Chelsea preview: time to respond, again

Morning all and what better way to kick off your Saturday than a massive game of football?

Make no mistake, today’s game is huge. Not just because of the opposition and the recent history we have with them, but because of our need for points in the race for a top four finish, and ideally a third place one.

With regards to team news there’s nothing we don’t already know. Koscielny is back, Diaby and The Coq could both be in the squad but are unlikely to start, while Arteta and Benayoun are missing through injury and ineligibility. I think, from Monday’s starting XI, we’ll see Gervinho come in for Benayoun – although I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Oxlade-Chamberlain get a run from the start – while Ramsey will replace Arteta.

We’ve spoken a bit about the Welshman this week and I’m sure he’ll have been instructed by the manager to try and do what Arteta does. Use the ball simply and quickly, get it move, move it on, look for it back, and thus be more effective. It’s going to be a big test for him today but he won’t be found wanting in terms of effort, at least, and if something can click in his game then all the better.

Arsene has a decision to make about left back too. Does he stick with the Cuddly Maverick whose attacking play against Wigan might have brought real rewards, or return to Kieran Gibbs who probably offers more from a defensive point of view? I guess it’ll depend how much we’re going to go for this today. Personally, I’d like to see Santos but I’d fully understand a change too.

Up top we need more than we saw against Wigan. Robin looked a bit leggy, while Walcott and Gervinho (when he came on) had nights to forget. The skipper has been somewhat off the boil by his own very, very high standards, but Arsene isn’t worried and is looking for him to finish the season strongly.

I don’t want to put on his head and his shoulders the fact that he absolutely has to score because I believe we can score from different compartments in the team.

If we create the chances he will score.

But we can’t rely on him alone. Theo needs to put Monday behind him with another head-scratchingly efficient performance. Every time he has one of those stinkers that makes you really wonder about him as a player, he’s just as likely to have a productive, effective next time. I think he does it deliberately just to confuse us. And on the other side, Gervinho hasn’t looked much like he can produce anything since his return from the African Cup of Nations of Africa in Africa playing for a Cup, and it’d be timely indeed if he could start to contribute again.

Robin van Persie says:

We have worked hard to get back into the Champions League qualifying places — and we must stay there. That is why we have to get three points against Chelsea today.

While Arsene says Chelsea’s approach today will be different to their defensive one in midweek against Barcelona. There’s no Drogba, which is a good thing for both us and the pitch that he’d dent and scar with his rolling around on it, but that doesn’t mean Chelsea are toothless. After conceding two pretty ridiculous goals on Monday night against Wigan we have to ensure that we’re 100% from a defensive point of view.

The return of Koscielny will aid that to a certain extent but what was so obvious about our good results this season was the fact that we defended as a team. When we switched off at all, when midfielders failed to track their runners, when we became disorganised, we were punished as the results at QPR and on Monday night illustrate.

At home we’ve generally played a high-tempo pressing game when we haven’t had the ball, and while the manager says we can’t rely on Chelsea’s post-Champions League fatigue, the final stages of the game could be more challenging for them than for us, and perhaps that is something we can take advantage of.

Today is going to be tough. Chelsea need these points as well and will be looking to close the gap. But our recent record in big games is good. When Sp*rs came calling they were sent packing with their ratty little tails between their legs on the wrong end of 5 goals despite going two up. Man City came a few weeks back and although it was just 1-0, they were outplayed, outfought and we deservedly took the points.

We need the same kind of performance again from the Arsenal today. Fully committed, one which gets players and crowd together, and if we can do that then I think it’s a game we can win. I don’t buy the suggestion that Chelsea will be distracted by Barcelona, they’re too experienced and too professional for that, but if we want it more – and there’s no reason in the world why we shouldn’t – then we’re capable of what would be a very important win.

In other news Arsene says he’d like to sort out Robin van Persie’s contract situation as soon as the season ends and before he goes away with Holland to the Euros. I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be done if there was a willingness on all sides to make it happen, but from our point of view we’ve got to make sure we finish in the Champions League places, otherwise the issue becomes far more complicated.

So, let’s let those behind the scenes do what they need to do and in the meantime the team can concentrate on winning games.

And that’s really about that. There’ll be live blog coverage of the game as usual. If you can’t see it, you get up to the second live text commentary, and if you’re watching you can follow anyway, and join in the live blog chat. Check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page and updates will be posted automatically.

Betting today via Paddy Power who also have a money back special: If there are 4 or more goals in this game, Paddy Power will refund all losing First Goalscorer, Last Goalscorer, Correct Score & Scorecast singles on the match.

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Right, breakfast time, then Arsenal time. Come on you reds.



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