Chelsea preview: quietly confident

So, a big day ahead with an early kick off against Chelsea.

It’s another big test after the visit to Manchester last weekend and another chance to gauge where we are and how this squad is equipped. In terms of what we’ll face it’s quite similar to City, but with probably more danger from the wide areas, meaning Gibbs and Jenkinson are likely to find themselves well occupied from a defensive point of view. I saw Chelsea against Stoke, and wasn’t hugely impressed, but in a derby game and with some of their new players something of an unknown quantity (in that we haven’t had to deal with them before), I expect this to be difficult.

By the same token though, Chelsea have yet to face Podolski, Cazorla or Giroud, nor have they, in recent seasons anyway, found themselves up against an Arsenal side drawing plaudits for its defensive stability. And here is where Arsene Wenger might have to make a decision today about the composition of his team. He hinted during the week that due to the fact he has three top-class centre-halves he’d have to rotate them a little bit and would do so to best suit the opposition we’d face.

Now, I’m a big fan of Per Mertesacker and so far this season he’s been outstanding. It’d be a brave move for the manager to ‘rest’ him but if there was a game which suited Koscielny and Vermaelen as a partnership it’s probably this one. Chelsea are quick in the final third, with tricky, skillful players and perhaps those qualities are best negated by two quick centre-halves who like to nip in early, and win the ball early.

It’s a big call, the German has been excellent this season and seemed to deal all right with Man City whose forwards are not dissimilar at all to Chelsea’s, but I can understand why the manager might feel a change is necessary. The only caveat I’d make with regard the need to rotate his centre-halves is that I hope Thomas Vermaelen’s position as captain doesn’t preclude him from this. There’s a willing and very able deputy in Mikel Arteta and he’s not so indispensable that he can’t sit one out from time to time. Personally speaking I think the combination of Mertesacker + Vermaelen/Koscielny is the best we’ve got, in terms of how the players complement each other but it’s the manager’s decision.

There’s unlikely to be any change from the midfield trio of Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla, so the boss just has to decide how his front three is going to line up. Obviously Podolski will play on the left but the central striker and the player on the right are open to discussion. Does he continue with the live wire, but erratic and wasteful Gervinho in the middle, hoping to use his movement to pull Chelsea out of position for the benefit of others, or will he choose the £12m man Giroud, fresh from his midweek goal and his confidence boosted because of that?

I’d like to see Giroud, I have to say. He needs to cement his position and scoring, albeit against fairly dismal opposition, and then finding himself back on the bench for a big game might undo some of the good work against Coventry. Plus, I think his hold up play and work rate has been very good and, assuming Terry plays, I’d much rather he was tested by a 6’3 powerhouse like Giroud than the whippety Ivorian (even though the latter would clearly not be to his taste).

As for the right hand side, Arsene has options. There’s the aforementioned Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott who has given Ashley Cole plenty of problems in previous games, and even Aaron Ramsey who was chosen there against Man City last week. Ostensibly it was for his experience and ability to retain possession but maybe in an away game the manager’s thinking is slightly different.

Today he’s got to balance the attacking side of our game with the need to provide cover and protection for Carl Jenkinson at right back. The youngster has rightly drawn praise for his improvement and in filling in for Bacary Sagna has come on leaps and bounds since the start of the season. However, as good as he’s been, he’s also been helped by a team that takes its defensive duties more seriously and disciplined performances from those playing on the right hand side. You can’t ignore the fact that Podolski has been a big help to Gibbs in that regard and the same applies with Jenkinson. It’s a tough one to call though and obviously depends on what he does up front, but I think Giroud and Gervinho will get the nod.

Anyway, if the difficulties we have are due to not knowing which decent players to play, as opposed to trying to figure out which round peg might fit in the square hole, it’s the best kind of problem to have. Overall, I think this is a game from which we can take three points if we continue to play the way we have this season. Arsene says Chelsea have changed their style a little bit and maybe it’s not something they’re 100% conformable with yet, allowing us to take advantage.

We’ve certainly got the players to hurt them in the final third, and midfield, an area they used to dominate, is one that we should be able to control with Arteta anchoring and Cazorla providing assurance as the most attacking of the three. It’s notable that the two goals we’ve conceded in the league this season have come from goalkeeping mistakes and that’s something we need to eliminate today. I think it’s going to be tight, and tough, but a game I believe we can win.

If you can’t see the game, for any reason, remember we’ve got full live blog coverage of the game. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 12pm for another post with all the information, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

If you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Bonus reading: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain interview in the Mirror, Carl Jenkinson in the Independent.

Right then, there’s a large dog to walk before the match, bacon to be had, and other Saturday stuff to get on with.

Catch you in a bit and come on you reds.


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