After two away games and two draws, there’s pressure on today to get back to winning ways as we face Chelsea at home. The fact that Leicester won, and are now top; and that Sp*rs also won and sit just two points behind us certainly adds to that.
Chelsea home or away is always a big game, but this time in particular it feels massive. Regardless of their current situation, this is one that will demand the absolute maximum from us. Their players got what they wanted by getting rid of Mourinho, will feel some sense of liberation because of that, and might actually give 100%. We have to view them as who they are, the team that won the league last season, and not where they are in the table.
Add to that what happened last time at Stamford Bridge when Diego Costa got what he wanted with his snide, spiteful antics, and it’s all adding up to a tasty encounter today. We owe them, but we can’t allow ourselves to fall into that trap again, with Arsene Wenger warning his players:
We have to be prepared for a battle because Costa gives you a fight. After that, it’s down to the referee.
Also a nice reminder to today’s officials to be prepared for what Costa will inevitably try to do. Whether it makes any difference to them remains to be seen, but you have to think the team will be minded not to rise to any provocation, no matter how much they might seek some revenge for the last game.
In terms of our team, we know we’ll have Mesut Ozil back, with a rather nice endorsement from the manager who compared him to an Arsenal great:
Yes, he’s a bit like Bergkamp. Not that guy who stands up and speaks too much but every time he says something, it is straight to the point. He’s has a big influence. He’s not an extrovert, as you know. But you don’t win by coincidence and he has won in his career. He’s demanding from his partners.
Physically two very different players, but in terms of vision and craft, you can see where he’s coming from. He’ll return in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and I do wonder if, after his words of caution, he might start with Alexis on the bench, easing him back into action. There’s no doubt the Chilean will be raring to go having missed so much football in the last few weeks, but for today being able to call on his talent and industry should we need it in the second half might just be the way he’s thinking.
I wonder too if we might have a surprise in midfield. Francis Coquelin is back in full training, the pictures show him leaping and sprinting and tackling and doing all the things a fit person does, so could he play a part today? If so, would it mean he comes back in place of Flamini, or alongside him with Ramsey moved out right again? It’ll be interesting to see if he’s given the nod.
Whatever the selection though, this feels like a game which will have a large bearing on the rest of our season. It’s not an absolute ‘must win’, there’s still so much football to play, but a win would mean more than three points. Community Shield aside our last win over Chelsea in the league was that bonkers 5-3 at Stamford Bridge in October 2011, and the last two fixtures at our place have been 0-0 draws of great attrition.
We spoke last week about a kind of psychological hurdle when it comes to Stoke away, and Chelsea in general is another one. The fact Mourinho is gone makes little difference. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, it’s more to Chelsea’s benefit than ours. If we did win this one though, it would go a long way to making up for the dropped points at Anfield last week, and it could be just the thing we need to get ourselves going again.
Recent form hasn’t been bad, but performances have been a bit of a struggle. With players back though, Alexis returning, a week since our last game and batteries recharged, a good display and a win would put us back on top of the table. It would show that this is a team absolutely to be taken seriously when it comes to the title challenge, and one that can cope with the pressure when it comes to games like this.
Is it a stand-up and be counted moment? Perhaps, but it’s not as if we haven’t shown throughout this season that there’s something more to this group of players than people thought when the season kicked off. Passing one test only means there’s another to come. Today is one of them, so let’s hope that we see the best of this Arsenal team today. If we do, I think we’ve got what it takes to win the game.
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Right, dog to walk, nerves to jangle, catch you later for the game.