Nothing is certain when it comes to Arsenal and Chelsea this season. The word “consistency” obviously doesn’t pop-up anywhere near either the Emirates nor Stamford Bridge.
For instance, we ended 2012 with four consecutive victories in the Premiership only to open 2013 with disappointing draw against Southampton and home defeat to Manchester City. We managed to score seven goals against Newcastle in the last match in 2012, only to make just six attempts against Southampton few days later. After all, our statistics regarding scored goals say it all – we have scored 40 goals in 21 matches in the Premiership so far but 26 of those came in just five matches (Southampton, Fulham, Spuds, Reading, Newcastle).
Our next opponents haven’t been much better in terms of consistency, especially in recent weeks. It seems that they don’t like fixture congestion neither – an 8:0 thrashing of Aston Villa was followed by surprising 0:1 home defeat to QPR. They grabbed a convincing 4:0 victory at one of the toughest away fixtures in the league (Stoke) last weekend only to fail to beat Southampton on Wednesday night after being two goals up at the interval.
Both teams have shared same problem in the attacking department – a lack of prolific striker capable of scoring 20+ goals. Theo Walcott has been the most prolific of all players from both teams so far with 8 goals in his Premiership account. Granted, Demba Ba has scored 14 goals so far but only one of those was in a Chelsea shirt.
Arsenal have lost four matches at Emirates this season, in each one of them we conceded two goals and one of those matches was against the Chavs. That was the only time that we lost at home despite scoring a goal – Gervinho’s equalizer wasn’t enough as Torres and Mata used horrible defending by Mannone and Koscielny to bring three points back to Stamford Bridge.
It is interesting to point out that none of the teams that won at Emirates managed to win a home fixture against us – in away matches against Manchester City (Premiership), Swansea (FA Cup) and Schalke (Champions’ League) we were unlucky to reach only draws. Another thing: Chelsea won in the reverse fixture while being managed by Roberto Di Matteo but the Italian didn’t stay on Chelsea bench long enough to go for a double over Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. It’s not the first time that has happened to him – Di Matteo won 3:2 at Emirates with West Brom in 2010-11 only to be sacked in February before the reverse fixture took place. The reverse fixture ended draw.
Chelsea’s home under the Benitez reign has been appauling with the aforementioned victory over Aston Villa being the only one at home. The last home victory in clashes between Arsenal and Chelsea was a wonderful 3:1 victory Arsenal recorded in December 2010. Benitez is not very popular among Chelsea fans which might be one of the reasons for their poor home record.
Sunday’s match should be a bit different than the one we lost at Emirates. First of all, it is unlikely that neither Vito Mannone nor Laurent Koscielny will start this match. Their dealing with Mata’s free-kicks was appauling and ultimately the main reason we lost the game. Our skipper Vermaelen shouldn’t forget that he was too clumsy in challenges and gave away easy fouls near the D-area. His form is rising and that should be another positive sign ahead of Sunday clash, though Chelsea are not exactly Vermaelen’s most favourite opponents given that we have never won a match against them with the Belgian in starting 11. Sczszesny is between the sticks and he should be aware of the dangerous free-kicks taken by Mata (right side) or David Luiz (left side).
Jack Wilshere was missed in first clash and his world-class performance against Swansea, as well as his recent form, suggests he is going to be a huge asset against Chelsea. Abou Diaby has his own reasons to look at the reverse fixture with sorrow given that during that match he picked an injury that had sidelined him for three months just as he was starting to look his best. The big Frenchman will have a lot of duties in midfield given that Arteta is still out due to injury. His physical presence (aerial duels after goalkeepers’ distribution) as well as his technique and ability to open space for his team-mates will be needed in order to pressure our opponents in the same way we did against Swansea on Wednesday night.
It is yet to be seen whether Wenger will go with the same formation that won against Swansea (with Coquelin and Diaby behind advanced Wilshere) or whether he will return to his usual formation which would see Coquelin being dropped for the likes of either Oxlade-Chamberlain or Podolski. Both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski had been rested against Swansea and Wenger has a lot of options avaiable – an attacking formation with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, Walcott in the center and Podolski on the left; Walcott on the right, Giroud in the center and Podolski on the left…or even the formation against Swansea with the only change being Podolski in the center of attack instead of Giroud. The latter one could be a good one – with or without aforementioned substitution – given that we need to impose in the middle of the park and the combination of Diaby and Coquelin could do it. In the first match Chelsea’s midfielders were too comfortable, especially after we lost Diaby to injury.
It will be no wonder if Cazorla finds his shooting boots for this match – his scoring record has been much better in away matches than at home. His international team-mate Juan Mata shaded him in the first match, it’s time for Santi to respond.
This could be special fixture for Theo Walcott as well. He scored his first goal for Arsenal against Chelsea and was the driving force in Arsenal’s two most recent victories over the Chavs. It is also going to be his first match after signing a new contract with Arsenal and the fact he earned a 100.000 pounds per week contract with excellent performances shouldn’t make him complacent. He came on as a substitute in the reverse fixture and brought our attack back to life. The same could be said of Olivier Giroud who missed a wonderful opportunity to score a late equalizer.
It is hard to name one threat among Chelsea players. Hazard, Oscar, Ba, Ramires…as well as defenders Ivanović, Cahill and Luiz should be considered as threats, especially after set-pieces but one man stands out. It is Juan Mata, the Spanish attacking midfielder that nearly signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2011. The Spaniard has created 11 goals for his team-mates while scoring 7 goals himself which makes him joint top-scorer for Chelsea in the Premiership, on par with the likes of Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres.
Despite all signs that this clash has draw written all over that doesn’t mean we can’t hope that we will get our first victory in Premiership in 2013. After all, there are only a few things sweeter than a victory at Stamford Bridge, right?