We play Chelsea on Sunday and the Blues remain a very tricky opponent for us. We have improved against City and United in the last year or so, but hardly against Chelsea, being held to a goalless draw at the Emirates in April and losing away at Stamford Bridge (thanks to an atrocious performance from Mike Dean). However we did beat the Blues in the Community Shield.
Our last home league win over Chelsea happened in 2010. Before that in 2007. And the one before? In 2004. So basically we beat Chelsea at home every three years (2013 exempting). Hey, that means our next win is due in 2016!
Jokes aside and that’s a piss poor record. Manchester United is probably the only team in the league we have such a poor recent record with. It’s miles better against City and Liverpool.
We suffered a lot of heavy home losses in the last 10-12 years against Chelsea too (though, interestingly, none of them were inflicted by Mourinho. In fact, I don’t think Mourinho’s Chelsea has beaten Arsene’s Arsenal either at Highbury or at the Emirates).
However, we have to take into account the banter years, which the last 10-12 undoubtedly were. Also, Hiddink, unlike Mourinho, is surely to come to the Emirates with a positive mentality. Beating a team which wants to play football is much easier than banging your head against the parked bus.
We go into this game on a pretty decent run too. Since the beginning of December Arsenal won 5 league games, lost only one and drawn two (the last two, incidentally). While we are on the subject, these are two good points. Liverpool are the only “big” team to leave Britannia with 3 points – Chelsea, United and City all lost their games there, while Leicester barely escaped with a draw. Also, while it was infuriating to only get a point at Anfield from the position we put ourselves into, two factors come into play: Liverpool actually outplayed us on the day and, again, it’s fiendishly hard to get three points there. United did it (how the hell did they do it?!), but Leicester lost, while both City and Chelsea are yet to play there. Given both the Blues and the Citizens lost to Liverpool at home…
Anyway, back to Chelsea and their recent form is an improvement on what Mourinho achieved in his last four months with the club. That’s not saying much (anything is an improvement on what Chelsea demonstrated from August to December), however, the Blues are yet to lose a game under Hiddink, winning 2 and drawing the other 4. Chelsea have also started scoring again, netting 13 times in these 6 matches, although their defense remains leaky and shipped 8 goals in the same time frame.
Team news update
It looks like both Ozil and Sanchez will make the squad:
“Compared to last week we have no big problems from the squad that was available to face Stoke. The good news is that Ozil will certainly be available. For Alexis the next few days will be decisive but I think this time he will make it to be available for selection.”
The manager talked at length about Alexis, about how he wants to minimize the risk of a set-back:
“I am cautious with him because we cannot afford a setback with him. A setback would mean a very long period out so we don’t want to take this gamble. The signs he has shown in training this week are positive.
The doubt is that he has been out for a long time and the risk of a setback if you try to go too early. To be clear on all the tests is one thing, after he is clear on training is another things, and after the intensity of a big game you can never repeat in a training session. You can make sure after a certain amount of time that the risk is minimal.”
Once again, I’m against risking Alexis for one game. Our next league game is on February 2nd, plenty of time for Alexis to get fully ready if he isn’t yet. Though I have to say the whole affair is getting tiresome. If Alexis makes the squad on Sunday, it means he will have spent 8 weeks out, instead of the initial 2-3. Furthermore, I have a strange feeling we are going to need Alexis to win this one, so maybe we should stop being overly cautious and give the man some minutes already. The Chilean’s been training for some time now and looked perfectly alright even last week.
In other news, we’ll soon have Rosicky, Welbeck and Coquelin (!) back:
“Coquelin is back in full training today (Thursday) and he is ahead of schedule. He has still a few steps to go through. Welbeck will be in full training next week so that is positive news. It is possible Rosicky will play in the under-21 game [on Friday].”
That’s some very good news right here. Rosicky may even make the squad on Sunday, while there’s a chance all three will be in the squad for our game vs Bournemouth, maybe even for the cup game against Burnley. A very timely boost, given our February schedule. Fingers crossed we’ll see all these guys back in action very soon.
I think the participation of the following players from the first minutes is not in question: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud.
Yes, part of me would like to see Gabriel, but given how his last game against Chelsea went, I’d rather have Mertesacker pairing Koscielny. Also think it’s sensible to stop omitting Mert from the probable squad. He is our captain and a starter by default. Unlikely Wenger will pluck Gabriel out of the cold suddenly. For now, at least.
Ramsey and Ozil will occupy 2 of the three available midfield slots, but I do wonder who is going to occupy the holding position. No, I don’t mean Coquelin, it’s obviously too early for him, but is it time to give Elneny a try? As much as I like Flamini for his professionalism (the man pocketed Silva and Bojan without breaking a sweat), the Frenchman hasn’t really clicked with Ramsey. While Ozil’s return and (hopefully) Alexis starting should contribute to making our midfield look less disjointed, the Flamini-Ramsey duo still stick out like a sore thumb.
How our front three shapes up is another interesting question. Obviously Giroud should start, but who play either side of him? I’d say neither Theo nor Oxlade merit a starting spot given their recent form and output. Campbell seems to provide the most even contribution, balancing the side in a way Ramsey did when playing on the right. If Alexis is fit, then I’d start him. However, given Arsene’s caution regarding the Chilean, I’m not sure the Frenchman would want to put him straight back into the starting XI.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Campbell – Ozil – Walcott – Giroud
The main obstacle we’ll have to face will be our mental block. As I’ve said our last home win against the Blues happened in 2010 (although we did manage an away win in 2011) and our scoreless streak against Chelsea is 5 matches long (league only).
Should we overcome this psychological hurdle, then I’d fancy our chances. Because, let’s face it, like Manchester United, this Chelsea side is not much to look at. Their defense is still leaky, their spirit seems very fragile and their league position is not accidental.
For all I know, we should try and get off to a flying start, like against United. Pin them back, score a couple, then let them chase ghosts. I’m convinced we have the quality to make it happen.
Now we just need to get on the field and do it. Come on you Gunners.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch the game live as I’m going on holiday for two weeks. I hope to be back in time to cover the Bournemouth game. If not, then I’ll see you again pre-Leicester.