come third (United lost 5 and won it), and a couple of seasons ago the Mugsmashers only lost 2 games and finished second. So it’s not an exact science but only once in Premier League history has a team lost more than 6 games and won the league (Blackburn in 94-95). History suggests that if we don’t get any kind of result tomorrow then our margin for error, fine enough as it is, becomes non-existent.

There’s also the psychological aspect of tomorrow’s game. You can’t read an article without being reminded of how it’s X amount of games since we’ve beaten Chelsea or United. Since our last win against Chelsea, 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in November 2008, we’ve played five and lost five, scoring 2 while conceding 13. And on top of that we’ve never really looked like winning any of those games. The game at Stamford Bridge earlier this season was a bit of an improvement but hardly a sign that we were closing the gap. When it came down to it Chelsea took their chances, Fabianski was the busier goalkeeper by far and they did their job ruthlessly well.

Sure, you can point to Koscielny’s horrendous first minute miss and suggest that might have changed things. Indeed it might but when a bloke heads over the bar from a couple of feet out there’s little point in talking about what might have been and instead you should examine why a professional footballer missed from such distance. Big game nerves? Who knows but it kind of summed up Arsenal in these kind of games.

The fact is that Chelsea have been better than us for some time. That doesn’t mean we can’t beat them though. It comes down to doing the basics right, not making individual errors and taking our chances when we get them. And getting over the mental block we seem to have. It’s not uncommon for teams to go on a run of results against opponents. Look at how it was since we’d lost to Sp*rs in the league – and this shows that these records are there to be broken. Arsene says:

They will wonder: “Can we win?” It’s a mental thing, because the quality of the squad is there.

While Marouane Chamakh says:

As I have said before the game against Chelsea is worth only three points, like every other game. But for morale we simply need to get a good result.

At the very least we cannot lose. A win would go some way to instill belief in the squad, perhaps free them from the mental shackles. Cesc spoke last week about how the team were a bit ‘scared’ in the bigger games. That’s something we’ve got to get over, and quick, because the longer it goes on the more chance it has of becoming something chronic. On paper a win against Chelsea is only three points but it would a lot more than that if we beat them tomorrow. What that says about us you can make your own minds up but that’s the reality as I see it.

Anyway, a bit more on the game itself tomorrow, who we might play, how we might approach it etc. In other news Martin Keown speaks about our defensive issues and points to lack of work-rate throughout the team as being as much of a factor as the quality of the defenders themselves. I know he singles out Arshavin and I do have to agree with him that in general the Russian doesn’t contribute nearly enough in that regard but it is a team thing. We lack the willingness to do the dirty work off the ball.

Defending isn’t much fun for some players, we know that, but it’s part and parcel of the job. You can’t be a racing driver who doesn’t really like turning left. A few weeks ago on Twitter Lee Dixon said the same thing. It’s all well and good being hungry for the ball when you have it but you’re a much better team if you can show that same attitude when you need to get it back. Still, it’s not as if this is new or groundbreaking in any way. We just have to hope there’s more focus on this side of our game for the rest of the season.

In an article linking us with Ipswich ‘wonderkid’ Connor Whickham, there’s a bit about Carlos Vela leaving the club when the transfer window opens. Villarreal, Valencia and Espanyol are linked with a £7.5m move and if that kind of money was on offer we’d be mad not to take it for a guy who has started just two games for us this season and completed 90 minutes once. As someone once said he puts the ‘meh’ in Mexican.

Right, time for some breakfast and perhaps a crafty game of FIFA while wearing my new, and entirely awesome, Superman slippers. Till tomorrow.

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